The Houby Parade stepped off for its 38th year on Sunday, and I with it … never missing a year.
The parade was something very dear to my late mother, Lillian Baar, one of its founders, so I make sure that no matter what is on the calendar, as long as the Houby Parade continues, I will be in it.
When it first began, the Houby Parade was limited to Cicero and Berwyn. Later it opened up to surrounding communities to generate a Houby Queen-a queen of mushrooms, if you will. Houby means mushrooms in the Czech language, reflecting what was once a large Czechoslovak enclave in the near western suburbs. And, by the way, that is one houba and two houby” so houby always takes a plural verb.
As communities changed, getting different ethnic flavors, the Houby Parade continued. Due to its lateness in the year, weather was always a consideration. Probably half the time of my being in the parade, I was cold and wet. Sometimes there was even snow on the ground as we trudged along in honor of mushrooms, most of which we could only find at the Jewel.
But then, there were those Czechoslovak-Americans who prided themselves on their old-world talents of being able to find mushrooms in the wild, and so the name caught on and stuck.
In the first few years, Houby queens were actually elected by the pound. Not them, of course, but the numbers of votes cast in participating stores along Cermak Road, which serves as the parade route. Needless to say, if poundage was demanded, then poundage was generated. Ballot boxes were stuffed by overenthusiastic parents and sponsoring organizations.
Finally, judges were created, and the participating girls went through a number of paces before they could be chosen to rule of a banquet and a parade.
I always wondered what the Houby queen ever did after that other than glory in her title. But then, there are St. Patrick’s Day, Columbus Day, and other “day” queens who also have the same situation.
At one time the Houby Parade was so big that even a campaigning George Bush Sr. came out to participate. That caused a big hubbub all the way around-with the arrival of a seated U.S. president, his entourage, a huge press corps, imported politicians, and all the ‘burbs.
We still get the local pols and political organizations, school bands and local organizations out, but no more presidents. I am almost happy about that, as getting the parade set up is chaotic enough without adding the Secret Service and their demands.
This year seemed a bit different, in that the crowd was down in the Cicero part of the parade, only to pick up in the Berwyn part. The weather, for once, was cooperating, so there was a joyful spirit among the paraders. The aromas of various ethnic foods being cooked along the way were enticing, and the carnival rides were reminiscent of the carnivals we once used to have in church parking lots in the area-most specifically, I recall the one where the North Riverside VFW now stands.
There were the usual collection of dogs, this year showing a tendency for little terriers, pugs and Chihuahuas. The crowd was interactive and enjoyed the parade, calling out to those whom they knew and exchanging waves. There was only one undisciplined child in the Berwyn part of the parade who felt obliged to spray Silly String onto the car, in spite of a warning not to. He was only outdone by his mother, who, apparently thinking it was cute, wished us a “Merry Christmas.”
The Houby Parade is probably going to go on long after the last mushroom turns into gravy, as it fills a community need to strut its stuff and showcase its people, its organizations, its diverse cultures and everything else which makes the near western suburbs unique.
I am already contemplating that we will hit the big 4-0 in two years, when we all will be marching yet again-maybe a little slower, but marching or riding nonetheless.