The New England Town Festival | Humor

Whether it’s Old Home Days, a 250th anniversary, or the annual Strawberry–Pumpkin–Lobster–Potato Festival, we Yankees love a New England town festival — so much so that we make sure they’re all basically the same.

By Ken Sheldon

Aug 01 2015

Photo Credit : Mark Brewer
Photo/Art by Mark Brewer
The day begins with a road race, which, depending on the time of year, may also be an obstacle course, what with the frost heaves, spring run-off, or leaf-peepers. Most participants are diehard competitors who’ll run in rain, sleet, or driving snow—some are even pushing babies in jogging strollers that cost more than your first car. The first prize is a jug of maple syrup or a jar of honey. No cash—this is New England, remember? New England town festivals often have a theme, such as “Remembering the Past and Embracing the Future with Hope, Dignity, and Respect for All Life While Celebrating Our Basic Freedoms”—chosen by a committee who argued over it longer than the framers of the Declaration of Independence. Of course, the Founding Fathers weren’t making T-shirts. There’s always a craft sale, where you’ll find a wide variety of homemade items not available anywhere else, probably with good reason: painted rocks, coffee-can birdhouses, baked-bean candles, and more than a few “What were they thinking?” creations. Of course, the highlight of the day is the parade, led by the Grand Marshal—generally the oldest resident in town—who agreed to do it only so people would stop pestering him. Then it’s the preschoolers marching in formation—if by “formation” you mean “more or less the same direction.” There are homemade floats put together the night before, firetrucks, antique cars, and finally the marching band, a group of youngsters looking as happy to be marching in wool uniforms in August as you might expect. Don’t be late, as the parade generally lasts a full seven minutes. Stop by the bake sale to sample a hundred varieties of zucchini bread, zucchini muffins, zucchini cookies, and other delicacies designed to hide zucchini, which is practically an in­vasive species at harvest time in New England. These days, there’s also a selection of baked goods that are gluten-free, GMO-free, trans-fat-free, and for the most part flavor-free. For heartier fare, check out the food tent, where you’ll enjoy a wide array of fried items guaranteed not to be good for you. Don’t miss the book sale at the library, where you’ll find the complete works of Danielle Steele, piles of National Geographics that someone’s wife finally convinced him to part with, and old biology textbooks in which the germ theory is presented as a new idea. The day’s events are made possible by the hard work of the festival committee, most of whom are newcomers to town who were hoodwinked into it before they knew what was involved. “It’s a rite of passage,” says town clerk Edith Wyer. “Kind of like jury duty.” Stick around for the chicken barbecue, a must at town events in New England, mainly because guys like to make big fires. The barbecue is often a benefit for some local organization, which may make you feel better about eating half a chicken, several pounds of side dishes, and a whoopie pie. The evening events kick off with a talent show at the town hall or meetinghouse. By law, the talent show must include at least one Simon & Garfunkel song, one recycled recital piece, one musical number on the accordion (or possibly ukulele), and one homegrown comedian telling the same jokes he tells every morning at the diner. Dance the night away to the music of the Moody Greys, four local guys still playing the same songs they played in high school, only slower, and these days they sit down a lot instead of jumping around. At the end of the day you’ll head home with tired feet, a full stomach, and a few more memories for your scrapbook. No, it’s not Mardi Gras or Rio Carnival, but it’s our town, and we wonder why anyone would want to live anywhere else.