Crowds line the streets of Greenport for age-old tradition as Washington’s Day Parade marches through
Greenport Fire Department’s 178th annual Washington’s Day Parade marched past hundreds of spectators who lined Front Street Saturday afternoon.
The parade and the celebration that follows at the Greenport firehouse are not only staples in the village. It’s a multigenerational family tradition where children watch the spectacle perched atop their parents’ and grandparents’ shoulders.
“I went to it when I was a kid, [then] I bundled my kids up and I brought them,” said Mary Rocco, a former Cutchogue firefighter and a current member of the department’s auxiliary. “And now I march in it.”
As Ms. Rocco’s experience with the parade progressed over the decades, she witnessed firsthand how the event has changed. Like many in the crowd, she recalls a time when the festivities had even more activities to delight the crowd. She said the various departments would compete head-to-head in drills “right here in the road, they’d climb the ladders and everything.
“And they used to have a dance at the American Legion after the parade, which they haven’t done in years, since I was in my 30s,” Ms. Rocco, now 61, added. “It would be full, I had a ball. Other [fire] companies would stay in hotels, it was a great time.”
The days of the dance are long gone, but the firehouse still hosts an after-party of sorts, complete with beer, games of chance and friends going head-to-head in liquor bottle ring toss. Saturday’s festivities may not have lasted as long as the celebrations of yesteryear, but the vibrancy could not be denied. The sounds of the tumbling dice and the spinning wheel did not stand a chance against the roaring wave of hundreds of revelers enjoying each other’s company.
Although times have changed, the turnout, both on Front Street and on the sidewalks, has not wavered over the years. Unlike local Memorial Day parades, which are hosted by different fire departments on a rotating basis, the George Washington celebration is Greenport’s baby. Every year, the department bands together not only with the other area fire departments, auxiliaries and community groups who march in the parade, but also with volunteers behind the scenes who ensure the parade and the celebration at the firehouse take place without any issues.
Amber Breese, a member of the Greenport Ladies Auxiliary, was one such volunteer, handing out one of the most coveted and talked-about traditions that has remained constant at the annual event: the homemade clam chowder.
“My brother’s been a firefighter for a long time and I want to help,” Ms. Breese said.
“It’s a great group of guys and gals,” David Nyce, a captain with the Greenport Fire Department and former village mayor, said of those who participate in the event. “It truly is small-town stuff where everybody is stepping in to help their friends. You’re helping your friends and neighbors whether you know them or not. When the chips are down, people show up.”
Attendees who remember them miss the drills and the dance and hope they may return to the parade one day, especially with Greenport’s American Legion getting back on its feet. Until such a time, they will continue to appreciate the camaraderie and the few traditions that have remained intact.
“It’s not the same,” Ms. Rocco said. “But they still have the clam chowder; the hot dogs still have that little snap when you bite into them. And the turnout is always good.”