Monday, October 1, 2012

A little TV won’t make your kids crack heads. Oh yeah, and a little about fall festivals too…

*As published in the Autumn issue of FOLK Magazine
You know those people who say things like, “Well, I don’t ‘get’ that pop culture reference that every other person in the world understands because I really don’t watch much TV.”?; the people who are too busy reading Tolstoy…or staging their all-white house or hand-carved dining room table for an upcoming Pinterest shot…or taking their unreasonably well-dressed child to some obscure musical instrument lesson? Yeah, I despise them, too (despite currently tackling War and Peace, snapping pictures of my dinner plates on a weekly basis, having had piano lessons myself and being fairly certain that if I have kids who want to play the didgeridoo, I will find the best didgeridoo player in a tri-state area). 

Now, don’t get me wrong; I readily acknowledge that television is a ginormous time-waster.  There typically is very little of substance on.  I can be as pretentious as the next person when frustratingly discussing the History’s Channel complete lack of history-related programming. Constant news coverage transforms minutia into seemingly groundbreaking features daily.  Does this mean, however, that I have been immune to the lure of America’s Next Top Model marathons? Certainly not.  Have I fallen victim to back-to-back Maury, “Who’s the Daddy?” episodes? You better believe it.  Not my finest hours I will admit.

Occasionally, however, I do allow myself to indulge in a series completely guilt-free, one I watch with reckless abandon to notions of “should be doing.”  Growing up (not that I worried about responsibilities too much anyway), it was The Cosby Show; most recently, The Office and New Girl.  And, in a few of those formative years in between, it was the masterfully witty Gilmore Girls.

The premise of the show is as follows: young girl from a wealthy New England family gets pregnant and subsequently shunned by said overprotective family when she refuses to get married and pursue the “respectable” life.  She works hard, raises her daughter (who becomes her best friend), works at an inn in a small town that seems perfectly artsy and “down-homey” at the same time, and spends her days having dry, but irrefutably smart and hilarious, banter with everyone she meets, banter that showcases a knowledge of books, and pop culture, and small town quirks and culture.  Oh, yeah, and did I mention it seems to perpetually be a gorgeous fall day every time I watch an episode?

Want to know why I own every season on DVD and still love this show – and the fictitious town of Stars Hollow – so very much?  It makes me want to own a bed and breakfast.  It makes me wish the coffee shop owner who refuses to let me use my cell phone or eat French fries at 10:00 pm (in the old hardware store he has converted into an eclectic, but cozy, diner) had a crush on me. It makes me long for “Bid on a Basket” fundraisers, town hall meetings, festivals to celebrate seasonal changes, and battling troubadours on various street corners.  I want the sense of community so fundamental to a series also replete with fantastic character development and general charm, the sense of community so valued by those on this staff, the sense of community integral to the entire FOLK philosophy, the sense of community to which many of you are contributing in your own towns across the country.   

And, if I want to live in a place where these things – like county fairs, and local theaters, and town decorating committees – are valued, then I figure I need to participate.  In fact, when I first moved back to my hometown, I honestly thought, “What can I do to make it more like Stars Hollow?” Well, let me tell you what I did:  I put on my father’s overalls and took some old whiskey jugs and hay bales to the town park on a Sunday afternoon in October. 
“Fall festival” just might be my very favorite two-word combination.  The mere mention of fall, the only season sane people could ever really love, is a three-month period I look forward to all year.  I love the apple cider I drink from my favorite mug at my mother’s outdoor fireplace.  I love stepping outside and thinking, “I believe I need a hoodie today.” I love taking drives on Saturday afternoons, drives that invariably provoke conversations about how much the leaves have changed in only a week.  I love that people in my hometown still have hayrides.  I love that I vividly remember how much fun hayrides are.  I love orchards, particularly those that haven’t become commercialized to the point that a mechanized pumpkin launcher is the main attraction.  I love carving pumpkins rescued from said contraption.  So, yes, basically I love every stereotypical thing about this most noble of seasons. 

