WILKES-BARRE — It happened long ago in a world that I’m afraid no longer exists.
My parents took me downtown — Main Street, Plymouth, summertime, 1959 — to the American Legion Post 463. We went to the back of the building and there it was — a Ferris wheel and rides, games, kids and fun everywhere.
This was my first exposure to a festival, or a bazaar, or a fair of any type, and it was absolute fun. Every kid I knew was there, and there were many I didn’t know. We were running, playing and riding, and we were eating the best greasy foods I had ever tasted. French fries with vinegar and salt, candy apples, bubble gum, cotton candy, hot dogs, hamburgers, soda pop, ice cream. To a kid, this was heaven.
This fair would run for a few days. A group of traveling festival people would come into a small town, set everything up, operate the rides and stands, and then pick up stakes and head to the next stop. It was awesome.
Every year the Plymouth Little League would sponsor this amazing event, and every year people would flock to the American Legion parking lot for a good time. It was an annual tradition I’ll always remember. Good times tend to stick in your memory bank.
This was part of growing up, and my parents recognized that I enjoyed the hometown festival so much, they would take me and a couple of my pals to the granddaddy of them all — the Bloomsburg Fair.
Now this was an experience, for sure.
Until my first trip to the Bloomsburg Fair, I had never seen any farm animals up close — nor had I smelled any of them. And I was equally shocked by the way a cow was milked. I recall standing in amazement, my mouth and eyes wide open, as a farmer sat on a stool and milked his prize cow.
I can assure you this learning experience was somewhat frightening as well. I wasn’t interested in learning much more about nature’s way — especially where eggs came from, or how bacon got to my breakfast plate.
I did wonder, however, who was the first brave soul to ever milk a cow. Why, I wondered, would one ever think to do that? And then drink what came out? Wow.
And every year, my dad would take us to the stand where oyster stew was sold. It was delicious. But that vendor is long gone from the fair, and so is oyster stew. In fact, I can’t find good oyster stew anywhere.
Fast forward many years as bazaars, festivals and fairs abound everywhere and are attended by thousands. We have the Pierogi Festival in Edwardsville, the Tomato Festival in Pittston, and the Kielbasa Festival in Plymouth. The Bloomsburg Fair is in its 162nd year — no, I wasn’t at the first one — and there are fairs sponsored by Luzerne County and other groups, all worthy of patronizing and enjoying.
And now the city of Wilkes-Barre will hold its inaugural Multicultural Parade & Festival. Fellow New York Yankees fan Angel Jirau is deeply involved with this effort and hopes it is a success. Angel would love to see downtown Wilkes-Barre come alive this weekend with people of all cultures and ethnicity to celebrate those heritages, display their traditions and prepare their foods.
But the most important part of the festival is the uniting of the community to share and celebrate each segment of our homogenized society. It is a very worthy mission and one we all should embrace. We are, after all, all human beings, yet we seem to have taken far too little time to learn far too little about each other.
The city’s Multicultural Parade & Festival is an opportunity for us to get to know each other a lot better. It’s a time to learn about each other and to sample each other’s culture. And maybe some oyster stew?
And when we get together and we talk and learn, there is every chance we’ll get along better and come to a much better understanding of each other.
And that’s a recipe we all should want to sample.
For other Multicultural Parade & Festival stories, click here.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle, or email at [email protected]