Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Lawn chairs march, not sit, for parade

Ladies will portray 'Rosie the Riveter' in zany Northside Fourth of July tradition

By John Johnston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

There's a pediatrician in the group. Also a choreographer, an administrative assistant, a writer and a hair designer. But the women are about to shed those identities and begin to mold themselves into a cohesive unit formally known as the Northsidian Ladies Auxiliary Lawn Chair Brigade.


Lawn chair ladies at practice
They've come to Donaldson Place - a short stretch of asphalt lined with older, well-maintained homes - to prepare for their signature event: the Northside Fourth of July parade. It's a staple of summer, and, like the neighborhood itself, it's eclectic and quirky. The lawn chair ladies help make it that way.

"Marching with the Ladies Lawn Chair Brigade is like hitting the wall," says Cheryl Wallace, the aforementioned choreographer. "By the time you're done, you don't know how you survived it. I like that. I like the ladies. And I like how weird it is."

As practice begins, everybody seems to be talking and laughing at once, but the brigade (at half strength for this rehearsal) at least has agreed on a theme: Rosie the Riveter. (Historical interjection: Norman Rockwell's famous painting of Rosie symbolized women's contributions to the home front during World War II.)

"One of the reasons I like Rosie is she has a shape we can work off of," says Wallace, now assuming Rosie's bicep-flexing pose.

"She has to be sexy," says Scottish-accented Taylor Jameson, who owns a hair design studio.

The grand marshal for this year's Northside Fourth of July will be "Rick, the guy at the post office," says Barb Boylan, one of the organizers.
"Everybody knows Rick," Boylan says, noting that parade organizers often choose "kind of an everyday person that people relate to." One year, the grand marshal was "Bill, the guy at the hardware store."
The popular parade will, as usual, feature high school marching bands, military veterans and politicians, as well as an assortment of offbeat units, including a group of Klingons (from Star Trek) and the Northside Men's Drill Team (carrying their cordless power drills).
The parade begins at noon at Hamilton Avenue and Ashtree Drive, proceeds south on Hamilton, and ends at Hoffner Park, where a water festival will take place.
Not that the brigade insists on a sexy motif. One year the members wore AstroTurf, the idea being that while carrying lawn chairs the ladies should actually look like lawns. Last year's routine included opening the chairs, sitting in them and talking into cell phones:

Oh, hello, Alice! Oh, dahling, I can't talk now, I'm in the middle of a parade!

That went over well, says Donna Covrett, City Beat dining editor. It was her parade debut.

"For weeks after the parade I went to the pool and people were applauding, going, 'You're a lawn chair lady!' "

Yes, she is. Much to the chagrin of her teenage sons, Oliver and Orion.

"There's your mom," someone said to 15-year-old Oliver during the 2002 parade. "She's in the Lawn Chair Brigade!"

"No, that's not her," Oliver said.

But back to this year.

Wallace leads the way, marching down the street, stopping to flex that bicep.

"Can we kind of grunt?" asks Kathy Bain.

"Oh, grunting would be good," Wallace says. "Ungh, ungh, ungh."

Bain is the pediatrician. She expects to see residents from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center along the parade route. "They can't believe I'm a lawn chair lady."

All told, about three dozen women have marched with the group since Lynn Milosevich formed it in 1997. She died of cancer the next year, but her spirit lives on through the brigade.

Although the group traditionally has not included males, "that wouldn't be a problem," says Vicki Fleischer, the administrative assistant, "if they wanted to dress in drag."

Almost anything, it seems, is possible.

"I have a great idea," Wallace says. "We can base this on 'Ring around the Rosie!' "

That leads to routines involving circles and pinwheels and zigzagging. And more laughter.

They stop after a solid 45 minutes of street practice, promising to rehearse again. Plus, there's always time to teach the routine to newcomers in the parking lot before the parade.

"It's more together this year than it usually is the first time out," Fleischer says.

Now that's something worth grunting about.

E-mail jjohnston@enquirer.com

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