Jul. 4—ANDERSON — The marching bands and floats were missing, but so were the masks.
The City of Anderson's annual Independence Day Celebration returned Saturday from last year's pandemic-induced cancellation with a different format. But that didn't dissuade thousands of people from streaming into Athletic Park for an evening of family-friendly activities.
Several community organizations sponsored bounce houses, prize giveaways and games, drawing hundreds of youngsters to a grassy area not far from the concert stage, where Pendleton native Corey Cox performed as dusk approached.
It was, in many ways, normal.
"Last year we missed out on so much," said Denny Goodnight of Frankton as he waited for his turn at a cornhole game. "It's all about family this year. It's all about family and getting out and doing things."
As coronavirus vaccines have become more widely available over the first six months of 2021, many people have become more comfortable at large gatherings. In late April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased recommended mask-wearing restrictions for fully vaccinated people, and many state and local health agencies — including the Madison County Health Department — have taken similar approaches.
Several residents expressed a sense of gratitude that, with the return of events like Saturday's celebration — even without the traditional parade, which organizers elected to forego due to planning difficulties with the pandemic — life is beginning to feel normal again.
"It feels great to be back out in an environment with people and to be able to celebrate our holiday," said Jerry Iteen of Alexandria. "It's been a couple years, so it's been a long time coming for sure."
City officials have been gradually adding larger events since the spring. The Little 500 drew a capacity crowd to Anderson Speedway in May, and the city's annual summer concert series, along with Anderson on Tap, have drawn enthusiastic crowds downtown.
"It does mean a lot to people to be able to get out — not just to get out, but to be able to start doing things in the community that they enjoy again," Anderson Mayor Tom Broderick said.
"We've had a lot of events like this, and I know it's always been appreciated, and to be able to do this again, I think, makes people feel really good."
Iteen said it likely will take a while before life feels truly routine for many people again.
"It looks like we are slowly and surely getting back together and coming back together," he said. "Hopefully, things will be normal and we'll be able to go on about our lives again."
Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.