Fort Myers has been hosting the Edison Festival of Light in February for 76 years. While there are many events such as “Mrs. Edison’s Hymn Sing,” a 5-K race, and a “Junior Parade” in the day time featuring children and their families, the major highlight every year is “The Grand Parade.” The parade features lighted floats. It is, after all, a parade honoring Thomas Edison who spent his winters for many years in Fort Myers.
This year, there were over two hundred entries in the parade including the Budweiser Clydesdales. An estimated 200,000 people lined the two-mile parade route for a parade that lasted about two hours. Because it is at night, takes a long time and attracts both senior citizens and families, people want seats. So as could only happen in a small town, people “reserve” their spots days in advance by marking them out with tape on the ground and leaving lawn chairs in their spots. And it is a small town – the “reservations” are honored.
I have watched the parade before, but this year I walked the length of it with the Red Cross entry. Across the nation, the Red Cross responds to a house fire on average every nine minutes. Therefore, our local float had a “burning house” with a fireman, a Red Cross volunteer, and a family huddled under Red Cross blankets.
As with most Red Cross activities, volunteers did it all. It took first place in its category. As we had been away when much of the work was done (convenient), my own role was limited to some initial design suggestions and preparation, and when I returned, they asked me to put a face on the mini-emergency response vehicle.
I love small town parades [See March and May 1012]. But for some reason in 18 years in Florida, we had never been to the Swamp Cabbage Festival. Now if you lived in a big city, you might be turned off by the term “swamp cabbage” and might call it something like the
“Hearts of Palm Festival.” But to the people of LaBelle, Florida, hearts of palm are and always have been swamp cabbage.
LaBelle is a town of just over 4000 people in Hendry County which has around 39,000 people. It is on the Caloosahatchee River. The river is connected by a canal to Lake Okeechobee and by another canal to the east coast of Florida and is part of the Intercostal Waterway.
It is really hot in Hendry County in the summer, but in the winter some really huge RV parks provide homes and social activities for many people of modest means from the North. But the real industry of LaBelle is agriculture: particularly, cattle and citrus. Florida “crackers” throughout history would be comfortable in LaBelle.
The festival features a parade, a rodeo, a bass fishing tournament, a 5-K race, a classic car show and lots of food and entertainment. The parade was long for such a small town. It seemed to feature everyone from the girl scouts to the Red Hat Ladies, from boy scouts to swamp buggies.
As part of a nation-wide reorganization of the Red Cross, Lee and Collier Counties on the coast were combined and added to the relatively sparsely-populated Hendry and Glades Counties. As part of our effort to create a presence in those counties, we participated in the Swamp Cabbage Festival parade.
Our concession the theme was to decorate the float with palm fronds. And as we were in the parade, my pictures once again are mostly taken in the preparation area. However, I did shoot a few pictures through the windshield and outside the window of the Red
Cross van I was driving (I was thrilled to be asked to drive as my feet were still sore from the last parade.)
If you happen to notice a lot of Mexican faces in the crowd, remember this is citrus country. Many people came to help in the harvest, found it was a good place to live, and now are making contributions to the community in every field from the orchards to teaching.