After a long, hard winter of mudslides and earthquakes, San Fernando Valley residents showed they were more than ready for a little summer fun at Memorial Day events that featured national pride, nabobs and in one case, nudity.
After a spattering of rain, the sky cleared in time for festivities in Canoga Park, Burbank and Topanga to honor those who gave their lives for their country.
In Canoga Park, parade organizers estimated that 60,000 people lined Sherman Way, De Soto Avenue and Vanowen Street to watch the Memorial Day Parade held by the Canoga Park-West Hills Chamber of Commerce and Canoga Park Community Center.
Celebrities were out in force, including “Saturday Night Live” comic Kevin Nealon and one of two calves who played Norman in the movie, “City Slickers 2.”
“I’m here for the money,” joked Nealon, who was actually there to help promote the Model-T Club of America San Fernando Valley branch, of which his father-in-law, Don Dupree, is a past president. Dupree drove the black 1965 Lincoln Continental that ferried Nealon, who was spiffy in a tuxedo jacket, starched white shirt and green plaid shorts.
Norman had no comment as he hustled to keep up with his group, the Linda Menari Pony Rides, which was led by a covered wagon drawn by two Clydesdales, and included several ponies.
Vendors hawked candy apples and sodas, belly dancers swiveled their hips and helicopters roared overhead, as parade-goers clapped, cheered and waved American flags.
One of the most exotic floats was that entered by the West San Fernando Valley Rotary Club, which hired a belly-dancing troupe called the Perfumes of Araby. Clicking their finger cymbals and swaying seductively, the mostly middle-aged dancers showed ample amounts of verve and cleavage as their truck drove by.
Parade-goers said they came to honor the war dead, cheer on friends and family members that marched in the parade and spend a fun day with their families. “We too often forget that many gave their lives that we might have freedom to worship, to vote and to speak our minds,” said Loretta Haw, a Canoga Park homemaker.
“It’s glorious,” said Rita Pater of Woodland Hills, who came to see her granddaughter perform in the Hale Middle School drill team. “Perfect parade weather.”
The scene was much rowdier in Topanga, where residents were treated to a spectacle more resembling a battle than a parade route. The young and young-at-heart settled down by the side of Topanga Canyon Boulevard armed with garden hoses, super-sized water guns and water balloons in anticipation of the bizarre assortment of primitive floats that passed by--most armed with their own water weaponry.
“It’s a ‘Doo Dah’ parade,” said Sylvia Hamilton, 33, a lifelong Topanga resident, referring to the whimsical parade held annually in Pasadena. “Everybody just gets into it and does whatever they want.”
The half-hour rag-tag parade featured members of a nudist camp wearing togas made of towels, a pickup truck whose occupants passed out wine instead of candy, and another truck featuring the “Topanga Tribal Village,” consisting of five men and women in various stages of undress.
“We’re the primate in all of us,” said Patty Jackson, 23, a topless participant in the music and dancing on the truck.
Attitudes were anything but civilized in the back of a truck carrying several preteen girls who had spray-painted the truck with various slogans, most condemning the opposite sex.
“Boys Drool; Girls Rule,” read one.
Jennifer Goodwin, 11, said her friends had stashed eggs as well as the usual water balloons and squirt guns, which they planned to use to retaliate for a similar prank pulled by some boys last year.
Few, if any, of the participants and spectators left the parade dry, as everyone from the Cub Scouts with their water pistols to the fire department with mammoth hoses took part in what turned out to be a two-mile-long water fight. Terry Welles could do little but shake her head as her 25-year-old son, Jeffrey, waited with a garden hose, which was used liberally on the passing participants.
“They do fine all year long, but when (the) Topanga (parade) comes along, we all get wet,” she said.
The parade has been around for about 20 years, although nobody is quite sure exactly when it began.
Longtime residents said the parade brings out the best of the community’s unusual characters. But Karen Balin, who moved to Topanga with her husband a few months ago, was more blunt in her assessment. “It’s almost too tacky to be true,” she said, laughing.
A more sedate crowd gathered for a Memorial Day ceremony in Burbank, where 80-year-old Yvonne Files charmed a small crowd at McCambridge Park War Memorial with a dramatic account of her life as a young Resistance fighter from Belgium who committed espionage and sabotage on behalf of the Allied forces.
The petite Files spoke with the vigor of a woman half her age as she recalled how she took daily risks to harbor Allied soldiers in her one-bedroom apartment--men she referred to as “my airmen.”
“On this Memorial Day, let me emphasize that the basis for and thrust to pursue our activities was patriotism, love for our country,” she told the audience.
“How my reputation suffered. Don’t forget, I was a woman who lived alone. The only people nosy neighbors saw coming and going were men.”
Files was 27 when she joined the Resistance effort, a witness to the extermination of Jews by German soldiers. She helped get crucial war information transmitted to England and kept a dozen 50-pound containers of explosives in her home.
Eventually, one of the Allied soldiers to whom she provided food and shelter turned her in. She said she was subjected to beatings, one so severe that she passed out. Ten days before she was due to be hanged for her activities, Files was released as the tide of the war effort turned in the Allies’ favor.
Lady Luck, it seems, has always been on her side.
“I cheated the hanging men by a few days,” she said, “giving me the pleasure of participating in this beautiful commemoration.”