Parade turns ghost town into beehive

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 5, 2003

Features Editor

At 8 o'clock the morning of July 4, China Grove was a virtual ghost town. The only sounds were a crow calling in the distance and the soft rolling of the clouds overhead.

Then the floodgates opened.

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By 9 o'clock, the sleepy little community was awakened by hundreds of folks clamoring around high on patriotic spirit.

Exactly how many people and four-legged critters came to China Grove for the Fourth Annual China Grove Parade, no one knows. Residents of China Grove's aren't bean counters. They have more important things to do. They have to visit with neighbors, rock on the front porch, tend their gardens, take a brisk walk along the road less traveled - and host parades on the Fourth of July.

Rita Dean said the success of the parade isn't determined by the number of people who attend, but rather by a measure of fun.

"I thought the parade was successful the first year when we had about 50 people," Dean said with a smile.

If 50 people made a successful parade, then Friday's parade was a huge success.

A Meeksville firefighter estimated the crowd at an "easy 500."

A law enforcement officer said the crowd hoovered between 800 and 1,000. Folks were "strung" all up and down the road, he said. Many of them never made it to downtown China Grove, population 24.

And, nobody knew how many entries were in the parade.

"We don't count," Dean said, still smiling. "People just come, find a spot and hop in."

That's the way life is in China Grove - laid back, simple and, oh, so much fun.

"I'd like to move back to China Grove," said Cecil Vaughn, with a wistful look. "But I can't."

He can't move back because there's no land for sale in China Grove. People who are fortunate enough to live in China Grove stay. Those who leave, usually wish they hadn't.

Vaughn grew up in China Grove and, like the three little pigs, left to seek his fortune in the big, wide world.

On Friday, he was back to claim some of the fortune he left behind - the simple ways of the good ol' days and the pleasures found in the bosom of Mother Nature.

Vaughn frequently comes back to

China Grove to tend the cemetery where family members are buried. He remembers when a dirt road ran through the community and folks made their living with cows, chickens, cotton, corn and sugar cane - a time when fruit trees and honey bees added a special sweetness to rural life.

"I'd move back if I could find a place," Vaughn said, looking out over the crowd of "foreigners" who had invaded his 'home town.' "This is great - such a simple thing. So many people having so much fun."

Vaughn's mother, Nevelle Ellis Jenkins sat beside him, watching the people and waiting for the parade to start.

Jenkins was born in China Grove and she was at the celebration for another reason.

"I'm here in memory of my mother, Cynthia Willena Armstrong," she said. "She's buried at Salem Cemetery and she did love China Grove and so do I."

Mrs. Jenkins thoughts drifted back to the time when a paved road was unheard of in China Grove.

"There was no such thing," she said. "There were three stores, a grist mill, a cotton gin and about 50 houses. We picked blackberries along the dirt road and my mama always had fig trees. We picked those, too.."

Jenkins said there was not much to do in China Grove back then, but there's not much to do now either.

"But it was a good life back then and now, too, I guess," Mrs. Jenkins said.

Undoubtedly, a lot of other people think the slow-paced life of rural communities has something to offer because the little hole-in-the-road community in northern Pike County was filled on July 4.

"I would never have believed that this many people would be in China Grove," Bob McLendon said as he surveyed the downtown crowd from atop his steed. "I heard there was going to be a parade, so I came, but I had no idea the road would be lined and 'town' would be packed. It's fantastic when a small

community comes together like this. It's an opportunity for people to get to know each other and enjoy the simple things in life."

Henry and Margaret Stewart lingered long in China Grove. Whether it was the barbecue ribs or the fellowship that kept them there, they didn't say. Probably both because they were obviously enjoying both.

"I don't think there are many people in Montgomery today, because they're all here in China Grove," Mrs. Stewart said, laughing. "This is a lot of fun."