As the black convertible approached, kids squinted. No sign of beads. No candy.
From inside the car, under a wide-brimmed red hat, 89-year-old Helen Mulrennan Young waved a small American flag at the passing crowd.
"Happy Fourth," she said, softly.
"Happy Fourth!" Brandon Fourth of July paradegoers returned.
Young is the last remaining immediate member of an East Hillsborough pioneer family, the granddaughter of John Mulrennan, who came from Ireland in 1874 and farmed 160 acres in what is now Valrico.
For much of Young's life, Brandon was a cow town filled with orange groves and pastures. State Road 60 wasn't paved. When she'd go to the grocery store after work, she knew almost everyone.
Now, the Brandon Fourth of July parade is billed as the biggest in the state. About 30,000 show up most years, dressed in stars and stripes. They bring umbrellas and firecrackers.
On this year — an election year — the parade was about a dozen floats longer.
But before politics came history: Mike Brandon. Claire Simmons Bryan.
This year, parade organizers wanted to honor members of these pioneer families.
Four participated in the parade.
Young's maiden name, plastered on the side of the convertible, caught the attention of some children.
"That's my middle school!" one girl exclaimed.
Born in a wood house that burned down in 1934, Young was the youngest of eight.
She spent her childhood picking peas and part of her adulthood raising a son while waiting tables seven days a week.
Times could be tough for her husband, who worked in construction.
"I did what I needed to do," she said.
Independence is a luxury that came with age, aided by a well-off second husband and a grown son who joined the U.S. Air Force and eventually settled in Valrico.
These days, Young spends her time doing exactly what she wants.
She crochets blankets to minister to others. She's active in Kiwanis International.
She spends time with her great-grandchildren, ages 12 and 13.
In 2005, she spent Independence Day dinner alone, someplace she never thought she'd be: Waikiki Beach in Hawaii.
She ate on a screened-in porch overlooking the water. And she watched the fireworks.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.