Small Town USA

When you’re from a small town, there are such things as festivals to encourage community spirit and pride. They have many names, some trying to commemorate a specific period of the town’s history; some are just in honor of the town itself. These are sometimes lumped in with other holidays, like a lot of their 4th of July activities. More often than not, they are called “Lincoln Highway Days” in Nevada, or simply Granger “Fun Days” or “Gilbert Days”. They can be known throughout the whole state, such as the University-run “VEISHA” in Ames, or the “Dayton Rodeo” in…Dayton, silly…. or, “Pufferbilly Days” in Boone. (It’s a train-thing). No matter what they call it, all these have a few things in common. Things that make it a celebration unique to small towns.

The parade. It begins hours before the actual event as streets are blocked off with saw horses and signs are posted for no parking. People have checked the route and begin to gather along it – most sitting in lawn chairs in friends’ or neighbors’ driveways and yards. The people who come from another part of town fill the sidewalks and curbsides. You have to be early, or you will be parking and walking a long ways. Most routes were established so long ago that no one remembers why they go where they go, but they are loathe to change them.

The first sight you see is a police car or sheriff with the distinctive lights spinning on top. Followed by the Military personnel in their finest dress presenting the American Flag, the state flag, and probably a city flag. Sometimes they even carry two American Flags – one at each end. Everyone rises and puts their hands over their hearts, the ball-caps all the farmers wear are lowered from their heads and even the children know to hush.

Throw in the high school marching band, and if this is a big enough event, perhaps surrounding towns’ marching bands, too. Typically John Sousa reigns, but as times go by younger music teachers reach for newer arrangements of old classics.

It’s a chance for Farmer Bob to shine up his John Deere tractor, hook onto the hay rack, and load up 25 screaming Little League players (and a parent, coach or two) to drag through town. When no one is looking, they’ll throw water balloons at the crowd and catch a few people off-guard.

Mayor Fred will be there sitting on the trunk of someone’s vintage convertible while people follow along and hand out campaign buttons or cardboard fans. Sometimes it even will rate a senator or legislator – occasionally the governor, if it is an election year! Once in awhile you will even have some local celebrity that’s been nominated master of ceremonies. That’s usually a crowd pleaser.

There will be a float or two, themed to the event, and depending on the size of the festival, perhaps a few more – in the case of “VEISHA” it almost becomes a contest between the various engineering and architectural students to see who can come up with the best design. In the smaller parades, it may only be little Johnny’s brother with his bike – tissue paper wound through the spokes and streamers coming off the handlebars – perhaps a playing card clipped to the rear spoke with a clothespin so it will clickety-clack throughout the whole parade. Or maybe little Sarah will be pulled by her father in her Red Flyer wagon that has been turned into a tissue-paper masterpiece, she in some beloved fairy-princess Halloween costume her mom and dad can’t get her to take off for days. Little Dan has put a costume on his dog Ranger and fights hard to keep him from going to investigate all the other dogs, cats and bunnies in the parade, – ending up with Ranger doing most of the route walking Little Dan.

There has to be a queen and her court – riding in more vintage convertibles – giving the ‘princess wave’ we all know and love. (Why no King?) Smiles pasted on their faces as they alternately freeze or melt, because we all know these things never happen when the weather is the perfect temperature for the evening gowns these girls are wearing. The Za-Ga-Zig Shriners take this opportunity to don their fez (fezzes?) and drive around the streets in mini-cars and motorcycles; old men playing at young men.

You will find the fire department’s oldest fire truck, all shined up with an obnoxious functioning siren to be sounded off at least once in each block. Firemen and their families sit on the truck as if it is a float, and throw miniature tootsie-rolls and bubble gum to the kids in the crowds. It’s the one day that little children are encouraged to play in the street – running out to fight for candy or to talk to a passing clown. The littler children who don’t understand what all the fuss is about, sit on the blanket on the grass-lined curb with a mom or dad or grandparent and wait for big sister Jenny or big brother Frankie to bring them back some candy, too. It’s understood by the older children – they will share.

Finally, the horse club goes by with their ponies brushed until their coats gleam and their tails and manes flow in the breeze – or, possibly braided until you’d think their eyes would roll back in their heads. The riders themselves are in their finest rodeo or dress gear – buckles and boots and spurs shining as brightly as the bridles and saddles. The horses are the last to go by, so no one else has to possibly step in any by-products. A clown or two follows with a scoop and the trash can…when you see them you know that’s the end of the parade.

Lest we forget the other activities that take place on these days… There are the traditional Crazy Dayz in the main shopping area – normally the town square – where merchants put wares on tables on the sidewalks at supposedly Crazy prices. When I was a kid, that meant around the $.50-$1.00 mark. Now, you are lucky to get something as “crazy” as $5.00. Let’s get real, people. It’s junk. Thank you. Been wanting to say that for years!

There is also the little kiddie amusement rides which are in a parking lot somewhere with a very bored carny that can’t believe he’s doing this again. In another parking lot the locals bring all their antique tractors and vintage cars (or just hot-rods and other cars they fixed up and want to show off). People wander through with a hot dog or ice cream cone in one hand and a death grip on their kid in the other, as you do not touch these cars! People get very testy if they find fingerprints on their candy-apple red t-bird…

At night, the town shuts down a street (or two) and a huge tent goes up at one end, and it is officially The Beer Tent and Street Dance. Depending on how much money the town has, you might find this going for more than one night, with various live bands entertaining the townsfolk. Don’t be too sure you’ve ever heard of these bands, however. Maybe… just maybe… you have heard of one of them. A long time ago. The band is really secondary to The Tent. People you haven’t seen for years may come to town for the occasion and it becomes the town meeting place each and every night it is open. The gossip flows as freely as the beverage and an occasional argument breaks out where the punches are thrown and the participants are hauled off to jail. (Overheard this year at Dayton rodeo – the town Sheriff commenting – “The town is total chaos, and the cowboys haven’t even arrived yet!”)

Today is the last day of Pufferbilly Days. It’s been going on now for three previous days, and today is the big finale – the parade. I was to go to a co-workers’ house which is on the parade route, take Hubby and a lawn chair, and proceed to drink some alcoholic concoction my co-workers have been working on for a couple of weeks – dreamed up just for this event (I heard something about raspberry vodka and Squirt?). Two years ago it was blue and they called it Smurf Juice – no clue what was in it, and last year it was wonderful and fruity and had about 5 kinds of alcohol in it and was potent as hell.

Tonight is also the last night of the Supernationals car races that have been going on all week. Hubby and YS will probably be going to offer support to friends that are racing. YS isn’t racing in it because it is IMTA sponsored and no matter how you spell it, that means – you win, you lose your motor. (I’ll get into that another time). So, he’s just watching, not racing. No stress. Thank God.

I am feeling a bit better – thank you to all who sent kind wishes. However, I didn’t feel I was up to the activities of the day, so think I’ll just take it easy this weekend and make sure I’m 100% by Monday.

If you didn’t grow up in a small town or haven’t had the chance to experience one of these events and you get a chance to go by a small town one day when they’re having a hometown ‘festival’, you should try and go. It’s pretty corny – but then, I guess that I’m pretty corny, too. I am in Iowa, ya know…