It was the children who brought Lodians out of their houses into the sunlight on Sunday afternoon.
Whether to cheer for the floats and bands at the annual parade, or to nibble cotton candy and thrill at the carnival rides, they came out into the streets.
Many who had spent the past week in mourning, living from newscast to special report, doting on the latest information from what has come to be called "ground zero" in New York, stood up, turned off the TV's and came outside in to the sunshine of a fine fall weekend because "the kids needed it."
"I came because of the children," said Elizabeth Crites, of Lodi. She sat on at the brick planter at the corner of Church and Elm Streets, keeping an eye on a handful of youngsters, including 4-year old Alexia Crites Karanastasis whose blue eyes broadened at the arrival of the sheriffs mounted posse with its colorful horses and riders, followed close behind by the Galt High Band with its striking crimson and black uniforms and toe-tapping music.
Flags were everywhere, in every form from the traditional banner to stick-on labels, vests, blankets, T-shirts and chairs, and the patchwork quilt of colors that made up the crowd lining the parade route was weighted with red, white and blue.
"There's a lot of patriotic people here and that's cool," said Crites.
She said she had mostly stayed in side all week, wallowing in the gloom of recent events, but "It was time to get out and the kids made me bring them."
Patrick and Sandy Cary of Lodi brought a whole family contingent. Their daughter is in the Tokay High School band, so they came out to support her, but felt this year was a little different than most.
"It looks a lot more American this year," said Sandy Car. "Everybody's buying flags and usually nobody buys anything but cotton candy."
They watched as a flag-draped float with a half dozen women in folding chairs and two tiny fox terriers sporting star-spangled hats cruised by to the tune of "She's A Grand Old Flag."
Seventh grader Trent Dean watched from the sidewalk with his dad, Dennis Dean, of Lodi. "This is way better than last year," said the younger Dean. "There is more stuff I'd like to see, as a kid." he said, citing the antique cars, more music and colorful floats.
The crepe myrtle trees edging Elm Street were a little wider this year than last, offering more shade to those on the north side of the street, but there were other differences, not so subtle.
The flag in front of the police station was at half staff, and crossing in front of it were Lynne Davis of Stockton and Rosetta Smith of Modesto, carrying their folding chairs and heading back to their car.
"You want to start feeling normal again," said Davis. "You want to get back to feeling normal, and then there is this hanging over your head. It's just awful, but we were glad to get out of the house."
Over at the theater plaza, lines once again formed for the current favorites. Manager Jeremy Duburg suggested there would be more customers as the parade wound down and the Grape Festival came to a close. "Last week was very slow," he said. "Now that there is more on TV than just the news, people are coming out, and they are bringing their kids."
The Grape Festival grounds looked alive with activity as parents guided little ones through rides and exhibits.
Inside the fair's petting zoo, an astounded toddler watched a week-old Zeedonk (zebra-donkey cross) move around next to his mother. Keeper Ira Shaw, of Modesto said that the creatures are "smart, in an ornery kind of way" and added that caring for the animals has been a way to relieve some of the stress of the past week.
Tannie Jones of Acampo said that she brought her daughters to the fair because she was "tired of being sad. "She said she came primarily for her children, but needed to get out of the house anyway. "It's just too much, all this crying."
Violet Hidalgo of Stockton waited near the door as her children approached and touched one of the reptile exhibits, a three-foot long American alligator. They touched its leathery skin and shrieked with glee, pulling back and daring each other to try it again. "Sometimes you just have to get away from the grief and take a break from reality," said Hidalgo.
Vendor Tracy Williams, who is also on the parade committee said she felt attendance was down somewhat from last year for both events, but "You can't control what happens in the world," she sighed. "You just do the best you can, and go on."
Other vendors reported having a strong turnout on Saturday night, but felt a slowdown Sunday, which picked up slightly after the parade was over. Still, patrons devoured cobblers, carnitas, margaritas and hot dogs along with roasted corn, pop corn, corn dogs and sticky buns, all washed down with sodas, beer and wines by the glass as in past years.
Murals made of grapes, tomatoes, pumpkin seeds and potatoes were displayed next to watercolors and photographs, and shoppers could browse amid leather goods, crafts and jewelry.
Assistant manager Mikki Simpson took a moment from juggling phone calls and spot emergencies late Sunday night just long enough to say that the turnout this year had been "very good." Manager Mark Armstrong was not able to provide final numbers of fairgoers.
Comments about this story? Send mail to the News-Sentinel newsroom.
To subscribe to the Lodi News-Sentinel, fill out our online form or call our Subscriber Services Department at (209) 333-1400.