By Wendy Watts
Special to the Town Crier
First of all, there really wasn’t a plan for part two. I thought I was done but here I am writing about this subject again.
It started after I wrote an article for the Town Crier’s other publication, Palms to Pines Magazine, last May. It was titled “Idyllwild’s Patriotic Parade” and it spoke of the history and the long-standing tradition it brings.
Originally, I interviewed Bob Parish, parade chair. He told me a story of how in early 1960s the idea of the parade began with a ”little boy in a Radio Flyer Wagon with an American flag being led by his parents.” It was such a sweet story and being a big history buff, I was curious to know if in fact the boy or his family still reside here.
So I started with Bob Smith of the Idyllwild Area Historical Society in hopes of finding a picture to work from. I was told one wasn’t available. So armed with just a story and curiosity, I began to ask around of anyone in my path. As I was volunteering at the Idyllwild Public Library, I struck up a conversation with Library Assistant Susan Righetti who organizes children’s events throughout the year.
Susan moved here in 1974 with her husband and raised her family here. She talked about how her children spent their entire school days here and then joked about them being “Hillbillies,” the affectionate term given to kids who have attended all grades at Idyllwild School. With this much history in town, I thought for sure she could steer me in the right direction. Well, that she did. Though he was only 50 feet away in the next room, he was a lead, nonetheless.
I met Warren Monroe, one of many dedicated volunteers. He couldn’t recall anything of the moment I spoke of, but he did begin to tell me the story of the parade that almost never was. He was referring to the Bee Canyon Fire that took place in July 1996 in which evacuations affected a range of 5,000 to 12,000 people and which was 100-percent contained late on July 4.
He told about how the parade itself still went on but in its own unique way. The next day, a couple of locals where spotted on a shop roof in town waving a large American flag in salute of fire trucks and firefighters who rode down the street in front of the parade that year. He then said proudly, “The town just came together and we had a potluck with tables made of saw horses and plywood.”
After that he recommended I go see Bud Hunt. He is famous for the local Bike Route Shop and his long history in town, so I thought I might have better luck. I arrived on Lower Pine Crest Avenue and was greeted warmly by Bud who talked about how much fun the yearly tradition was and that it was common for some of the townspeople to say, “It starts at 10. Let’s all get up and get in the parade.” But he confessed he couldn’t recall anything of how the first parade started, so he gave me a few more names of locals who might have known. My new leads led me to the home of Lloyd and Shirley Wood.
Again, only in Idyllwild could you walk up to somebody’s house on a lazy Sunday and ask a bunch of questions. What I didn’t know was I was about to meet another piece of the puzzle that is Idyllwild. With Shirley arriving here in 1936 and Lloyd in 1946, they’ve spent most of their lives here. Shirley, 87, invited me to sit on her front porch and recalled her life and what it meant to them to have, “not left [Idyllwild] at all.” Then she added, “We stayed the whole time doing what we had to do to make ends meet.”
She then talked about how Lloyd and his father dug pipelines to begin the ability to provide water to Pine Cove. Then without a memory of the particular parade I was speaking of, she hugged me and then I was on my way to the next person.
So I ended up at Village Properties and went in search of Jackie Kretsinger. I told her my story of what I was searching for. I asked her how she came to live here. She told me she had moved here in 1963 right after high school and began working at the Koffee Cup, now The Red Kettle. She married her husband, George, and raised two children here and has been here ever since. “Idyllwild is great town to be in love,” she said as she celebrates 52 years married.
I was starting to believe I might not find my answer. But with that said I was pretty happy with the idea that I had met new people and learned history I didn’t know three weeks ago. I said goodbye and started to leave to my next lead when Jackie asked, “Hey, did you say Radio Red Flyer wagon? I remember Eleanor used to drag Steve and Jay along in a red wagon as she was working.” She was speaking of the Johnson family who most locals know were instrumental in contributing to the Idyllwild we know today. I discovered that the Jerry and Eleanor Johnson had purchased their first home right there on North Circle Dr. (the current parade route) So it all made perfect sense. I could see where Eleanor could have been toting her grandchildren down the street and a little boy is waving a flag innocently enough and then a parade is born.
I already had Jay’s contact info from my past work at Town Hall. His family donated the land it stands on in 1946. I gave him a call with my possible theory and he laughed and said, “ I think it was my brother, Steve.” I reached him and met up with him at Village Market where their family was in the middle of new renovations. Steve then confirmed what I was hoping — that he was 5 in 1963, making it very possible he was whom I was seeking.
I asked him what memories he had of the parades. He told a story of when his Grandma bought him, his brother and cousins “Mickey Bikes” (motor-styled bikes) when they were little. He then smiled and said, “We would take crepe paper and decorate them and then we almost got ticketed by CHP for driving them down the route.” So am I 100-percent sure Steve is the little kid that helped start it all? I really don’t think I need to be completely.
Did you know at least three men believed they were the “Kissing Sailor” in the iconic picture of a gentleman dipping a woman with a kiss at the end of World War ll? So with that said, I believe the important thing is that a boy and his wagon created a story memorable enough that it is still being passed down 55 years later and helped create another tradition for Idyllwild.