Return Day tradition Rainy ceremony caps stormy 2010 election cycle

By Lynn R. Parks

Teressa Smith didn't mind that it was raining. She and her friend, Joe Willene, both of whom live in Georgetown, sat on a bench on The Circle in Georgetown last Thursday and waited for the annual Return Day parade to get under way.

"I love the bands, and it's always exciting to see the politicians," she said. "And this year, I'm getting my roast ox sandwich," a Return Day tradition. "Last time, the wait was so long that I gave up. This year, I'm sticking it out. And I don't care whether it rains or not. It's only water."

Elwood Baker of Laurel was of a similar mind. He and his wife, Barbara, set their chairs up on The Circle and covered them with an umbrella before heading off in search of something to eat.

"In 20 years, I haven't missed a single Return Day," he said. "I live in Sussex County. I don't let the rain stop me." Despite the dedication of Return Day fans, the crowd at the traditional celebration of unity following political squabbling was down this year, perhaps because of the weather, on and off showers that, when on, were drenching, or perhaps because of the security that was a hold-over from 2008, when then Sen. and Vice President-Elect Joe Biden attended. While there were no metal detectors or rooftop sharpshooters as there had been when Biden was there, much of Georgetown was closed to traffic, meaning that people had to rely on shuttle buses to get to The Circle.

In addition, the parade route was tightly controlled: Gone were peddlers selling cotton candy and oversized balloons. No one threw candy to the crowd from passing floats, no one dashed from the sidewalk to embrace a candidate. And no candidate, after finishing the parade, walked the route a second time, greeting and talking with constituents.

Return Day board member Jim Bowden guessed that the rain as well as memories of the 2008 Return Day and long lines at checkpoints kept people away this year.

That, and the fact that Biden's office announced on Wednesday that the vice president would not be there.

But many other politicians were there. Congressman Mike Castle, who lost his bid to run for Biden's former Senate seat to primary opponent Christine O'Donnell, walked in the parade with Sen. Tom Carper and Sen. Ted Kaufman, who was appointed to fill Biden's seat until after this election. As Castle walked past the crowd, he thanked people for enduring the rain to watch the parade.

O'Donnell rode in the first carriage of the parade with Democrat Chris Coons, who defeated her in the general election. According to tradition, which demands that losers ride backwards in the carriages, she was facing the carriage's back window.

Before the start of the parade, the Approaching Storm, the marching band from Delaware State University, performed in front of the grandstand. "Election time is over and this is a time for all of us to work together to make Delaware as great as it can be," director Randolph Johnson told the crowd.

Miss Delaware Kayla Martel said that Return Day is a "great tradition." She added, "This is a wonderful day to celebrate the fact that we have the freedom to vote."

Diamond and Chad Brockbrader, Laurel, attended Return Day with their son, Zane, 5. They were looking forward to the parade and to seeing the Seaford High School band, in which their 16-year-old daughter, Kara, plays clarinet, perform.

"This is the first time I've been to Return Day," said Diamond Brockbrader, who grew up in Georgetown. "I'm really excited. This is a unique celebration."

News tips wanted
Call us with ideas for news and features. We're always looking for good stories to share with readers. Call Bryant Richardson at 629-9788.