Remembering the Fourth (or Vacation Pop Sociology — Part 2)

by Peter Augustine Lawler

So I broke my tradition of four years by not having a Fourth of July post. Here’s to the new tradition of the Fifth of July post.

Last year, I reported on the parade in Cave Springs, Ga., which is today’s rural South at its semi-authentic best. Cave Springs is a very small but quite real city, with its own government and police force.

Yesterday, I went to the parade at Avondale Estates, Ga., a suburb a couple of miles from Decatur. It was the best parade ever for little kids, and Henry, my grandson, had a pretty perfect time. There was a little patriotic stuff, Boy Scouts, policemen and fire fighters, veterans, an outrageous marching band, including cheerleaders, composed of older Americans, hundreds of flags, and all of that. But most of all, there were lots of people dressed up as action figures — from all the Disney characters to superheroes to the entire cast of Star Wars. It was a local parade enhanced by Disney and Dragon Con, a miniature, viewer-participatory Macy’s parade. Attention was diverted from the American theme of independence in a shamelessly consumerist way, and I was all for it. We have pictures of Henry and me and his mom and dad with Spiderman, Mickey Mouse, and many other magnanimous members of our and closely related species.

What kind of community could come up with such an utterly charming, kid-pleasing parade? Avondale Estates is a planned community that was built in the 1920s. Because it was named after that Shakespearean place, the little downtown and some of the grander homes are Tudor revival (or neo-Tudor or whatever). The town of about 3,000 actually has considerable housing diversity in terms of size and cost (nothing below middle class), but it remains pretty planned (and once again revitalized) with very good government, its own police force, a swimming complex that’s a real community center, quite a beautiful lake, etc. The downtown is remarkably unpretentious, with, as far as I can tell, only one fancy restaurant and two excellent hot-dog establishments.

Downtown also features several consignment stores and the original Waffle House, which has been turned into a museum (sadly, it wasn’t open). There’s also a fully functional Waffle House. Avondale Estates is, like Decatur, full of kids, and it seems to be somewhere where they can roam freely and safely without much parental supervision in the way they could do most everywhere when I was growing up. Where Avondale Estates falls short of Decatur is that it doesn’t have its own school system. A persistent parental organization finally got a charter school established, but it’s too small to accommodate everyone who’d like to use it.

Avondale Estates is much more authentically traditional than Decatur. Turnover is fairly low, and children sometimes return as adults to build their own families. It’s not really boutique bohemian or “crunchy”; it’s more quaintly singular or one-of-a-kind homey.

The question was raised in the thread below about the “social justice” of establishing secure and affluent enclaves in a large and deeply diverse Atlanta-area county. A similar question could be raised about charter schools. Divide up into small groups and discuss. I will say that Decatur and Avondale Estates — and some charter schools — are kinds of sustainable localism that are really possible these days.

We got home in time to also attend the patriotic parade in the place where I actually live–Lindale, Ga. Lindale is an unincorporated community that used to be a very pleasant mill town with a variety of communal traditions.

Mill-less Lindale has tanked economically, and there are crime problems centered around drugs. There’s a noble effort to try to restore the community, but it can’t be restored to what it once was. The parade was Lindale’s first in years, with a WWII veteran as its grand marshal, a large contingent from the American Legion, all manner of motorized vehicles, and a few horses. Flags were everywhere, and the turnout was impressive. The people of Lindale are pious, hard working, and have proudly relational manners and morals. Lindale would have a chance, I think, if it could incorporate as a town, but the wherewithal, including a tax base, just isn’t there. A lot of the rural South isn’t so different from Lindale; there are front porches and patriotism, but a shortage of effectively participatory free, local institutions.