Labor Day weekend marked the end of the summer season. On Saturday night we watched the Miss America Parade from behind the pretzel bakery counter. "Best seats in the house!" Dad boasted.
The boardwalk was a mob scene with all the parade watchers cordoned off to the side to make room for the fleet of fifty Cadillac convertibles gliding down the boardwalk, each bearing a leggy girl perched on the back of the passenger's seat, her hair done up, in a sparkly gown, with a ribbon over her shoulder that said "Miss Alabama, Miss Alaska, Miss Arizona, Miss Arkansas…" Flash bulbs popped and sizzled; the crowd cheered every passing Cadillac. "They look like princesses," Mom whispered in awe.
Mom and Dad stood on milk crates to see over the heads of the crowd. Dad hoisted me up on the counter for a good view. "Wave to Miss Pennsylvania. Here she comes!" Miss Pennsylvania wore an emerald-green gown and had long brown hair that dipped into large curls below her shoulders. When her car passed us, Dad put his fingers in his mouth and whistled. Miss Pennsylvania turned her head and waved.
"Oh, Jason," Mom said, her fingers fluttering as she waved to Miss Pennsylvania. "Isn't she beautiful?" Outside, the car engines thrummed. A gust of air wafted through the bakery, carrying scents of sweet perfume, gasoline vapors and cigarette smoke.
I looked up at Mom. "Yeah, but you're more." She kissed my head and clutched my shoulder.
The college boys twisted and baked nonstop, pulling rack after rack of steaming hot pretzels from the oven and sliding them into a metal basket at the front counter where Dad stuffed them into paper bags. Between batches, one of the college boys, Doug, grabbed a bag of pretzels, ducked under the counter and bounded onto the boardwalk. He worked his lanky frame through the crowd, caught up with one of the Cadillacs and handed the bag to Miss Tennessee. She took the pretzels and blew him a kiss. The crowd went wild. Doug raised his fists like a prizefighter. Two guys with cameras took his picture, their flashbulbs popping like summer lightning. "Hot soft pretzels!" Dad shouted. "A Miss America favorite!"
In honor of Kira Kazantsev, the newly crowned Miss America, here's a sweet passage from Mr. Boardwalk describing the parade as seen by seven-year-old Jason from his parents' Boardwalk pretzel bakery:
"A heartfelt bildungsroman, a story of a man coming to terms with his complicated youth, and a vivid novel of place"