Melvin Clift is 83, and Thursday's Marshfield Independence Day parade was the 82nd he’d attended.
It wouldn’t be precisely true to say that he would never miss a parade. About 35 years ago, he opted to go to the lake with his brother to learn how to waterski. He reckons he did OK. But every year since, he’s been at his spot on the northeast corner of the square, and that’s where he intends to be each July 4 for the duration.
Clift was born in 1935, the same as Elvis. He grew up in Marshfield and attended Jameson School, at the intersection of Timber Ridge and Mission Home roads, near State Highway W.
He remembers walking through a field to get to school. In those days, he’d carry his .22 rifle with him to school, then hide it in the weeds until school was out so he could hunt all the way home.
It's fascinating to hear Clift talk about the Marshfield of years past.
"I used to ride my horse and tie it up right there," he said, pointing to a spot one block west of his favorite parade spot.
Clift would attend a picture show, he said, and there was a place to buy live, wild rabbits for a quarter.
He also recalls a greased pole on the square — about 15 to 18 feet tall, with $3 tied to the top as a prize.
"I put sand on my hands and feet and legs, and I got that $3," he remembers.
He points to where Muzzy's Cafe was located. "They had the best hamburgers you'd ever eat," he said. He remembers that he could get a hamburger and a bottle of Grapette pop for only 25 cents.
For twice that amount, Clift said, you could buy a possum hide on the south side of the square.
On a day when the Justice Center clock was dedicated a few feet away, Clift remembers his own brush with the law, which happened when he was 17.
"I stayed all night in that jailhouse," he said. "They didn’t even shut the door."
When asked why the law enforcement officials invited him to a sleepover, Clift says, "They probably thought I wasn’t able to drive real well.” He had run his car into a ditch on a spot he called Fraker Hill.
Clift also remembers terrapin races on the square, and sack races, and lots more hijinks, shenanigans and tomfoolery.
Times have changed. The parade, though, remains constant, and has for 140 years.
What does Clift like best about the Marshfield parade? "I like the horse manure and the gunpowder," he deadpans, before getting an elbow from his wife of 61 years, Peggy (Buttram) Clift. (The Clifts have three children, 12 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren, and many were in attendance at the parade with the couple.)
More earnestly, Clift said of the parade, "I like all of it. It gets bigger every year. I just love the parade — I hope they keep having it."
Much as he enjoyed his attempt at waterskiing, he won't let that or anything else get in the way of the next parade.
"I’ll be right here in the same spot next year," he said. "I don't know if I'll live that long, but if I do, I'll be here."