BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – It started off with a few families along 20th Street – kids, bikes, dogs and a neighborhood barbecue. Some 33 years later the Westchester 4th of July Parade, in the hands of a second, even third generation of neighbors, is a Bakersfield institution. 

If there’s been any lapse of enthusiasm over the years, it’s not evident today.

Celebrants lined the route of the century-old, tree-lined neighborhood with bikes and lawn chairs to watch the annual spectacle – a living, breathing, drum-banging Norman Rockwell painting. If there weren’t so many cell phones recording this local slice of Americana, a person could almost believe this was 1946 all over again.

Natalie Green, one of the organizers, says the best part of the parade, to her, is the sense of neighborhood it promotes.

“My favorite part are the smiles,” she said. “Watching kids’ faces light up when the cannon goes off. And just walking down the street reminds people (of the neighbors) you just don’t get to see all the time.”

Renee Hinkson moved to Bakersfield two years ago and realized she’s been looking for Westchester all her life.

“This is the funnest community I’ve ever been a part of,” said Hinkson, enjoying the parade with her soon-to-be fifth-grader, Jack. “This is what I would have wished to have grown up in, so I’m happy to bring my kids into it. It’s the best.”

It was all here. The marching bands, the beauty queens, the vintage Jeeps, the city’s mayor, the lemonade stands. 

As co-organizer Linda Sullenger pointed out, a little 1776 authenticity too.

“We are lucky to have the Sons of the American Revolution here today,” she said, “loving this great weather, ‘cause their uniforms are wool.”

World War II veteran Walter Grainger, the parade’s Grand Marshal, was on hand soliciting donations for the local World War II Veterans Memorial, set to open in just four months at nearby Jastro Park. It’s a half-million dollar project that is not quite there yet.

“It’ll be all done on Veterans Day this year,” said Grainger, who served in the Pacific Theater, 1944-46, and was one of five Grainger boys to put on a uniform during World War II. “You have to have a goal. That’s it. And we’re just trying to get the word out. Trying to get the money. We don’t have all the money.”

Not that anyone should need any extra encouragement for a cause like that, but proceeds from the sale of morning libations went to the memorial fund.

Free hot dogs, Bloody Marys for a good cause. Is this a great country or what?