Fall Foliage Festival

 

The invitation was extended more than twenty five years ago during a family party and became a tradition lasting to this day. Cousin Patty and husband Paul Leary lived on Stagecoach Loop in the Melvin Mills section of Warner, NH. Warner is nestled off Interstate 89 between exits 8 and 9 in the shadow of Mount Kearsage which is high enough to have a small tree line.

During most of the year, Warner is a sleepy little country town. The main business in Warner is a power company. Main Street in the downtown section comprises the town Hall, Library, restaurant, several craft shops, a bank, the usual. But, during Columbus Day weekend around October 12, an old fashion country festival is held that at least doubles the town’s population for a couple days.

Many years ago, to answer a need for increased public funding without increased taxation (a typical Yankee doesn't rely on government for everything) the Warner Fall Foliage Festival was initiated. When Patty and Paul invited us, we accepted immediately. We’re basically city folk and the idea of three days in a country setting with the clock turned back selectively almost a hundred years – a no hurry, no rush atmosphere – so the invitation seemed too good to bypass. And all of this only a 1½ hour drive from home.

When Julianne and Josh were younger, going to Warner meant filling the car to the roof with kid stuff, pillows (we brought our own), clothes to anticipate anything from sunny and hot, cloudy or rainy, or frostbite cold. We always ignored the weatherman’s prognostications because New England weather at this time of year has the odds of a state lottery. Besides packing the car, Terry will have cooked up in Willie Wonker fashion dozens of chocolate chip Toll House cookies, and an equal amount of Brownies and breads like banana and cranberry nut. The chocolate chip cookies though were the most eagerly anticipated.

We usually drove up Friday evening because either Terry, myself, or both of us worked depending upon the year. The drive was always an adventure because, quite frankly, I’m night blind. Even in the best of times, assuming a clean windshield, I have trouble with dark visual cues. Everything seems to meld into one. So, the rare occasions when I have to drive at night, I tend to speed all of 55 – 60 mph on the highway. Most of the time it didn’t matter because Interstate 93 at exit 1 in Salem, NH drops to two lanes and traffic is bumper to bumper with campers, workers escaping from work in Boston, and the annual leaf peepers. At exit 3, the traffic picks up until, near the Hooksett tollhouse, it congests again. Things smooth out finally once we get to Interstate 89.

We jump off at the second Warner exit toward Bradford. Ten to fifteen minutes later, along a dark country road, there’s a small sign pointing left to Melvin Mills, an area with only 8 or 9 houses. Then a right up a short hill onto Stagecoach Loop. We park the car. A porch light floods the street and illuminates the gray barn to the right, the remains of several garden areas with leftover plants already having succumbed to frost, and the two story cottage with an end to end enclosed porch on the left side. The door would fly open and all five of Patty and Paul’s kids would dash up with excitement to the car.

" Did you bring the cookies?"

" There they are Paul, I can see them in the trunk, and brownies too!"

" Oh, hi."

It took about four trips from the car to the house to unload everything. The kids slept upstairs in three bedrooms. Josh would join the younger boys and Julianne would bunk with Jenny. Mom and dad would stay in the living room with Terry on the couch and me on the floor usually in a sleeping bag. These arrangements would change in later years when the kids were out of school. Then Terry and I would be able to sleep upstairs in separate rooms because the beds were small. The kids would stay with Jenny and Phil, her main squeeze, at the "House of Sin", so called by them because none of the couples were married at the time.

Patty and Paul’s kids were effervescent, energetic, excited, warm, in other words great kids and parents’ pride. Paul Jr., later to be called Pauline, the oldest, always seemed to be the more serious and most sensitive when the kids were really young. Being the oldest in any large family (large by 1970 & 1980 standards) could be a boon or a curse. In Paul Jr.’s case, it vacillated back and forth.

Tommy, on the other hand, always impressed me as – well, I don’t know how he impressed me. In later years he had a car with the license plate POMPUS and went to rock concerts in Boston when he could. He had a variety of odd jobs during his twenties the last of which I believe was as a landscaper. One day, he announced that he wanted to attend a prestigious flight school in Florida. He became an air traffic controller, married a lady, Mara, down there after his schooling. She had a built in daughter, Lane. Later, they had a boy, Gage who it was discovered was diabetic after they had moved to the Dakotas.

Christopher was the quietest but his eyes were always wide open. He observed everything and missed nothing. There’s a difference between noticing and observing. Christopher is an observer. He attended the University of Syracuse, majored in photography (of course), met and moved in with Donna, an outgoing Italian who complemented him and delighted us. They live in NYC where he freelances and she runs her own business. Now, they have a son, Hayden.

Joel is an enigma to me. He’s the tallest, strongest, and most athletic of them all and intellectually gifted. Joel’s a tease but a lovable one.  He also lives in NYC and studied to become an Actuary. Joel has a lot of love to give.  

Jennifer – Jenny – is the sweetest thing you’d ever want to meet. Pale skinned, blue eyed Irish looking colleen, she’s petite, bubbly, what Oscar Hammerstein intended when Emil Lebec in South Pacific saw the ‘stranger across the crowded room’. It was Jenny.

