We have a lot of fests in our small town. We have a Corn fest, a Nostalgia fest, a Home for the Holidays fest, Homecoming fest, Prom fest, Antique Car fest, Antique Tractor fest, Basketball fest, and so on. They’re not all named "fest", but the intent is the same – to celebrate our swell small town and bring consumers into the downtown area to spend their money. It helps keep small business owners in business, which in turn helps keep the town alive. Really, that’s probably the main reason for all our fests because, I think, if the small business owners didn’t support and endorse the fests, probably the only thing going on would be a Mope fest, and I’m pretty sure there’d be no formal acknowledgement of same.
When we first moved here, 10 years ago, all the fests were a source of condescending amusement to me. “Ha!” I thought smugly to myself, “They’re just trying to emulate [insert snooty big city fest name here]. Not likely!” I was wrong. They’re not trying to be anything more than not-another-ghost-town. The efforts have some success; we still have a nice, mildly historic downtown area with few empty store fronts, locals are willing to get up off their couches and go spend a couple of bucks on fried and/or sweetened tidbits for the kids while they stroll along doing a “family” thing. And it keeps us from descending into total apathy, sloth, and lack of involvement.
I’ve come to enjoy a few of these fests. Oh, some are still screamingly commercial, and everyone knows it, so the only reason to participate in them is just to win a coupon to the Dairy Queen or a ribbon to hang on the wall of your den, commemorating your fabulous duck decoy artwork, but still, it’s something to do in a positive direction.
I was reminded of all our festing this past Sunday when I attended an Ice Cream Social in a town far smaller than mine. The Methodist church which hosted the Ice Cream Social is the community hub in that wee hamlet, and wee it is, indeed. A three-legged drunken terrier could cross it in under two minutes without getting run over or yelled at, so it’s pretty small. We went, as a family clump, to the Ice Cream Social because one of my husband’s best clients has been attending the Methodist church all of his life and always calmly advises my husband of these fine, upstanding, community events. We want to keep relations with that client in good shape, and supporting his church by eating ice cream is not a real sacrifice.
The first one we went to, a decade ago, was a little awkward. We didn’t know anyone, we were treading on strange church turf, and we hadn’t a clue as to what to expect. We were eyeballed as strangers, hub’s client made sure to stop and chat with us to legitimize us, and we ate in strained silence, speaking only with one another or to someone else in order to get napkins or lemonade. This one was different. I knew a good quarter of the people there, by name if not by face, and they knew of me similarly. We knew the game plan of where to park, where to line up, who to schmooze for bigger dollops of ice cream, and how to stay out of the foot traffic pattern so we didn’t wind up wearing our snacks.
I purposely sat down next to a very elderly lady and her absolutely decrepit female friend. We promptly started talking about the tasty desserts that accompanied the ice cream, who made what, the centerpieces and table decorations, and how nice it was for the church to sponsor so many get-togethers during the year. The kids joked with other kids in line, with their dad, with me, and were kind to the old people. It was much more relaxed than that first Social, and much more social as well.
When the old ladies got ready to go, we helped them with their chairs and their debris, and everyone was careful not to crowd them as they said their farewells to many people on their doddering way out. We followed a few minutes later, doing much the same. As we drove home, past field after field of healthy, strong corn and dark green soybeans, I realized that I had become a little more integrated into my community than I usually give myself credit for. It was nice to be able to be relaxed and sociable, even though I wouldn’t call any of the people there friends, they knew my face well enough to chat with me, and I was comfy enough to talk back without trying to prove anything or feel strain.
And, while I do miss the entertainments, the excitement, the hustle and bustle of the big city, I don’t miss the city fests. In those, I was always new and was always going to be new, either alone or traveling with a pack of people who stuck together and didn’t mingle much. There were always too many drunks, too many rowdies, too much trash, too much noise, too many distractions, diversions, and dangers, and not enough toilets.
I do like the calmer pace of small events, and I happily display my ribbons won for knitting shawls and hats in my den, near my diplomas, certificates, and awards for “big” things. Each of them represents something I have done that is larger than myself, even if only in terms of being part of a larger event or group. And I think a blue ribbon for knitting from the local corn fest is just as cool as anything else on my wall.