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Independence Day, Elmo-style

South Boston News
SoVaNow.com / July 07, 2014
Late to get out to Elmo for the community’s third annual Fourth of July parade? No problem.

After parade entrants completed the short trek up River Road from the start point at Ashton Hall to Elmo Grocery, they helpfully turned around and repeated the procession, just in case anyone missed out on the fun the first time.

And what fun it was.

“Some afternoons you can go out in that road and take a nap,” said Troy Perdue, proprietor of Elmo Grocery. “Not today.”

Hundreds of people lined the road or parked their lawn chairs in a patch of grass and trees where country roads come together, forming a peaceful little spot on a little-used part of the highway grid. They came for the small-town celebration of Fourth of July — only without the actual town.

With the demise of Scottsburg’s Fourth of July celebration, the little Elmo community in the western part of the county has taken over as the local focal point of patriotic observance on Independence Day. Yet if you ask residents of the community about that, they’ll generally give an aw-shucks response.

“This really was a small neighborhood thing that [people] put together,” said Robie Potts, owner of Potts Airpark, which has sprung up at the site of the old Wellspring Academy a short distance up the road. “It’s just kept growing and growing and growing.”

Friday’s festivities drew a gaggle of goofballs — Santa wearing red, white a blue, the heirs to the Dukes of Hazzard driving the General Lee, a farmhand zooming up the road in “Old Smoky,” the tractor that belonged to the late Ned Stebbins, spewing smoke in every direction — and Mother Nature cooperated with weather that fit the occasion: magnificent.

Among those in the crowd was Venetia Stebbins, widow of Ned Stebbins, whose passing in 2012 came shortly after the event debuted. The Elmo parade was conceived in part as a tribute to Stebbins, long-time tobacconist and Elmo community legend. His passion for restoring old farm tractors and tinkering with engines of all types continues to set the tone: the collection of gleaming farm tractors made the spectacle.

“We were always in Scottsburg,” recalled Mrs. Stebbins of the Fourth of July outings she shared with her late husband. Ned Stebbins riding atop Old Smoky was a fixture of the Scottsburg parade, although the tractor was not any use in the tobacco fields: “We didn’t use it on the farm. We just used it to have a good time,” Mrs. Stebbins said.

Elmo, she observed, “is a neat little community. It’s thrived from family to family to family. It’s just a close-knit little community.”

It’s also a crossroads with surprising vitality: Potts Airpark is also a growing residential development, with appeal to amateur pilots and equine enthusiasts, and the Elmo Grocery regularly draws people out to the hinterlands for Friday night pizza until 9 p.m. Ashton Hall, the stately home of Ryan and Jill Garrett, is a notable sight on River Road, known for its historic manses.

For Elmo Grocery, the Independence Day celebration is an all-hands-on-deck event. As waves of festival goers streamed through the door, the family-run operation was ready: dishing out BBQ sandwiches, hot dogs, cold drinks and other goodies for festive-minded customers.

“It’s like Christmas. It’s our Christmas in July,” said Perdue, the grocery store, pausing for a quick break as the celebration wound down.

That might explain Santa.



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