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Another Spring Hope National Pumpkin Festival has come and gone, a successful two days with excellent weather and enough people to feel comfortably crowded in downtown Spring Hope. The Spring Hope Area Chamber of Commerce and all the volunteers who worked so hard to make the 48th festival possible had to be tired but happy and proud of what they accomplished as Saturday came to its end.
As usual, I was present for Friday night’s street dance and most of the day Saturday, taking pictures for The Enterprise as I’ve done for 44 festivals. For the last 15 years I’ve used a mobility scooter to whiz around downtown snapping photos and shooting videos, and I’ve grown accustomed to viewing the town’s big day through a viewfinder. Except, of course, when I take time to snag a turkey leg or Polish sausage.
You know you’re getting old, though, when you can look back at 44 Pumpkin Festivals and have all kinds of vivid and mostly pleasant memories of this or that event or happening — but no longer have a clue exactly what year it happened. And it takes a little getting used to seeing children you once saw at the Pumpkin Festival in 1980, say, now as adults bringing their own children to the latest Pumpkin Festival.
What all this does show me, though, is that the Spring Hope National Pumpkin Festival, over all the years and through all its various attractions and events, has not only become a part of Spring Hope, it has become an integral heart of Spring Hope. It has become larger than the chamber — a two-day party the whole town can claim as its own.
People from all over the world have come to the Pumpkin Festival. I’ve seen pictures of people at the Grand Canyon and the mountains of Switzerland wearing Pumpkin Festival T-shirts. Towns around us, of course, are very familiar visitors to the festival and every now and then we get mentioned, or a festival picture was published, in a state or regional magazine. The Pumpkin Festival has made Spring Hope at least a little famous, and for some people outside town, the Pumpkin Festival actually defines Spring Hope itself.
We who live here know better, of course. Our hometown is and has always been so much more than any one festival, however special. Every day, year in and out, we live together, work together, play together, love and fight together, share experiences, tears, and laughter. We know the places to eat and to avoid eating; we know where to get our cars fixed and inspected; we know who sits in the pews of our churches, shows up for the school plays, turns out for Friday night football at Southern Nash. We are woven into the fabric of each others’ lives, and most of the time we don’t even notice.
But what we also don’t always notice, or appreciate, is that our Pumpkin Festival helps bring us together as a community in a way all communities need and too many lack. Those faithful few who work on producing the festival for so many months and then so feverishly during the festival may barely get to notice what good they’re doing for everyone, and they certainly don’t get the credit they deserve. But what they’ve done, and do, is give the whole town an excuse to put aside the daily grind and just enjoy ourselves.
I fully realized this on Friday night during the street dance. I had scootered my way into the giant dance circle in front of the stage and found myself immediately closed in by a gazillion lawn chairs packed together all around the loose dance circle. I wasn’t going anywhere for quite a while, so I got my camera ready and just watched and listened as The Embers began their concert.
The night started slowly at first. Only a few children jumping in circles and a handful of couples swaying together were on the dance “floor” while the bulk of the crowd sat in their chairs, listening to the familiar tunes they had come to hear.
But gradually, the crowds grew as the horns blared, drums rolled, lights flashed and the sound filled the night.
As I rolled in and out to take pictures, sometimes on the side and sometimes in the middle of swaying bodies all around me, music pounding into my ears from mere feet away, I noticed something special happening.
Parents danced with their toddlers, teenage girls pranced elaborate steps and giggled, older couples swayed and younger couples shimmied, women young and old practiced their steps in time with the music, and then at one point at least 70 people were line-dancing at one time, a whole crowd moving back and forth in synchronized steps. And everyone was happy, relaxed, enjoying a magic moment and enjoying it together. We were one community, enjoying our music, our culture, and each other.
That’s what the Pumpkin Festival is all about, the magnet and magic of our community. And this year, it was great.
Ken Ripley, a resident of Spring Hope, is The Enterprise’s editor and publisher emeritus.