Life in a small, rural town tends to be pretty quiet, which is just the way most people in small rural towns like it. Still, everyone needs a little bit of excitement from time to time; A reason to throw off the yoke and kick up your heels a bit. For the town of Furlington that little bit of excitement was the annual Furlington Old Home Days & Harvest Festival.
Now, the Harvest Festival may not seem like a big deal to city folk, but round here it’s the event of the year. People come from as far away as Cobbsville, bringing with them their finest specimens of good country living – sheep, cows, pigs, chickens, breads, and pies of every imaginable variety. The competition is fierce but friendly, with victories celebrated and losses drowned side by side in the beer tent.
The crowning event of the festival is of course, the Harvest Parade, and it is considered one of the town’s highest honors to be chosen as a “Harvest Child” and ride the festival float dressed as one of the towns many agricultural resources.
I’m sure you can imagine Harold Blemmer’s pride when his youngest daughter, Sally, was chosen to be an onion.
Sally, like most eight-year-olds, was a bit skeptical about the whole onion thing, but figured it might actually be worth it to ride on that big float and have the whole town waving at her. Besides, her best friend Amanda Leigh Crawford was going to be asparagus, which no one likes anyway.
This was a shining moment for the Blemmer family, who already had a rich history in Furlington. Harold’s great-grandfather Jed Blemmer had helped to settle the town and had spent most of his life there as a farmer. His grandfather had continued the farming tradition, as did his father, so it was a simple matter of course that Harold had become a farmer. And he was a good farmer. He accepted his lot and worked hard at it, but deep down inside he had always secretly wanted to be be a civil engineer.
Civil engineers built walls and bridges and tunnels, or at least as far as Harold knew that’s what they did, and he couldn’t help thinking that that had to be a good bit more fun than farming. He felt sure that he would be a good engineer, and that he had a natural gift for that sort of thing. After all, he had fixed the Johnson’s barn door after the horses kicked it down in that thunderstorm last year, and he’d only had to go back twice to put it back on the hinges.
Now, with the parade coming up and little Sally needing an onion costume, Harold was on a mission. He spent late nights out in the barn, drawing plans, measuring and cutting. He ran back and forth to the supply store during the day when it was too hot to work the fields, coming home with the strangest assortment of materials – canvas, glue, yellow and green paint, chicken wire and thick foam sponges. The days rolled by as he labored alone in the barn, and before anyone knew it the festival had arrived.
Sally and the rest of the Blemmers had grown worried and impatient; the parade was that afternoon and she hadn’t so much as seen the costume, never mind trying it on.
At precisely 2:05, the barn doors were flung open and Harold marched triumphantly into the yard carrying what could only be described as a large yellowish egg with bad hair. A large oval had been cut in the front of the egg for Sally’s face, with four smaller holes on the sides and bottom for her arms and legs. Beaming, Harold set the onion down in front of Sally, who immediately burst into tears.
After much begging, pleading, and cajoling, Sally agreed to try the costume on. The four large buckles were undone and the egg split open enough for Sally to climb inside, her tear-streaked face appearing in the opening on the front.
All in all the costume seemed to fit pretty well, with the singular drawback that it weighed in excess of 40 pounds. Unable to move the enormous onion with her small legs, Sally began to cry again, flailing her tiny arms through the holes in the sides. Harold walked around the egg a couple of times assessing the situation, then with less than an hour to get into town and onto the float, he picked the wailing, thrashing onion up, loaded it into the back of the truck and tore off down the road.
Arriving at the float station only minutes before the parade was to begin, Harold swung the truck sharply into the fire department parking lot and came to a screeching halt. Now, I don’t know a whole lot about physics, but I can tell you this – if you have a 40 pound onion in the bed of a pickup truck going 20 miles per hour and that truck stops, well you just better make sure that onion is tied down.
The onion rolled to the back of the truck, hitting the tailgate and knocking it open, then bounded out of the bed and off down the street like a screaming yellow tumbleweed. As luck would have it, screaming Sally and the onion of doom were headed directly for the float.
At this point it may be worth noting that “the float” was actually less of a “float” and more of a “wagon”. To be precise, a very old, very rickety wagon drawn by two equally old and rickety mules.
Alerted by the screaming, Mayor Derbins managed to leap from the path of the vengeful vegetable, but was quite unsuccessful in keeping it from crashing headlong into the back of the wagon. The onion (still screaming) hit the wagon with such force that the old spoked rear wheel crumbled, sending the contents of the float – 14 fruits, vegetables and dairy products of various sizes and ages – spilling onto the street.
The impact and ensuing chaos caused the mules to bolt, dragging the remains of the wagon scraping and grinding down the street and smack into the Ladies’ Auxiliary pie sale table, sending pies and pie-makers in every direction. Emily Daniels’ blue ribbon winning pie was caught by Tucker Johnson who was on his way from the beer tent to the port-o-let.
Unfortunately, poor Tucker caught that pie with his face, and as he stumbled about wiping the not-too-sweet and not-too-tart family recipe filling from his eyes, he fell against the hog fence and knocked the gate open.
Now, you might think of pigs as slow animals, but you probably haven’t seen them being chased by mules through a Rhubarb judging station.
Watching from the steps of the old school house, Mabel Thomasson the town historian would later remark that the scene looked like some kind of dark and twisted fruit salad riot, and that she hadn’t seen anything like it in all her days, unless maybe during The Depression.
Fortunately Harold was on the scene to fix the wagon wheel and the harvest children were loaded safely back onto the float. The parade went on and was comparatively uneventful, though I think they’re still looking for a couple of them pigs. Amazingly no one got so much as a scratch, except for a little bruise on the asparagus, which no one likes anyway.