And, “festival”? That just sounds fun, doesn’t it?  First and foremost, it reminds me of festivus on Seinfeld (a show I have love/hate relationship with...but I enjoy this episode), which makes me giggle. Secondly, the word itself, derivative of “fest” in Middle English or “festivus” in Latin (which I naturally knew off-hand), implies all things Gilmore Girlish: food, celebration of a locale’s uniqueness, celebration, sense of belonging, religious and/or cultural significance, commemoration. Who wouldn’t like all that?  Only crazy people who say summer is their favorite season.

And thus, for the past two years, I have eagerly looked forward to my town’s fall festival, the earlier of which was actually a four day bicentennial celebration.  Despite foolishly volunteering to help organize food and craft vendors (NEVER EVER do this. Trust me.), I was proud to be a part of the committee, a medley of community members, local officials, and business owners. However, it was last year’s celebration that provided both the fondest memories and the funniest photo opportunities.  There was the sock hop on Friday night (I may or may not have won the hula hoop competition…while wearing a poodle skirt and a bandanna around my neck); car show, singing extravaganza, craft booths, and delicious crap food so fundamental to any small-town festival on Saturday; and, a community picnic on Sunday. 

As most of you already know, I am a library director by day, a job that I love and with a staff I adore.  We decided that the library should attend this community picnic, but in a manner that required a little more effort than simply throwing down a quilt and making an apple pie.  On the heels of our county-renowned murder mystery fundraiser, we decided that we needed a theme, one that would inspire costumes, alter egos, and a whole bunch of unnecessary foolishness.  For, if “public library” doesn’t scream “unnecessary foolishness,” I don’t know what does. 

So, Terry, my dear friend and our beloved bookmobile driver, and I brainstormed for days (and by “days” I do mean a few minutes in the back office) and decided that we should go with a cliché hillbilly theme.  Why? Well, we all had stereotypical hillbilly clothes.  We all had an assortment of “props” that would fit well with the theme.  We understand that using and/or playing with stereotypes makes them neither true nor self-indicting.  We simply thought it would be fun. 

And thus, the library staff and our various family members and friends showed up at the city park with hay bales, whiskey jugs, wagon wheels, traditional southern picnic foods, and a whole lot of denim and flannel.  Were we the only picnic group with a theme? You betcha.  Did we also win 1st place? You betcha. 

Here are a few things I learned and/or was reminded of throughout that perfectly lovely fall weekend in October:

*Feeling invested in a community will lead you to raise your hands in triumph…on a stage… in the middle of downtown… while wearing a borrowed skirt that has two poodles emblazoned across the front. 

*People notice, and appreciate, extra effort. Pictures of the library staff picnic still hang on the bulletin board at the local radio station.

*If we had just said, “come eat with us on Sunday,” our turnout would have been much lower.  Themes are always a fun idea.  People are more inclined to be involved if they feel like they are attending something unique.  Plus, themes allow funny personalities to really shine.

*City parks are not utilized nearly enough. 

*Getting kids involved in the community early in their life will help build a sense of commitment and investment.  Investment can prevent both brain drain and apathy. 

*Everyone loves my mother’s mini fried apple pies.

*Creating photo opportunities doesn’t always have to be pure “showboat-y” in nature.  When I look back on the pictures from that festival, I remember how proud I was of the library staff and of my little town. 

Thus, it is in activities like this that I am reminded that I can contribute to my own Stars Hollow, just as you can do in your own respective towns. If we want to espouse lofty notions of community, small-town camaraderie, and citizenship, sometime we simply need to show up.  If we do so in our dad’s overalls, which we’ve stuffed with a pillow to make ourselves look pregnant, even better.

Oh, and a little TV doesn’t make you a bad person.
*To see the full article/pictures, stop by the Library and pick up an issue of FOLK!
On this dreary first day of October, the month I anxiously look forward to all year, I figured caramel apples would brighten my day.

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