July 2009
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4th of July Festivities Swell Tiny Community


Frank Carlisle of China Grove was the 2008 4th of July Parade Grand Marshal.


China Grove Parade is a “Step Back in Time” Celebration

Just a few miles from the roar of summertime traffic racing up and down US Highway 231 lies the tiny Pike County community of China Grove. With a population hovering between 25 and 30, this sleepy stretch of countryside awakens every July 4th for a parade that’s a step back in time.

Clockwise from top left, Butch Royal of Grady waves to the crowd while driving his mules and wagon, one of several mule teams in attendance at the 2008 parade; motorcycle enthusiasts from surrounding counties make a strong showing at the parade, some decorating their rides for the occasion; this 1954 Ford Thunderbird showed off its classy style;  and Jaslyn Nichols (left) reaches for another handful of candy to throw to the crowd as Brenda Peacock drives her tiny horse and cart along the parade route.

Those in attendance won't find barricades between the crowd and the actual parade. Indeed, with no official entry required and everyone decked out in red, white and blue, there’s hardly any difference at all between spectators and exhibitors. And people actually still throw candy to children of all ages who come out to celebrate our nation’s independence with family and friends.


Among the many unique entries in the parade is this beautiful wooden boat owned by David and Carol Baker of Montgomery. The boat has made the trip to China Grove several years and is always filled with patriotic children.


And for that one day, the population of China Grove swells exponentially.

"Last year, one estimate put the crowd at 2,800," said Diane LaFountaine who is one of the parade’s originators.

This year’s will be the 10th China Grove 4th of July Parade, an event Diane said began as a kind of joke.

"For the first couple of years, it was just four or five of us with carts and riding mowers parading while four or five other people laughed and shook their heads," Diane explained.

While it may not have grown into the type of production sporting larger-than-life balloons and marching bands, no one should rule them out.

"There’s no way of knowing what all people will bring for the parade," Diane said.

Clockwise from top left, hats and tiaras are common accessories for parade participants, with one little girl sporting a red, white and blue version of Lady Liberty’s crown; one of the quietest entries in last year’s parade was a young girl in her Barbie Jeep, powered by her grandpa; and Comer Phelps drives the tractor pulling members of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church.

There are motorcycles, fire engines, and decorated trucks and trailers like one might find in municipal parades, but the list of entries doesn’t stop there by any means. If it walks, cranks or rolls, it just might be in the China Grove 4th of July Parade.

Carts and wagons pulled by all manner of equines as well as go-carts, golf carts, four-wheelers and riding lawnmowers all make their way through the parade route. The same goes for antique tractors, cars and boats. Last year’s parade even included a grandpa-pushed Barbie Jeep and an engine-revving General Lee just like the Duke boys used to drive.

  Not only do these riders and wagon show their patriotic colors but the mules sport theirs too.

"One year this guy on a tractor as big as my house joined in the parade and we all thought, ‘Where in the world did that come from?’ When his picture was in the paper’s parade coverage, I heard the guy driving got in a little trouble because he was supposed to be plowing a field nearby with that tractor," Diane laughed.

In addition to the parade itself, visitors to China Grove can take a sip down memory lane at the old store owned by Diane and husband Hank LaFountaine. The couple has plenty of ice-cold, glass-bottle cokes available and checkers set up on the front porch. After the parade, slices of cold watermelon produce dripping chins while the Meeksville Volunteer Fire Department sells plate lunches featuring the special-recipe barbecue of local legend Chicken Harvis. Various church youth groups sell treats like lemonade, popcorn, snow cones and ice cream, too.

"The parade has provided the opportunity for these groups to have successful fundraisers, but we don’t have vendors and the parade itself is not out to make money. That’s not what the day is about. We just want everybody to have fun," Diane said.

And to keep the day fun, Diane reminded parade-goers to bring their lawn chairs, and to keep cool and hydrated. She also suggests arriving well-before the official 10 a.m. start of the parade as the roads will be closed as parade time approaches.

"This year we’re going to have lots of volunteers to help with parking, and we’re changing up the line-up time to 9 a.m. instead of 9:30 because the parade has gotten longer. We just continue to have things in the parade we never thought we’d have," she added.

There are queens of fictitious pageants complete with sashes and tiaras sporting titles reflecting neighboring small communities (like Miss Orion) as well as titles related to favorite pastimes (like Little Miss Shell Cracker and Little Miss Bluegill). Last year’s parade included a bass boat filled with camouflage-clad Vikings. Other parade riders were dressed in every conceivable combination of stars and stripes, and viewers stood to applaud when a single soldier marched down the center of the road presenting Old Glory.

But the magic of this home-spun parade isn’t the crepe paper streamers or the Uncle Sam hats. It’s the atmosphere of kindness surrounding the parade. Country-club matrons and dirt-road cowboys become neighbors as they line up their folding chairs along the shoulder of the road. Viewers who couldn’t find a shady spot to watch the parade are offered sunscreen from the patriotic tote-bags of strangers. As the parade participants toss candy, teens who typically couldn’t be bothered by little kids are scrambling to catch a sucker for a child they’ve just met. People looking for the family they were supposed to meet at the parade run into friends they haven’t seen in years, and they share funny stories about the ways they first found out about the China Grove Parade.

Kellie Henderson is a freelance writer from Troy.