I grew up in a small central Utah town. Summers were carefree, friendly, fun times, filled with lazy days. But four times a year, sometimes more, these days were interrupted by something special:

A PARADE.There was a parade for the Fourth of July. We sat on a blanket on the front of the car. We'd go early so we could get a shady spot. Then, wearing new cowboy hats and holding shiny new capguns on our laps, we would eat Cracker Jacks.

The parade would always start late, and we would run out into the street to see if it was ever coming, even though our mom would tell us we'd for sure get run over and if we didn't stop it right this minute, she would never take us to another parade for as long as we lived. We never believed her, as parades were the best part of summer.

There was a parade for the 24th of July. This one was for children, and we would hang crepe paper on the wheels and handlebars of our bikes and ride in the parade, or we would cover the little red wagon with wire and muslin and put on long dresses and bonnets or warpaint. We'd march for about three blocks while our parents watched. Each participant received a sun-heated dime, which was spent for a Popsicle on the way home.

Of course, the county fair always meant a parade, with the royalty from each neighboring town riding on a float or the front of a car. The little boys would stare and maybe decide that girls weren't so bad after all. The little girls would know they were going to grow up to be pretty and look just like that. They would rub petroleum jelly on their teeth so their smiles would be natural and their lips wouldn't stick to their teeth (after all, this was the late '50s and early '60s, and our consciousness hadn't been raised yet about such things as beauty pageants. It was still OK for someone to just be pretty).

My dad would go "whoof" because my mom punched him in the ribs. We kids never knew why, but thought it had something to do with Dad not wanting to come in the first place and Mom saying it was part of being a good father, so he had better stop complaining and come along peaceably.

My mom always commented on how pretty each float was, saying each was better than the previous one. Of course, she was right. She never agreed with the judges' decision on which one was best.

Then there was Rambouillet Days, which was the same type of homecoming with a parade every Utah town had back then. I never could figure out what a big sheep had to do with everyone coming back to their hometown for a celebration, and I guess I was not the only one, because now it's called Danish Days.

We always waited for the fire engine and old cars with clowns because they threw saltwater taffy. We weren't much on the horses, which always came last, because they smelled bad and made a mess. They were supposed to get everyone excited for the rodeo that night, but it didn't work.

One year, my friend's dad decorated his cement mixer and we rode on the front of it in our sequin-strewn dance outfits, which we were sure made us look beautiful, especially with the net and ribbon hats that matched. We sat there the whole length of Main Street with glued-on smiles (we didn't know about petroleum jelly yet), the sun increasing our freckles and making us squint as well as making the fenders we sat on less than comfortable. It wasn't nearly as much fun as sitting in the shade, swigging a pop and watching the bands, floats and soldiers with flags go by; but at least our friends were envious, and that made it more fun in retrospect than it actually was at the time.

Later, parades meant marching in the band in a long-sleeved wool-blend uniform that made your back itch where the sweat trickled down between your shoulder blades. You couldn't scratch the itch without getting a demerit from the band teacher, and you had to wear a hat that smashed your hair and made it impossible to go anywhere but home right after the parade. You were so sure you looked ridiculous you hoped no one you knew recognized you, but of course, someone always did and said you looked "so-o-o-o" cute, making you want to barf.

Later still, parades meant being a Miss Something or Other, and knowing about petroleum jelly and smiling at the little boys and knowing why the mom jabbed the dad, but not feeling as pretty as those girls were years before.

Today's parades have lost much of their glamour; most have fewer floats and bands, and more politicians and little girls' drill teams. There are usually too many people for candy throwing. The horses still smell, but clowns follow and clean up the mess _ we're more ecology minded now.

I take the cowboy-hatless kids, who're still excited, and drag the husband, who claims he never has liked parades. We slurp diet soda and eat apple and orange slices as we wait for the start, which is late, as it always has been. The kids have a great time and my husband does the appropriate amount of ogling.

Me? I think back to growing up in a small central Utah town where the summers were hot and lazy and carefree, and parades were PARADES.