• 72°

Fourth of July

An American flag is seen on the a car during the annual Fourth of July Parade in the China Grove community in Pike County, Ala., Monday, July 4, 2011. (Messenger Staff Photo/Thomas Graning)

China Grove celebrates ‘slice of Americana’

Whatever is said about “All roads leading to Rome” and everybody wanting to be Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day could be said about China Grove on the Fourth of July.

On that day, all roads do lead to China Grove and everybody wants to enjoy the benefits of country living as they celebrate America’s independence.

The usually sleepy little community of China Grove, population 26, swelled to overflowing Monday. The early cloudy skies and intermittent showers of blessings didn’t deter the paraders or those who came to cheer them on.

Libby Freer smiles during the annual Fourth of July Parade in the China Grove community in Pike County, Ala., Monday, July 4, 2011. (Messenger Staff Photo/Thomas Graning)

Estimating the crowd would be difficult at best as people lined the roadside for a mile or more, single file and five deep, in lawn chairs, on blankets, under tents and in the beds of pickup trucks.

Downtown China Grove was packed on both sides and from city limit to city limit, if there would be such a thing in the northern Pike County community.

“Several thousand, give or take a few,” is the way China Grove resident and parade “committee” member Jimmy Messick said. “It’s a big crowd – about usual.”

But there is nothing “usual” about the China Grove Parade.

“Just decorate a ride or grab one” and parade along to the end of town. Then say, “thank you” for an ice-cold rasher of watermelon and stay around as long as you will to enjoy the fellowship of friends and neighbors. Where else is there a parade like that?

“That’s what this parade is all about,” said Diane LaFountaine, a parade organizer. “It’s all about people. It’s all about community.”

Sheila Deverage laughing said the China Grove Parade is “Troy’s vacation.” However, that would be to limit the scope of the celebration. People come from all across Pike County and far beyond.

Linda Thrash of Brundidge said the China Grove Parade is “just typical Southern fun.” “We’ve been coming for years and always look forward to it,” she said. “We’ve never been disappointed.”

Norma Turner from the Tennille community was viewing the parade for the first time.

“We usually stay around the house on the Fourth being lazy,” she said. “But we’d heard a lot about the parade and wanted to come see what it was all about. It’s a great way to celebrate and it was well worth getting out of the house.”

Ella Grace Dicks covers her ears as motorcycles make their way by during the annual Fourth of July Parade in the China Grove community in Pike County, Ala., Monday, July 4, 2011. (Messenger Staff Photo/Thomas Graning)

Mary Elizabeth Wilson had driven from “the other side of Montgomery” to come to the parade. “We really didn’t know where China Grove was and, boy, were we surprised when we got here,” she said. “It’s amazing that this many people could find this place. But, now that we know where it is and how much fun this parade is – well, not just the parade. The atmosphere. It’s like stepping back in time to a place you’d like to be. A great day to be an American.”

People cut watermelon to eat after the annual Fourth of July Parade in the China Grove community in Pike County, Ala., Monday, July 4, 2011. (Messenger Staff Photo/Thomas Graning)

Scott Flowers of Troy found a spot across from the old M.L. Grant store to watch the parade. And for good reason.

“That old store belonged to my uncle M.L. Grant – Martin Luther Grant,” Flowers said. “When I was a boy, our mama would ‘farm’ us out in the summer and we’d spend a lot of time out here, walking barefoot everywhere we went.

“We’d go down to the pond fishing, shoot rifles and we had chocolate pudding every day. It was a great way to spend the summer.”

Flowers said he learned to drive on the lonely country road that was the busy parade route for the 12th Annual China Grove Parade.

He shook his head in disbelief that there might be no 13th annual parade.

“China Grove comes alive again on the Fourth of July,” Flowers said. “Why, half of Pike County is here. Not to have this parade? I hope that’s a false rumor. Too many people would be disappointed for that to be true.

“This is the closest thing to a slice of Americana that there is. It’s down to earth, salt of the earth people coming together to celebrate America. There aren’t many places like this left anymore.”

Peggy Faulk of Troy agreed that being at China Grove on the Fourth of July is to experience “real Americana.”

“That’s what everybody says, and that’s what it is,” she said. “It brings us back to our roots.”