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A Goldilocks moment for Pumpkin Festival and small-town charm

Posted on October 4, 2021

OpinionColumnsLocal news
Giant gourds and pumpkins attracted attention in the First Baptist Church parking lot. A crowd watched as humongous pumpkins, some topping 1,000 pounds, were mechanically hoisted onto the scales.

Ken Ripley | Enterprise

Giant gourds and pumpkins attracted attention in the First Baptist Church parking lot. A crowd watched as humongous pumpkins, some topping 1,000 pounds, were mechanically hoisted onto the scales.

Growers stand with their giant gourds awaiting weigh-in during the 49th annual Spring Hope National Pumpkin Festival on Saturday.

Ken Ripley | Enterprise

Growers stand with their giant gourds awaiting weigh-in during the 49th annual Spring Hope National Pumpkin Festival on Saturday.

Giant gourds and pumpkins attracted attention in the First Baptist Church parking lot. A crowd watched as humongous pumpkins, some topping 1,000 pounds, were mechanically hoisted onto the scales.

Ken Ripley | Enterprise

Giant gourds and pumpkins attracted attention in the First Baptist Church parking lot. A crowd watched as humongous pumpkins, some topping 1,000 pounds, were mechanically hoisted onto the scales.

Growers stand with their giant gourds awaiting weigh-in during the 49th annual Spring Hope National Pumpkin Festival on Saturday.

Ken Ripley | Enterprise

Growers stand with their giant gourds awaiting weigh-in during the 49th annual Spring Hope National Pumpkin Festival on Saturday.

Growers stand with their giant gourds awaiting weigh-in during the 49th annual Spring Hope National Pumpkin Festival on Saturday.
Giant gourds and pumpkins attracted attention in the First Baptist Church parking lot. A crowd watched as humongous pumpkins, some topping 1,000 pounds, were mechanically hoisted onto the scales.

kripley@springhopeenterprise.com

Ken Ripley

Ken Ripley

Spring Hope had a beautiful, wonderful weekend. The sky was clear and sunny, the temperature generally pleasant and by most measurements, the 49th Spring Hope National Pumpkin Festival was a big success.

It’s too early to tell if and how much the festival will affect the pandemic. While those who wore masks were in the minority, enough people did to show respect for the deadly COVID-19 and its delta variant, and festival organizers spread out booths and events to minimize contagion. And the bulk of the festival was outdoors.

It wasn’t an easy decision for the sponsoring Spring Hope Area Chamber of Commerce to ignore the rising number of COVID cases in Nash County. The original decision to resume the festival was made in the spring when the pandemic appeared in retreat thanks to the availability of lifesaving vaccines. Normal life seemed to be reasserting itself after a year’s absence.

Even the N.C. State Fair, with typical crowds many times larger than local festivals, announced plans to resume in Raleigh and is still going on as scheduled even though it’s a much bigger risk of being a “superspreader.”

And a lot of us who have covered the Pumpkin Festival for decades wondered prior to the weekend what kind of response the festival would have. Would fear of the virus make attendance as anemic as the year a hurricane chose the same weekend to hit? Or would a public tired of restrictions cram into Spring Hope and really risk public health by overcrowding?

Well, Spring Hope was as lucky as Goldilocks and the three bears. I heard Friday night’s street dance had a healthy turnout, but from what I saw Saturday, Spring Hope’s crowd was just about right, neither too small nor too large to be fun. It was a comfortable crowd, squeezed in places but overall, filling downtown while leaving plenty of room for people to mingle and visit. It was the kind of crowd that a local festival should draw, bringing the community together without strain.

And we certainly needed it. For southern Nash County, coming back to the Pumpkin Festival was a joyful return to life as we have long known it the first weekend in October.

Sure, there was no Pumpkin Queen pageant the weekend before, as a concession to public health, but judges and girls did meet and a new Pumpkin Queen and Little Miss Pumpkin Queen were announced and busy during the day, on foot and on their floats.

Lines to the food booths were as long as usual, but not as bad as some years. Some food was more expensive, but there were plenty of fair favorites to enjoy. The cotton candy and funnel cakes were just as sweet and the turkey legs and Polish sausages just as hot.

Festival-goers wandered up and down the two blocks of crafts and exhibits. Children had their faces painted. The bands played away as people brought chairs to sit and listen. Parents helped their children decorate their pumpkins, local cooks competed with their best pumpkin recipes and the parade route was reasonably lined for the 90-minute annual parade.

The chamber’s hosting of a national pumpkin competition, which began last year even without the festival, really enriched this year’s festival. Giant gourds and pumpkins attracted a good amount of attention in the First Baptist Church parking lot. A decent crowd watched as humongous pumpkins, some topping 1,000 pounds, were mechanically hoisted onto the scales.

The festival has always had a pumpkin weigh-in, and our own local Danny Vester has broken state records with entries Cinderella could use. But the national competition, which is so appropriate for a national pumpkin festival, has added extra heft and meaning to Spring Hope’s annual weekend. And a more than decent crowd observing the weighing seemed to appreciate it. I hope this partnership continues.

I’ve been attending and taking pictures at the Pumpkin Festival for 45 years, since 1975, and it’s at the point that I’ve got lots of memories but totally lost track of which year they happened. Another sign of age, I suppose.

What made this year’s festival so special to me, though, is that its comfortable size and relaxed, pleasant atmosphere as I chewed on a turkey leg and listened to the band reminded me of what normal small-town life is all about — friends and family, mingled neighbors and out-of-town visitors coming together to enjoy a pleasant time as one community. We’re celebrating not only the pumpkin, which is our excuse, but each other as people and the social and communal ties that bind us.

The national news and too much of the internet is ugly, crazy and divisive. Partisan politics as practiced in Washington and too many state capitals may yet destroy this country’s democratic experiment.

But the Pumpkin Festival was, and is, a reminder that our lives together, our bonds as family and neighbors, our common concerns we share in our little town, the daily care and love we demonstrate to those who need it, these are the stuff of our reality. These are the foundations — and strengths — of our world. The Pumpkin Festival is a symbol that helped me, at least, recapture some perspective.

For at least one weekend, Spring Hope and the surrounding area was merry with song, dance, good food and big, orange pumpkins.

Thank you to the town, the Chamber of Commerce and all the volunteers who made it possible. And thanks to all who came and proved, yet again, that Spring Hope, North Carolina is still a great place to live.

Ken Ripley, a Spring Hope resident, is The Enterprise’s editor and publisher emeritus.

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