There was a dog and an assortment of cats over the years including Julius, a nocturnally active feline who took eight of my lives one night by jumping on my chest at about three o’clock in the morning. I awoke startled peering into two glowing slits of satanic eyes and nearly went exorcistic until I heard ‘MEEEOOOWWW’.

Then, for over ten years there was Xavier, a black lab. He was dumb, playful – always wanted you to throw the tennis ball – and scared the hell out of Terry at first encounter. Let me set the stage. Terry had once been maimed by a fifty-pound pit bull named Thor owned by her sister’s now late ex husband. The details are for another tale. Suffice it to say, Terry had a Pavlovian reaction to any dog that jumped at her from out of nowhere. We arrived at Patty and Paul’s one Friday night as usual. We were unaware that they had gotten a dog. Xavier bounded out of the house and jumped at Terry. It must have been like deja vue. Oh well.

Patty and Paul were a throwback to an earlier generation. They were strict Catholics who accepted children lovingly from God even though the granary wasn’t always bountiful. Patty and Paul are two of the nicest people who ever drew breath. Patty was the family economist. She belonged to a food co-op and was expert at stretching the buck. In many ways, she rather than her sister Joan reminded me of their mother Marie. Patty could and often had to turn a bright face on many problems. She was centered and stable even though a victim of asthma and allergies for years.

Paul on the other hand is a reliable breadwinner and reminds me of a leprechaun in his physical appearance; a ruddy Irish face with twinkling eyes, short beard, slight build, Paul is in the financial accounting field. He is a born conversationalist.

The gray house they owned on Stagecoach Loop came with a gray barn across the street and to the right that, when the kids were young and members of a 4-H type organization, held an assortment of animals from pig to sheep. Next to the barn were several raised garden areas. After that there was a swing set, a basketball net facing the street followed by about ten cords of wood that Paul Sr. stacked yearly.

Years later, they added an in-ground pool and got the French Canadian side of the family together for probably the last time with old and young alike. Luckily, I confiscated my company’s camcorder for the day and recorded most of the party’s events. It’s still available. To the right of the house were a small side yard and a field no one used probably because the septic system and leaching field were located there. At various times of the year, black bears were attracted here. Down the street about a football field away lived the Bewersdorfs, an aged, reclusive couple.

Usually on Friday night, we’d sit around the dining room table and chat. Next to the table, on a raised granite platform, stood the wood stove with a cast iron kettle of water on top to maintain some of the humidity lost from the fire.

Before we turned in for the night, I’d usually go for a short walk. It was pitch dark with only a couple dim street lights. And no city glow to obscure a sky with stars clustered so thickly it was hard to tell where one star started off and the other began. Then back to the house for a night cap of ‘bottled in bathtub’ Londonderry, NH 80 proof Vodka with diet, caffeine free coke. Truthfully, the nightcap was always preceded with one or two other adult libations.

In earlier years, because we lived in the middle of the city of Lynn where sirens and other loud noises were commonplace at night, the silence at Patty and Paul’s was deafening. There were no cars, horns, assaults, arguments in several languages including crude, street lights humming because of broken transformers, in other words, all the night sounds that we slept by were missing. The sounds of silence can be quite disconcerting if you’re city folk like us so much so that it usually took a night to get adjusted. After that we slept like corpses taking the eternal dirt nap.

Next morning, Paul Sr. was usually up around six and his footfalls together with dawn light (there weren’t any curtains) would wake me up next. Terry and the kids would next follow Patty. After showering and shaving, I’d relax with a book in the living room or perhaps rehearse some music with my small portable Casio SK-1 keyboard (it was Josh’s who in turn borrowed it forever from his cousin Shawn who years later when he noticed it in our house, presented it to us as a gift... and so it goes).

Then it was breakfast consisting of breads that Patty and Terry had made with coffee, tea, or milk until it was time to go into town. All during the 80s and the first part of the 90s, I ran the ten o’clock five-mile road race. The course was interesting with but one hill. It went up 2 ½ miles and down 2 ½ miles. The Leary boys also ran when they were on the high school track team. Paul Sr. and Jenny would run together in later years and I would have to eat their dust. After the race, we hung around for our times, the awards ceremony, and then we’d go our separate ways.

In earlier times, we'd all meet next to the bank between 12 and 1:00 and go to Patty's house for lunch thereby savings a few pennies.

Now might be good time to describe the Fairgrounds. Along Warner's Main Street were several shops. Vendors would set up booths in the driveways of these shops. Outside and to the left of the town hall on a grassy knoll were about 15-25 different vendors who sold clothing, crafts, food, one had honey and a working hive, maple syrup, cider, and you name it.

Next, up the stairs to the Town Hall. The two floors of the town hall including the stage were packed with craftspeople, candy makers, and stained-glass experts. When you walked out of the hall and turned right and up the road leading to the Midway then you saw all along both sides of the road booths vending lemonade, candy, Chinese food, French fries, and, my personal favorite that I look forward to every year, the greasiest, most flavorful onion rings ever. Imagine my disappointment the last four years when that particular vendor didn't show up.

