Saturday, July 4, 2009

Whitland Avenue’s Old-Fashioned 4th of July

Today I attended the Whitland Avenue 4th of July Celebration and Picnic for probably my fifth or sixth time. This is the 34th year for this event. If you live in Nashville and have never attended, mark your calendar for next year. You don’t want to keep missing this event. I cannot imagine a better 4th of July event anywhere in America. This event evokes Norman Rockwell’s America. With a lot of people milling about and coming and going, it is hard to estimate the number of people who attend but it must be several thousand. Despite the large crowd, it is not one of those events that seems crowded or chaotic. Everything runs smoothly and appears effortless.

The celebration takes place on Whitland Avenue, a wide tree-lined shaded street with beautiful old homes and well-manicured and landscaped yards. Several blocks are blocked off to accommodate the party. Virtually every house is festooned with American flags and a large American and Tennessee flag hang suspended from wires across the street. The weather was perfect for today’s event. Sometimes July 4th can be miserably hot; today was a pleasant day in the low 80’s.

The event starts at 11:00 with a parade. This parade has no marching bands or military units, or majorettes or Shirner clowns but is a children’s parade. Children decorate their bicycles with red, white, and blue bunting or mount small flags from the handlebars and ride down the street. Other children are pulled in wagons decorated in patriotic themes and some parents push baby carriages and strollers and push their infants down the street. The children beam with pride as the people on the sidewalk cheer them. Some of them walk their dogs, decked out in red, white and blue bandannas.

About 11:30 the music starts. The program simply listed the band as “The Greatest Band in America,” I don’t know anything about them but they are probably a band put together for just this purpose. Nashville really is “music city” and we are blessed with great musicians and vocalist. With the music industry and several universities with music departments, every church in town of any size has wonderful music and any neighborhood festival will feature live music, and it is often great music. “Band” does not really describe the band; it is more like an orchestra with maybe 30 musicians. The band played Sousa marches and patriotic songs and some nostalgic popular songs. I don’t know who the vocalist was, but a female singer sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and was fantastic.

Rod Williams and Louella Ballenger

Part of the joy of this event is seeing the people and interacting. It seems almost everyone is wearing a combination of red, white and blue and many wear hats or shirts decorated in patriotic motifs. Many people are carrying and waving their own American flags. I always run into people I know at this event and enjoy exchanging greetings and pleasant conversation. I had a pleasant chat with State Senator Douglas Henry, one of my favorite Democrats. I also had a nice chat with Kathleen Stranes, Chairman of the Davidson County Republican Party.

During the program, someone did a dramatic reading of The Declaration of Independence, while the band played Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. It was moving. There is a reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance and singing of the National Anthem. There is always a patriotic speech given by someone of prominence. In previous years we have had Governors and Senators give speeches. The speech is always something appropriate, expressing love of country but avoiding current controversies and partisanship, as I think it well should for this event.

This year the speaker was Adolpho Augustus Birch Jr, former Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court. Judge Birch is an African American and in his career he has been the first African-American to hold several judicial positions and was the first African American Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice. He spoke on the Gettysburg address and how that speech reflected the spirit of America.

Following the speeches, as the band continues to play the picnic starts and then concludes the event. The food is served under a big tent and there are about ten serving lines. Despite the large number of people being served, the lines move fairly fast and there is not a long wait. Other than purchased boxes of fired chicken, the food is mostly homemade. There are some mighty fine cooks contributing hundreds of homemade dishes. Casseroles, vegetable dishes, fresh salads, and cakes and pies and abound. Lining the street are probably six to ten canoes filled with ice-covered bottles of water and soft drinks.

I don’t know how the people of Whitland do it. I know that several families contribute funds for the event and it seems the whole neighborhood brings food. I am sure it takes a lot of coordination and planning. While I hope everyone can attend, I hope that this event does not get so big that it has to be discontinued or moved to a different location or be changed in some way. I would hate for it to loose that small-town feel.

To the people of Whitland Avenue, Thank your for a wonderful 4th of July.
Richard Upchurch, my uncle; Louella, my wife; Thomas Upchurch, my cousin; Linda Upchruch, my aunt. (Photos by Thomas Upchurch)

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1 comment:

  1. Sounds really good. I avoid all big celebrations, but you've almost tempted me (bit of a drive, but it is appealing)