Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Strange Local Rituals

So, I grew up in a small town in Vermont. My childhood was a good one. We lived in a tiny little house with floor to ceiling windows, gingerbread trim, hardwood floors, and a wonderful front porch where we would spend hours reading.

It was a short walk to town, which didn't consist of much. There was a penny candy store (or at least that's how I viewed it - in reality it was a convenience/liquor store with a huge candy selection), a donut shop that had the best chocolate frosted & glazed donuts this side of heaven, an office supply store where I bought my books, an Rx shop, two very old movie theatres, a 5 & Dime, an A&P, an army/navy store (bought my first pair of jeans there), a pizza place and not much else. My sisters and I would walk downtown & browse the stores, catch the saturday matinees, or wander to the library where the librarian not only knew us by name, but let us work behind the counter. There was nothing like punching those cards she slipped in the back of the books.

When I was a teenager chain stores started coming in - dunkin donuts, rite aid, jc penney, and more. The town changed, but not for the better. A lot of the charm was lost.

Still, on holidays there were parades and festivals, and one weekend in July there were sidewalk sales where you could buy all kinds of crazy things for next to nothing. Oh the junk I collected.

There wasn't much there for an adult. Unless I wanted to be a secretary, a cashier or work in a factory, that is. When I graduated, I couldn't wait to escape. I went to college. I moved away. My friends that stayed were married with children before they were nineteen - some had kids long before they had husbands. And while I'm now raising a 15 yr. old, those friends are in many cases grandmothers with kids in their late twenties. It boggles the mind.

My parents still live in the area, though they sold the house and now live on the family homestead which has been in the family for over a hundred years. I keep up on the news by reading the newspaper on line - my favorite part...the obituaries. (I'm a morbid person. I get some sort of weird pleasure when I come across a name I recognize.) Well, except for this weekend.

This weekend was the Annual Strolling of the Heifers. And yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. One of the businesses in town is where farmers register their cows. My friend had a job there during the summers. She colored cows' markings on forms, as well as described these cows for posterity. I worked in a napkin factory stuffing napkins into plastic bags. My job was crappier, but it paid a lot more.

Anyway, somewhere along the way, the running of the bulls was translated into the strolling of the heifers in my neck of the woods. The local 4H club, farmers, schools, really anyone can dress up their cows with flowers and such and then they walk them down main street to the cheering of thousands. Yes, thousands. People come from all over to watch this annual event. There are floats and candy and dancers. And if they're lucky, at the end of the event they get to watch a group of nuclear plant protesters pretend to collapse and die at the end in a mock nuclear disaster. If you think I'm making this up, I'm not. Google it.

I've never actually attended the Strolling in person. Every year, I try to convince my husband and son to make the trip to see it. They think I'm insane for wanting to stand on the sidelines, fighting the crowds (yes, you do have to fight for a spot), to watch this event. They're too citified to appreciate the sheer quirkiness of a bunch of cows with daisies around their necks pooping along the route. Not me. It almost makes me want to build a cabin in the woods, change my name to Flower, stop shaving my legs and grow illegal pot to sell to the naked people who hang out in the municipal parking lot. (Okay, nothing that radical, but...)

....well, the naked people are real. Although, I think the town passed a law forbidding nudity at this point after people started parading up and down the street that way. Seriously.

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