Ah, my sweet little hick town.
I say that with nothing but affection and it’s in response to an event Andi and I brought the kids to last week. It turns out that our quiet little hamlet of Dudley, MA (nestled on the Connecticut line and bordering other 80’s sitcom character-themed towns such as Webster and Urkel) – boasts an annual Strawberry Festival.
The festival is billed as an Old Fashioned Lawn Party but I took the liberty to walk around all day calling it an Old Timey Lawn Party. There’s just something about using the phrase Old Timey that comforts me like a nice bottle of Sasparilla. I’m not sure old man Munchausen von Dudley IX – the festival’s Grand Marshal – cottoned to my twist on the vernacular as it wasn’t ten minutes before I was tarred and feathered.
Once cleaned off, Andi and I brought the kids back to the festival where I pledged to act like a gentleman and scholar and grant the proper respect that a Strawberry Social so richly deserves.
Now – I’m being a bit glib – mainly because this is the Internet and if you don’t act caustically hip you’re labeled a n00b or a Plant and the next thing you know, you’ve been pwned. The Internet is the land where cowardly geeks can hide behind the shield of relative anonymity and toss grenades like ‘Ten Ways I Know Gimli is Gay’ with relative impunity – well, until the FBI shuts down their My Space account for erasing 30 years off their birth certificate and illegally downloading episodes of 24 to their iPod so they can watch a 2-inch Jack Bauer put the smack down on Robocop.
But enough with Internet protocol. The Ed Zone is my little haven and I am here to legitimately display affection for this quaint little fiesta and my quiet little town.
On the third Thursday of every June, Dudley hosts the Strawberry Festival. I’m not sure why – as we don’t lay claim to an abundance of strawberry patches. Maybe it’s just a nicer alternative to the party thrown by the neighboring mill town Webster – Broken Down Nova in the Front Yard Festival just doesn’t have the same cache.
Anyway, as mentioned above, the Strawberry Festival is billed as an Old Fashioned Lawn Party. On a stretch of land bordering Nichols College (which really is an attractive little New England college) – the festival features food, games, music, pony rides, etc – all the accoutrements one would expect. Maybe it was because this day was so spectacular – with a brilliant blue sky dotted with a handful of cotton clouds and a dry temp nestled on the border of high 70s/low 80s – but the event pressed my nostalgia button. I enjoyed glancing around at the wide assortment of attendees, from darting children to their doting parents (all of whom were my age – which is funny – while I know I am a Dad I never get a full picture of it until I see someone my age chasing after their children) to the older generation content to drink in an early summer’s day (spare me your Solstice Speak – I consider all of June, Summer). The day was perfect and it just served to underscore the fact that there is so much around us that is beautiful if we just take a moment to look closer.
As I surveyed the idyllic scene, with the stir of a fiddle chorus acting as soundtrack to my observations, a funny notion hit me. It’s festivals like these – in small towns on picture perfect days – that serve as backdrop to most disaster and monster movies. With my mind on Arachnophobia and Jaws, I was scanning the crowd looking for the stock busy-body mayor hassling our intrepid hero with an earful of doom n’ gloom.
“Now I know you’re an outsider, Chief, and the closest you’ve ever come to one of these events is Surf n’ Turf Week in LaCoya but if you shut down this Strawberry Festival, you’ll kill this town.”
I started to scream “We’re all gonna’ die. It’s not too late. Shut down the damned Strawberry Festival, Chiefie!!!” Some old woman looked at me with scornful eyes that labeled me a Tree Hugging Kiwi Kook.
See, that’s what I get for ordering up Dante’s Peak when I stayed in St. Louis on business a few years back. That film featured the mother of all small town parties preyed upon by a vicious volcano. Oh by the way, for all you urban professionals out there, here’s a handy little tidbit. If you are going to order a legitimate film in your hotel room. try to choose a title that can’t be easily misconstrued as something unsavory. My dispatch to HR:
“I’m telling you for the last time… It’s spelled P-E-A-K… not P-I-Q-U-E!!!”
Anyway, all tangents aside, I really did get a soft spot in my belly for this festival. There was a massive turnout for an event that begins at 4:00 p.m. on a Thursday. Looking around at the crowd you could see the great cosmopolitan make-up of the crowd. I was surprised to see my prior prejudices fade away. I had assumed that all of these small central Massachusetts towns consisted of populations that skewed towards the elderly. Over the last year or so, I have had those preconceptions challenged and have found a large number of people in a similar situation as my family – young families who have moved west to get outside the inflated housing bubble in a bid to grab a larger house, more land, quieter streets and a better view. While I initially saw our decision to move west a few years back as that of a pioneering spirit – I have seen ample evidence that we are just one in a moderate exodus. The fact that several companies now exist outside of the 495 loop – companies which have sought refuge from inflated lease rates in Boston – has helped to justify this transition.
When Andi and I first moved out here, it was culture shock. I was certain that one of us would be eaten by a bear or hillbilly neighbor within the first two weeks. In the two years that I’ve lived here, I’ve seen less wildlife in and around our home, than I did the entire time we lived in Brockton. In fact – in Brockton – there were a number of times that I would enter our postage stamp-sized back yard to bring the dogs out and catch a pair of eyes glaring at me from our small patch of brush. Of course –had I stayed outside a few moments longer – I might have caught one of those classic COPS scenarios where the camera crew catches law enforcement flipping over the plastic wading pool and apprehending the guest crack addict of the week. Well, at least out here, if I do encounter a grizzly or moose – it is more likely to be in heat than packing it.
The bottom line is, this is a pretty nice place to live and raise a family. Is it my dream destination? Nope – that’s Chatham or somewhere on the Cape – somewhere close to the ocean blue. Growing up, the Cape was a magical destination, part of our state but feeling like a beckoning foreign land. To this day, it remains one of my favorite places. I know that summer brings the massive population explosion – and that’s an issue – but the benefits to seaside living far outweigh the throngs of tourists. Of course, there’s always Nantucket. Some day, perhaps.
That said we’ve found a lot to like here and a lot of benefits for raising a family. We’ve been through the schools and they are modern and well designed (especially the elementary). We’re not averse to driving (and thankfully neither are our kids) so visiting friends and family is not an issue. And our wonderful wired world keeps us connected to all via e-mail and phone. Hell, even my wireless coverage has improved (no more standing on one foot atop the chimney during a lightning storm to grab four bars).
The Strawberry Festival was modest and quaint – yet the attendance was robust. A nice metaphor for the population bloom in these parts.
I kinda’ like this sweet little hick town.