Why is it so silent? 240 years have passed since the Continental Congress ruled the thirteen colonies to be free of Britsh rule, or as I like to call it, the American Brexit. I expected a little more fanfare. Then I wondered if the locals had overheard our southeast English accents and were planning a secret assault against the blood-stained descendants of the oppressive British Empire. Bold as ever, I pulled the covers over my head and went back to sleep.
A large flag has materialised on the lawn. How it arrived here is a mystery to rival the disappearance of Shergar and the success of Little Mix. I imagine a patriotic wanderer creeping through the night, a bundle of star spangled banners strapped to his back, plunging a flagpole into the earth at a will.
I dash back into the air conditioned oasis of the living room and briefly consider whether to shower myself in ice cubes or cram myself into the gigantic fridge. I forgot to mention that I’m staying in Franklin, a picturesque town on Nashville’s outskirts. The climate here is basically unimprovable from September to May. But come here in the summer months, and you’ll rapidly discover that the climate is about as agreeable as the surface of the sun.
A dragonfly touches down on the porch. I christen her Cheryl.
We finally venture out into Franklin’s Independence Day celebrations.
Main Street has been closed to commemorate the holiday and so traffic laws have been relaxed to such an extent that people can freely park their cars in the street, providing said vehicle was designed before Nixon’s resignation. It is literally petrolhead paradise. An Eggshell blue 1961 Corvette sparkles proudly next to a 1927 Ford, which were essentially motorised carriages but are somehow still road legal.
Here’s the thing about the historical Franklin Square- it is not actually square. It’s a roundabout, which in the USA are about as rare as operas ending with peaceful compromises. Usually, the cars would revolve around a memorial to Confederate Southerners who died during the American Civil War. Today, it is flanked by enough gazebos to fill a local music festival, selling such varied goods as health insurance, rubbery corn dogs , and shaved ice served in a an alarmingly vivid variety of colours: scarlet, cyan, and-shudder- grape.
I wonder what ice with a five ‘o’ clock shadow looks like.
They have a band! And the band is actually surprisingly good, belting out a charming selection of country infused pop and violin driven classics. They call themselves The Swingers, claim to have released four albums, and helpfully bust the myth that the 4th of July represents the birthday of the United States. America actually solidified as a nation on June 23rd, 1778, when New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Declaration of Independence. I like to imagine History Professors convulsing furiously as another TV presenter bellows “Happy Birthday, U.S.A.!”
I find a booth selling handmade jewellery. Frankly, I would look ravishing draped in a cloak of amber beads, but decide against it. Far from modest me to detract from the main festivities.
The first violinist of The Swingers celebrated his 87th birthday last week! They call him ‘Pappy’.
A petting zoo is, of course, absolutely compulsory, and we find a fenced gazebo offering children a ride on a real-life merry go round with real-life, breathing ponies. Nearby, a young boy takes a selfie with a pouting alpaca. Or was it a llama? My sister and I could never quite agree.
Trouble. We have reached peak humidity and maximum heat, which means it feels like we are melting into a fleshly puddle while also drowning in our own perspiration. Why Franklin council doesn’t hire me to author their tourist brochure I’ll never know.
Mercifully, we wheedle ourselves into Mellow Mushroom, a national pizza chain with an exceptional line in gigantic pretzels. The tooth-rotting toxins of Coke have never tasted more refreshing.
I overhear a tale which will haunt me for the rest of my life. A man was setting up a firework display in his yard this very morning when one of the rockets accidentally detonated in his hand. The explosion tore the hand from his wrist and sent it sailing into his neighbour’s garden, where it was retrieved by the household’s beloved dog. The neighbour was reportedly quite, and I quote, “taken back” when she saw Rover’s new chew toy.
Now, this is a blood-curdling turn of events but don’t worry, because the man is recovering in hospital and the dog didn’t eat the hand either, although it does beg the question how we properly contextualise such acts of limb-raining mayhem. The answer is simple.
A children’s parade is due at 17.00 so we opt to endure the climate a little while longer, because few things are more heart-swelling than a 4-year old dressed up as Uncle Sam.
I find a Wienermobile.
A sudden cloudburst prompts the P.A. to blast “It’s Raining Men” by The Weather Girls across Franklin’s picturesque suburbs. And that’s all I have to say about that.
It’s still raining and shelter has become a more hotly contested prize than the holy grail. However, it’s a universally acknowledged fact that nobody can feel downcast when Prince’s “Purple Rain” is simmering through the speakers, and the soundesk seizes the opportunity to transform this drizzly interlude into an essential part of the festivities. It takes all my willpower not to grab a lamppost and twirl around it like a flamboyant Gene Kelly.
The Swingers have sadly finished their set, and so the twangling traditions of country are replaced with the sparkling riffs of the Beatles and the bluesy baritones of Elvis Presley. Few recordings offer better soundtracks for lounging than Something, so we sit down, savour the breeze, and inwardly wince as our buttocks bake on the curved sidewalk. You can never have everything.
The parade finally marches into town and it is absolutely terrific. A four-strong brass band lead a real party of grinning kids, many wearing Stars and Stripes dungarees or being pulled along in patriotically coloured carts by parents with straining smiles. One Nephew Sam tootled by in a remote control saloon car. I swear I am not making this up.
Appetite for Americana whetted, we trudge back to the house and eat disturbing amounts of pizza and ice cream. The streets are eerily quiet.
Our flag has vanished as mysteriously as it first appeared. I’m not sure whether to mourn its loss or be relived for the return to normalcy.
The mystery has finally been solved! According to my sister, a local family was charitably planting flags at all of the homes which weren’t currently flying one. So the whole exercise was less an act of noble patriotism than extreme precociousness.
I’m sitting in dark car with the Thompsons. We’re parked in a large field,surrounded by other cars, and around my neck is a wreath of silk red, white and blue flowers. A distant lightning storm rages behind us. A local firework display is due at 21.00 but may be cancelled if the storm comes too close. So there we were, engulfed by a darkness briefly illuminated by brilliant flashes of light, hoping that something magnificent would happen.
It was all beginning to feel dreadfully metaphorical.
I love this country. It spat, bucketed, and thundered down, yet nothing stopped that firework display, nor did it deter the people who came to watch fizzing flowers of red and gold bloom across the inky sky.
I started the day as a nervous foreigners afraid my lack of familiarity with the national anthem would lead to manhunts and lynching. I end it glued to the television, singing along with Country empress Sheryl Crow as she performs America the Beautiful live from Nashville’s Ascent Ampitheatre. Now excuse me while I gobble my stars and stripes iced brownies.