The Azalea Festival, the Shrimp Festival, Spot, Strawberry, Watermelon, Lantern, The Ocean City Jazz Festival, The North Carolina Muscadine Festival. But the list doesn’t end there. It keeps going and going, swerving and veering through small towns, county seats, larger cities, always celebrating something specific, particular, uniquely regional, and communally important. And, of course, The Blueberry Festival. That’s at the bottom of the list because of the old biblical adage, “The last shall be first,” which is to say: I saved the best for last. (Well, maybe Jesus didn’t exactly mean it that way, but if he went to the Blueberry Festival he would have.)
When the sun finally came out, the rain had made it feel like 110 degrees. Clouds crouched in the sky like pouches of hot tub water. Dinky pockets and tributaries of goopy humidity steamed off the streets and courthouse lawn, off the foreheads of vendors and volunteers, off of parked cars and well-mulched-flower beds, and lofted up into gunmetal nebulous bladders, which could, if it wanted to, burst the floating damn and drench everything again. The brief the armistice between the Blueberry Festival and the weather seemed enough, though. Small patches of blue sky farmed people into the town square from every direction, and the ugly clouds drifted away.
There were things to see, neighbors to bump into, and things to buy. Birdhouses. Tee-shirts. Lawn decorations. Candy-coated apples. Picture frames. Handmade jewelry. Homemade soap. To look at The Shea Butter Lady’s booth, it would appear that the cure for arthritis, dry hair, wrinkles, high blood pressure, body odor, and many other maladies were underneath a small tent. Mama Lou’s Original Recipe Barbecue Sauce promised that “It’s Some Kind of Wonderful.” Wooden canes and walking sticks, raffle tickets, earrings – “Buy 2 Pair Get 1 Free” – snow cones and homemade lemonade, name rings, magnetic hematite jewelry, salt soothers, barbeque ribs, funnel cakes, deep fried Oreos, art galleries, trains and other rides for kiddies, fidget spinners, and even parrots who paint – yeah, painting parrots. And for everything I’ve mentioned, there are one hundred other things. The stuff, all of it interesting, never ended.
And I haven’t even touched on the people. People dancing in front of a stage. Young men dressed up, looking cool. Older folks, ducking underneath a little bit of shade. The casual enjoyers, lounging in chairs brought from home, listening to the live music. Moms pulling on daughters and sons, “Come this way.” Daughters and sons pulling on moms, “Let’s go over here.” Dads pushing strollers, buying another bottle of water, throwing little Billy or Katy on his shoulders so they could see better. “Daddy, can I have…” Then there was the royalty. Girls and young women wearing tiaras and crowns, ready for the deferential treatment, entitled. And they got it and deserved it. The couple eating a barbeque sandwich on the confederate monument, “Our Heroes” – proving, if nothing else, it is still good for something.
The booth workers. The deep fryers. The drink sellers. The church groups raising money. The education institutions increasing awareness. Charities soliciting support. The police officers keeping things orderly.
What could be the point of all this togetherness except to celebrate community? We could listen and even dance to music at home. We could text message our neighbors rather than see them. We could order fried pickles and elevated dog bowels off Amazon, I’m sure. If we wanted to, we could eat, buy, listen, and even talk with other people without leaving our homes. But we didn’t. We went to the Blueberry Festival between rainstorms, suffered the best humidity the South has to offer, and did our best not to step in mud puddles.
Our president is in trouble (though I’m not sure he knows it). The legislative branch of government seems content to do nothing. Everyday there’s a new terrorist attack. It would be easy to say, “The world is going to hell.” But that’s not true. As long as people are willing to come to The Blueberry Festival, that is, as long as people are willing to be a community, to actually be with each other, we still live in the communion of saints. We are saints of different creeds, different convictions, and different ideas. But we are all saints.