Middle Georgians celebrate freedom during July 4 holiday

FORT VALLEY -- Five-year-old Alonna McLaughlin may not have had all of the facts regarding the July Fourth holiday, but no one can deny she was into the spirit of independence.

“The only place in the world that is free is Georgia!” she exclaimed while standing next to her sisters, Hailey, 9, and Zada, 7.

Alonna’s mother, Rebekah, chuckled and explained to her that there are a few other places that enjoy freedom. The McLaughlins chose to celebrate that freedom along with hundreds of others at Lane Southern Orchards on Wednesday, enjoying rides for the kids, live music and plenty of food in the process.

Rebekah McLaughlin and her husband, David -- a flight engineer at Robins Air Force Base -- said they enjoy coming to Lane Southern Orchards because of the family-oriented events held there, though it was the first time they had celebrated the Fourth of July there.

Duke Lane, president and co-owner of Lane Southern Orchards, said the July Fourth festivities have been celebrated for the past 15 years or so.

Initially, it was a small celebration for the Lane family and their friends since the holiday falls right in the middle of peach season, but it has continued to grow into a communitywide event each year.

Some of those in attendance broke into impromptu line dancing while music played over a sound system, but many enjoyed sitting at the tables with their food listening to Macon band Session Road while the children played in bouncy castles, on bungee cords or in “spider mountain.” There also were large plastic “hamster” balls which allowed kids to walk across water and two water slides to help them beat temperatures in the mid-90s.

Lane thanked veterans who had previously served in the Armed Forces, as well as those who continue to serve, plus public safety officials such as police officers and firefighters.

“We’re just enjoying the day and recognizing the day, and letting the flag fly,” Lane said to the crowd while indicating a giant American flag attached to an extended ladder from a fire truck.

Lt. Col. Jerry Gallegos of Robins Air Force Base said he appreciated and is often surprised by the level of support the base enjoys from Houston County residents as well as those from neighboring Middle Georgia counties.

“I’ve never been stationed anywhere before where I heard on the radio a commercial saying thanks to the base,” he told the crowd.

Capt. Jahmil Edwards, an intelligence analyst at Robins, performed the national anthem after a moment of silence.

“This is my second time performing it, and it’s always an honor,” Edwards said. “You really have a greater appreciation (for freedom) when you put on the uniform, knowing what the stars and stripes really mean and what they stand for.”

Eric Nichols of Centerville said he grew up as a military brat, so he’s attended many July Fourth celebrations and always enjoys them. The night before, he said, he went to a Waffle House and “Born In the U.S.A.” was playing -- appropriate for the holiday.

“I thank America and all it has done for me,” he said. “Even with the economy not as good as in the past, I still wouldn’t rather live anywhere else.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.