Every year in our town there is an annual spring ritual that takes place. We see the buckets go up on the trees while it is still cold and snowy outside, and our excitement begins to build. We know that good weather and plates full of pancakes are just around the corner. Maple syrup time is upon us.
The Maple Syrup Festival is held every year at Brady’s Run Park. It is a community tradition that started when I was small, and has now turned into a major event. People wait in line for hours and hours for a plate full of pancakes loaded with syrup from our local trees. The pancakes are great. The syrup is even better. But the best thing of all is watching the people in attendance.
I recently began watching the TV show “Duck Dynasty.” It was done under duress. My sons thought it was hilarious, I was forced into watching a few episodes, and soon I had to agree with them. The show was very interesting, mostly because the characters seemed so foreign to me, and sort of exotic. I am from the north, they are from the south. My idea of an outdoor adventure is, well, probably waiting in line for pancakes at the Maple Syrup Festival. They seem to spend most of their time in the woods. I don’t like guns, shooting, hunting, or camo, and that is all they do. I’m not fond of facial hair. But I am a linguist, and I love listening to the cadence of their speech. I enjoy hearing their views on things, which are so different from my own. And I love waiting in anticipation for Uncle Si to say something crazy, yet profound, and completely butcher the English language in the process.
Since I began watching this program, however, I have made a rather extraordinary discovery. There are a whole lot of people in Beaver County, PA who look like (and dress like) the people on the show. I might seem naïve, or maybe even snobby, but I think my eyes sort of brushed over these people before. They blended into the whole patchwork of strangeness that makes up this part of Pennsylvania (called Pennsyltucky by some of our non-native neighbors). Recently, I’ve been noticing these people, and some of the other rather interesting characters around here. I watch them, I remember them, and I store them away for later to be used as potential characters in a book. This is an important skill to have as a writer, and it is also extremely entertaining hobby (for me, at least). The Maple Syrup Festival is the perfect opportunity for this kind of people watching.
Everyone is strange. Everyone is a potential character. But the strangeness I saw yesterday almost reached epic proportions. There were the "Duck Dynasty" people, and the Goth people. The kids with Mohawks, and lots of people with chains attached to their wallets. There were people who looked like they belonged in motorcycle gangs and others who looked like they were preparing for some sort of zombie apocalypse. There were little old ladies in Keds, and little old ladies dressed as frontierswomen – with bonnets, long skirts and shawls. Someone was randomly setting off cannon blasts. It might have been the squadron of Civil War Union soldiers I saw marching past. There were some jugglers who looked like escapees from a RenFair, and some hybrids – a "Duck Dynasty" guy wearing camo but with silver beads woven into his beard (very Johnny Depp/"Pirates of the Caribbean").
We were excited when it was time to eat our pancakes, and lucky because we didn’t have to wait in line. My youngest son was part of the entertainment, so we jumped right on his celebrity bandwagon and got to eat in a special tent. He’s in a rock academy that performed between a group of kids doing Broadway show tunes from the local performing arts school, and a barbershop choir made of people ranging in age from ten to close to ninety.
The Broadway kids wore matching t-shirt, jean, and even matching sneakers. The barbershop guys wore perfectly pressed white shirts, black vests, black pants, and bow ties. And right smack between these two groups was the rock academy. Our kids were not dressed alike. Some looked like rock princesses. Others looked like they had found whatever they were wearing on the floor that day and had thrown it on as they ran out the door. And, in true rocker style, I suspect (in fact I know) that some of them had even slept in their clothes the night before. Eclectic? Yes. Entertaining? Definitely. Even better, it shows the depth of community involvement in this and every event in our town.
In the very elite “Entertainers/Crafters/Volunteers/ Misc.” tent, I sat next to a guy dressed like a forest ranger. He might have even been a real forest ranger. I’m not sure. My grasp of reality was a little skewed at this point after seeing so many people dressed in costumes. He didn’t say a word, he just sort of growled as he held up his plate repeatedly for more pancakes. It didn’t match the demeanor of the cheerful “Smokey the Bear” patch on his jacket.
We also sat next to two very lovely and talkative teenaged girls, a pleasant and welcome change from Ranger Reclusive. As we were eating, one of them turned to me and said, “Did you see all the people in costume?” I told her about the Civil War soldiers, and we shared a laugh, so I knew she understood. I asked if she noticed how many people here looked like they could be on “Duck Dynasty,” and her eyes got huge in her face. “I swear I just saw Uncle Si a few minutes ago,” she said. “My friends didn’t seem to understand how funny that was.”
Hmmm. She did get it. I guess I’m not the only one who is watching.