The year was 1960. Before the Beatles, the Stones and the Who. Before ‘Cheers,’ ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Cowboy Bebop.’ Before ‘Star Wars,’ ‘The Matrix’ and ‘The Terminator.’ Before Nintendo, Playstation and Wii. Before the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. Before MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.
A simpler time. And with nothing else to do, in the town of Stockton, someone spoke up and said — “Let’s have a Walnut Festival.”
It might sound odd to you. If you don’t know the whole story.
The year was 1887. Young Cornelius O’Hammondovichenstein arrived on Ellis Island. An immigrant desperate to escape the Great Rutabaga Famine afflicting his homeland in the Australian outback, Cornelius cast off most of his last name and headed west on foot.
He got as far as southwest Missouri when his legs finally gave out. Cornelius collapsed in a field filled with large green balls. Thinking them some kind of fruit, he bit into one and broke three teeth. It turned out the soft green covering was hiding a hard black shell. Convinced something edible was inside, he took a rock and hammered at the small black shell until it broke, spilling out the tart, delicious nutmeat inside.
Revived by the tasty treat, Cornelius vowed that here is where he would stop and make his fortune. He named the nut “Walnut” — for no particular reason. Black Gold. Missouri Mead. Soon other pioneers were flocking to the area, to shake the trees and collect the valuable booty. Cornelius built a factory and named the town that sprung up around it “Stockton” — for no particular reason.
On the last weekend in September in 1959, Cornelius Hammons died. A year later the town he founded decided to hold an annual festival in his honor — with kettle corn and porkburgers and carnival rides and country-western music and a queen contest and a parade. A parade with floats.
So I’m sitting at home watching “Man vs. Food” when the phone rings.
“Ronnie, it’s Batman.”
“Yes, Batman. What can I do for you?”
“Well, two months ago someone named Debbie called me saying she was a friend of yours and she was in charge of building a float for some parade and would I be in it? When she explained it was in your honor, of course I said yes.”
“Well, I appreciate that.”
“Yes, well, I’ve tried repeatedly to get more information since then and I’m getting nowhere with this person. Look, I’m a busy man. I don’t usually make personal appearances. Especially during the day. Do you know what’s going on?”
” ‘Fraid not. I have a hands-off policy with the float committee. I usually end up regretting it, come to think of it.”
“Well, I’ve got to go deal with the Riddler. Have one of your people call me when they get their act together.”
“Will do. Give my best to Robin.”
Saturday was a crisp, fall day. The Wife, The Son and I arrived about an hour before the parade — plenty of time to walk through the park and check out the booths and the carnival rides and the blue ribbon arts and crafts in the community building.
The nice thing about going down to the park before the parade is it’s not terribly crowded. But then you don’t run into anyone you know. But after the parade it’s so crowded in the park you can’t find anyone you know anyway. It was better when it was a much smaller affair. Not much new, other than the fortune teller. I wonder how she got into town. I heard there were complaints about her being there. No surprise there.
We eventually made our way to Kim’s place, where we usually hang out due to the large spread in the kitchen and it’s a good place to find people. Unfortunately for them, the first people I found were my float co-chairmen, Debbie and Clark.
“Uh, about the float…there was a rat…and he had a match…”
“No, Clark. We can’t use the fire excuse. We used it last time.”
“Not very likely.”
“Oh, I like that one.”
“So, here’s what happened. We had the float all built and ready to go — it was a thing of beauty. And then these wild pigs that have been terrorizing the countryside came along and ate all the roses…”
“Wait. You used roses? Not tissue paper?”
“Hey, nothing but the best for the RROY REPORT Float.”
“You should be. Aaron almost lost an arm trying to fight back the wild pigs with a stick. You know, if Batman had showed up like he was supposed to he probably could have kept the pigs at bay with some Feral Pig Bat-Repellant.”
“Well, I’m sure you tried you best. It’s the thought that counts. Again.”
And so it was that we pulled up a seat on the grass next to 2010 RROY REPORT IDOL winner Jay Chism and his lovely wife Mindy and watched the bands and the shriners and the horses and the classic cars and the football team and the cheerleaders and the mini-mites and the mini-mini-mites and the politicians and a couple of amateur-hour floats. And dreamed of what could have been. Again.
A little over an hour later the parade ended and we hooked up with the family and the newest member of the Roy clan. We then made our way back down to the park but — as expected — it was too crowded to find anyone so we picked up some nuts and treats and headed home.
Another Walnut Festival for the history books. Another RROY REPORT Float for the history book in my mind.