America the Beautiful

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In the gloaming we stroll across Centennial Park’s fields, past the Parthenon to the band shell. My husband’s camera hangs around his neck, his hand holds mine as we make our way through the lightly scattered blankets and lawn chairs.  This is the gathering of disparate people joined by their love of big band music, dancing or the nostalgia for sweet simple summer nights gone by.


Folks have brought their dogs and babies, old folks and young folks bring their snacks and drinks and friends for conversation. A single snow cone vendor graces the grass at the tent’s corner.  He lies back on the truck bed behind him laughing and talking softly with his buddy.  A single yellow light shines softly down. There are no crowds, no noise, and no rush.


It’s time for the dance instruction. People quietly gather on the dance floor; mad grins held back behind shining eyes and tapping feet. Young girls in old fashioned party dresses reveal long limbs and shining countenances framed in silken tresses. They are simply beautiful in the way young girls are before outside pressure tells them to be other than themselves.  They come with groups of friends but the dance breaks alliances open as hopeful men of all ages and sizes and wages offer their hands in the dance. There is no class system here. No rules of age or color or gender. I suddenly realize I have not heard a cell phone on these nights and how unusual it’s become to not need to be anywhere or with anyone but where you are.


The instructor picks a dance to teach. The band waits:  Gals on one side, guys on the other.

Now the band starts up; a 16 piece band with a conductor and singers waiting to the side for their turns at the mike.

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Girls dance with girls, babies dance with each other; grandparents sashay by with a grandchild between them.  Here is a handicapped young man sandwiched between two older parents. The mother leads and the father follows with a hand on his back.  Here is the double dipper. Man this guy can really dance. He takes partner after partner and these young girls dance like pros. No matter the dance or how fast he leads, they flourish like fish thrown back to water.


He’s introduced himself to my husband the picture taker. He’d like some photos please. They exchange numbers. Turns out he’s a film maker too: Going back to Iraq to shoot a documentary about the Kurds.  The dance is a meeting hall though no hall is here. Here is space defined by strings of colored lights and a wide expanse of roof, by the periphery of happy conversation by the waning light of day as it turns to the cooler blush of the moon. No one is a stranger though in truth no one looks familiar: That’s unusual for Nashville and though I don’t know these folks, on big band Saturday nights they are my kin.

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The bandleader announces an unusual song for this venue; America the Beautiful. It’s a slow dance and a measured moment.  I love the song but it would be like me to carelessly change the words in my head for a habitual moment of cynicism.

Oh beautiful for contrail skies

Monsanto poisoned grain…..

And I do but toss them away just as quickly. I love every word as it is and I believe in the sentiment which is reflected in the manner of the humanity that in this moment envelops us; the humanity that includes me, that is the best of a collective dream of a country.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

Well, that’s some of it and though it be idealized I send it out today on the Fourth of July in memory of helmetless bike rides to watch my brothers at the Little League field, dripping ice cream cones before anyone told me that dairy was wrong and the heart swelling love of a little girl with her hand to her heart paying homage to a country she trusted and believed would ever hold her dear.

Let freedom ring.

Thank you Rob for the pictures.

Footnote: It’s been pouring all day. We gave up on the idea of watching fireworks opting for a quiet few hours at home before meeting up with friends. I wrote this post as local fireworks rolled like thunder. I hit the publish button and walked past the screen door. The rain was barely coming down. “Come on”, I called to my guys, “let’s get in the car and find some fireworks” and in minutes we were headed downtown. I was still wearing my skimpy yoga clothes from morning class. We didn’t even think to cover up. The weather had turned cool and windy; so unlike Nashville July. We found an easy parking spot overlooking the river and walked down toward it. The Band Perry hit their last note as the first firework hit the sky. The Nashville Symphony seamlessly played in. It was spectacular; another magical musical Nashville wonder. As we pulled out of the downtown traffic and hit the open road the rain came down again.



Filed under American culture, poetry, social commentary, Uncategorized, yoga and blogging

14 responses to “America the Beautiful

  1. great post….takes me back to the good ole days in Toledo, OH. My dad cranking home made ice cream with me sitting on the blanket on top of the freezer so it would freeze faster. At least that’s what he told me — maybe he just liked me sitting there with him while he cranked. We always went to the fireworks and we’ve always taken our kids. They’re too old too take these days and I always have to be the nudge to get my husband out to see them. I didn’t nudge this year and it just doesn’t feel right for the 4th to have passed and I didn’t see any fireworks. I’ll remember this next year.

    • Thanks Pat. So you got a taste of home while you’re in Oregon. Glad to do that and glad to inspire you to step out next year. Our fireworks over the bridges and buildings with that fabulous music playing can’t be beat. And it’s so accessible.

  2. Beautiful. I was transported to your dance and your America an I loved it.

  3. As it should be. Thanks, my friend.

  4. Shirl


    Thank you so much for sending. I think this post may be my favorite. You were so eloquent in describing the present and reminding me of the past. And thanks also to Rob for his eloquent pictures. I especially loved your postscript — and wished I’d done the same (in my “skimpy yoga clothes” from your morning class).

    • Shirley,
      I’m happy you liked this view of America that was both nostalgic and current and here for the taking. I was pretty pleased with that postscript too. It seemed like a fitting end to the essay. Just lucky because that post wrote itself. 🙂 Thank you for reading it and taking the time to comment.

      • Shirl

        I liked the way you listened to your own “Come on!” and then experienced moments of Nashville wonder with your guys. Thanks for taking the time to write.

  5. Love, love, love… I can feel your Fourth of July better than I felt my own!!!

  6. Rachel Nisselson

    Dancing in the park is one of the many things I’ll miss about Nashville. You can find it in New York City, of course, but not without the crowds.

  7. So wanted to see the fireworks as I’ve missed them the last couple years downtown WONDERFUL N’ville. Glad to know someone got to enjoy! Thanks for sharing, Hilary.

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