by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
June 1, 2006
OF CONGREGATION AND CELEBRATION
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- First, a little story.
An unusual booth at the Newfane Flea Market last Sunday sported a hand-painted sign: "Jenn, will you marry me?" On the table were bouquets of flowers, seven of them, one of them an orchid. In front was a sign: "For sale: One heart, must be willing to keep forever. Cost? Priceless."
Naturally, I had to ask. It turned out, the man's name was Michael, and he recently moved here from Florida to be with his lady friend. "I know she's going to say yes," he told me. "She's already picked out the ring. But I'm still nervous. I didn't sleep at all last night."
Did she say yes? I don't know. I left before she arrived. I could have asked Michael to call and tell me how things worked out, but I thought it made a better story this way.
That's because it illustrates the reason I love Windham County in summer - the large number of street festivals, farmers' markets, parades, flea markets, auctions and Gallery Walks, the large number of opportunities people have to congregate and celebrate, exchange stories, cook interesting foods, share unexpected experiences and try to make each other laugh.
Maybe we have more than our share of festivals here because the area is filled with painters, writers, sculptors, musicians, dancers and craftspeople - mostly solitary pursuits. Maybe, after a week spent alone in a studio or staring at a computer screen, the need to party rises up and becomes fierce.
For this reason, the Sunday morning flea market on Route 30 in Newfane has always been one of my favorite places.
I collect vintage fabrics, 1940s ceramics, needlepoint rugs and overheard remarks. Like the woman who confided to a friend, "You can tell you're getting old when your wedding presents show up in antique shops." Or the one who told me, "I'm the Will Rogers of restaurant dishes. I've never met a set I didn't like." I often wonder if it's the dreariness of today's Wal-Mart design ethic that drives people like me to buy things from the 1920s and 1930s, when even everyday things had some style.
Another favorite festival of mine happens on the first Friday of every month - tomorrow, in fact. It's Gallery Walk in downtown Brattleboro, when Main Street turns into a moveable party.
The street is jammed with people. The art galleries open new shows and attract visitors with free wine and snacks. Street musicians play in every other store window. Stores and restaurants fill with conversation. For residents, it's a way of catching up on the latest gossip. For visitors, it's an instant way to become part of a flourishing creative community.
What started a few years ago as a quiet attempt to draw attention to the growing number of galleries in downtown Brattleboro has now grown into almost 50 galleries and stores showing and selling original art and Vermont crafts as well as books, records, Oriental carpets, fine jewelry, home furnishings, clothing and shoes. Tomorrow, if it doesn't rain, you may even encounter me in front of Zephyr Designs, selling my new book.
In a confluence of celebrations, this Friday evening Gallery Walk meets the Strolling of the Heifers, another great Brattleboro fiesta. After the Walk winds down, there will be a huge downtown block party with music, food and entertainment.
For the annual Strolling of the Heifers parade on Saturday morning, thousands will line Main Street to watch young people marching coddled, flower-bedecked, much-groomed, mooing, lowing and foaming young cows down Main Street.
One year the parade featured 75 cows, a two-humped camel, two baby water buffalo, two recently sheered elegant brown alpacas, an enormous pair of white yoked oxen, and, of all things, a yak.
Another occasion to congregate - but, sadly, not this weekend - occurs most Saturday mornings at the Townshend Auction Gallery on Route 30. It's a real country auction where you can buy everything from antiques to used cars.
But it also offers something more unusual - auction as theater. Auctioneer Kit Martin is a born performer. There are older folks in town who remember him as a kid of 8, going about his chores while rehearsing his auction chants.
Kit loves to pour on the emotion. He's alternately witty, clowning, teasing, sulky, gossipy, seductive and insulting, but he's never boring. Last Saturday, when the bidding on a vase got fierce, he orchestrated it like a pro, saying, "Come on, bid! Bid! I'll tell you when it's too high." As if.
I once saw Kit auction off what looked like a stick of kindling wood. He called it "a rare wooden blade from an old-fashioned lawn mower," and rapidly got the bidding up to $150. People were shaking their heads when he finally admitted that he and the bidders had staged the whole thing. "That was fun," he said. "Let's do it again some time."
Another congregation-celebration happens every Saturday from mid-morning to mid-afternoon at the Brattleboro Farmers' Market on Route 9. The market is held in a large grove near a small brook, where children can play in a large sandbox, musicians play under a tree and neighbors greet neighbors.
The market was founded by farmers, of course, and the rule is that everything sold in the market - furniture, masks, hand-painted silk scarves, honey, beef and pork, croissants, fruits, vegetables, goat cheese, children's clothing, jewelry, stained glass, and "the best homemade from scratch chicken on a stick" - has to be local.
By now you may be exhausted reading about all the chances we have to congregate and celebrate in Windham County. In fact, festival fatigue might be setting in. If you see signs of it, let me know. In the meantime, if you're here, have a blast!
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, business and economics. A collection of her columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available through joycemarcel.com. And write her at email@example.com.