The Riverside-Brookfield High School "Pupettes" poms team performs on July 3 during the annual Fourth of July parade on Longcommon Road in Riverside. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

The villages came alive this weekend as hundreds of people, no doubt thousands, emerged from their houses to watch the Fourth of July parades in their towns. It was the largest local outdoor gathering of people since the pandemic began 16 months ago.

The parades were cancelled a year ago, but they returned on July 3 in Riverside and Brookfield and on July 4 in North Riverside.

People were glad the parades were back.

“It’s like a reawakening,” said Julie Cooney, of Riverside, who has been watching the Riverside Fourth of July parade for more than 50 years. “It was special because we missed it last year.”

Crowds at the parades and Friday night’s Concert in the Park in Riverside were close to normal, with parade watchers packing the parkways and kids grabbing candy – sweets were prohibited in Riverside this year due to the pandemic, though there were scattered scofflaws — which was still gently tossed or handed out.

“It feels surreal to be back together in a big group like this,” said Riverside resident Matthew Katz who watched the Riverside parade with his wife, Holly, and their two small children. “You look up and it feels really familiar, but also it’s been so long since we’ve been doing this that it has like a new feel, like, ‘Oh, finally we’re back.’”

Katz said enduring the social isolation during the pandemic was hard but not as hard for his family as it was for friends of his who live in the city. Having great neighbors in Riverside helped as did space to be outside.

“It was a miserable year but being in Riverside and being together as a family made things much, much easier,” Katz said.

Going to the July 2 Concert in the Park in Riverside’s Guthrie Park was fun Holly Katz said.

“It seemed like everyone was ready to party and to enjoy the music and the food,” Holly Katz said. “It was fun to watch kids run around and be crazy,”

She said the weekend felt like a marker of sorts.

“I feel like we are excited to be doing outdoor activities again with friends and the community,” she said. “It feels nostalgic and also looking kind of forward; like we’re moving on. This is the way things can and should be and will be.”

The weather couldn’t have nicer with plenty of sun with temperatures in the 70s during the morning parades.

“It is the nicest day that we’ve ever, ever had and I’ve lived in town 44 years,” said Diane Balin, of Riverside.

In 2018 and 2019 Balin, who is the president of the Riverside chapter of American Association of University Women (AAUW) marched in much hotter weather with other members who, despite the heat, wore long white dresses to honor the suffragettes and the centenary of the 19th Amendment to the federal Constitution giving women the right to vote.

The AAUW was one of a number of groups who typically participate in the parades but did not this year. Riverside Recreation Director Ron Malchiodi estimated that there were about a third fewer groups participating in 2021. The story was similar in Brookfield, where Recreation Director Stevie Ferrari said the parade was without roughly half of its normal participants.

Unlike other years there were no food booths in Guthrie Park after the Riverside parade, disappointing many who look forward to the bratwursts cooked by Ascension Lutheran Church.

“We kind of miss not having the food groups,” Balin said.

Brookfield’s usual Party in the Park event at Kiwanis Park was cancelled this year because of lingering concerns about the pandemic and uncertainty about just when the state would fully reopen this spring. Still, some families kept up the tradition by holding their own picnics there.

But there were fire trucks from Brookfield, Riverside, McCook, Lyons and LaGrange Park blasting their sirens. The Riverside-Brookfield High School marching band strutted their stuff, playing the school’s fight song during both the Riverside and Brookfield parades on Saturday, accompanied by Principal Hector Freytas and band director James Baum, wearing his electric blue suit.

Five-year-old Joseph Saracco of Brookfield was most impressed by the Party Like a Princess float featuring young women in flowing ball gowns.

“I know it sounds crazy, but actually the princesses,” said Joseph Saracco when asked what was his favorite part of the parade. “I like the mermaids. I liked the candy too.”

Joseph’s father, Adam Saracco, has brought his family to the parade ever since they moved to Brookfield four years ago.

“They do a nice job representing the community and the surrounding area,” Adam Saracco said. “It’s a fun event and my son gets some candy. Nice to be amongst fellow residents. It’s great, just kind of marks that things are getting back to normal for everybody.”

Adam’s parents, Alice and Mario Saracco drove over from Westchester to watch the parade.

“We love how the community comes together for The Fourth,” said Alice Saracco

Sarah Terhune was hosting her annual front yard party at her house at 45 Longcommon Road in Riverside along the parade route. After six years there it will be her final Fourth of July party as she and her husband have just sold their house and will be moving to another home in Riverside. Her front yard was filled with people catching up and enjoying food and drink.

“It’s great,” Terhune said. “Everyone’s vaccinated and feeling more comfortable to get out, and I feel this is kind of like a kickoff to summer, everyone being able to be together safely and a little more comfortably than in the past.”

Everyone seems to love a parade even if it is a smaller one than usual.

“You can’t get more small-town than this small-town parade,” said Jon, a Riverside resident who declined to give his last name.