The road then branched off right and left. To the right was a vendor selling venison burgers and sausages, a merchant selling tools and odds & ends. I usually bought duct tape, gloves, or perhaps bungee cords (his prices and quality were terrific). The road dead-ended in the cul-de-sac that had a Ferris Wheel, Tilt-A-Whirl, and other rides equally dangerous. Back down the road and there’s more food. To the left is a huge outdoor charcoal pit grill capable of cooking at least 150 half chickens. These are then served inside a food tent on the left side of the road and you can sit at picnic tables outside the tent. Inside the tent are also vats of steamed Maine lobster.

Now, we come to the Midway, supposedly the center of all activity. Here was a cotton candy and candy apple concession and – THE RAFFLE. The raffle was run by the volunteer fire department and on 10 hours a day, both days. Tickets were two for a quarter and the raffle was held about every 15 minutes or so. You could buy as many tickets as you wanted. The prizes ranged from blankets and stuffed dolls to tools and small home appliances. Paul Sr. would carefully look over the prizes for something for the house. I think he won a blanket one year and not much else thereafter.

Also on the Midway were children's rides and a small fun house on the right. My favorite food spot beside the onion rings vendor is the small food tent across from the Fun House. For some mystical reason most likely psychological on my part, they cook up bacon cheeseburgers whose origin has to be heaven. Were the critics from Michelin evaluating these bacon cheeseburgers, the food tent would undoubtedly rate at least three stars. I'd salivate like Pavlov’s dogs while awaiting my cheeseburgers. Then I’d fight the yellow jackets for the condiments that were on a separate table outside the food tent. Bacon cheeseburger finally in hand and mouth, I’d walk over to the grandstand (four rows high,) and watch the oxen-pulls.

On Saturday, the trailers would line up in the field adjacent to the Midway. They contained teams of oxen of all sizes from the pony high type of the young 4-H members to elephant sized oxen of the adults. In the morning, the youngsters would work the teams through various obstacle courses in order to show their command and control over the teams. They carried little whips to prod the oxen into compliance.

Within an hour, the area smelled like a manure factory, a stink that would linger long after the festival ended. The afternoon was for the adults whose teams would pull thousands of pounds. As each cement block was added to the sled, the distances pulled would be less and less, the eventual winner only overcoming inertia to pull a few inches. I enjoyed this for a bit but saved the major portion of my enthusiasm for the Woodsmen’s Contests that took place on Sunday.

I’d try to find Terry after I got tired of watching the oxen. I’d leave the Midway down an adjacent road lined with craft tents on the side closest to the Midway. There were gargoyles and incense, alpaca hats and dog bones made from rawhide, jellies, jams, and canes both candy and wooden.

Before the road joined Main Street, the small Masonic hall had a marathon Bingo going on inside. Peeking through the window, all you could see was a carpet of blue hair and an occasional bald dome breaking it up.

At the end of the street, I’d join the sea of people trying to navigate in both directions on the narrow sidewalk. After a thousand "Excuse me" and " I’m sorry", I'd reach the town hall again. Up the cement stairs, through the double doors was an auditorium with a small stage. The entire area including the stage was littered with craftspeople, food, and candy makers. The only thing that ever caught my eyes were an old couple who made stained-glass sun-catchers and mirrors and the booth at the entrance where you’d find a jellied candy called fruit slices made of pectin instead of the junk usually used for this confection. They also sold fudge. And there was Terry poring over some knitted products.

"What's up?"

"Just bought a few Christmas presents and chatted with the stained glass folks."

"What's the plan?"

"We'll all meet in front of the bank at four."

"OK, I'm just going to check out the other vendors because tomorrow I want to spend most of the day at the Woodsmen’s Contests except for the parade. Have you seen the kids?"

"Nope."

"I ran into Josh and Julianne at the Midway then Patty’s kids joined me for awhile at the Oxen Pull. I bribed Joel into standing in line for a couple of large fries. See you at four."

Back into the madding crowd, I'd make my way to the lawn to the right side of the town hall where there were about 20 more vendors and three times as many people. There was a beekeeper with an active enclosed hive. He was selling several varieties of honey. I'd usually stop by one concession for a glass of mulled cider. Oh well, time to meander over to the bank. I was usually the first to arrive and I’d just stand there practicing my favorite pastime -- people watching. Quite a diverse group gathered here from city folk dressed in the latest outdoor fashion to way-back country folk whose clothing was chosen for function rather than style.

"Hi, Tom". Patty and Paul walked toward me followed by Josh, Julianne, and the Leary crew, and Terry with two shopping bags. We all walked together to get our cars at the bottom of the hill off Main. In mid-October, it was still light between 4 and 5:30 PM.

One particular year, the foliage was so striking and the sun so vibrant that leaf peepers would jostle and bump into each other. You could hear the occasional car horn honk at someone who, while watching the gold and red leaves of a particular maple, wandered into the middle of the street oblivious to everything else.

Back at the house, the kids who, when younger, still had tons of energy and while waiting for supper would start a pick-up half court basketball game. In later years, they’d play CDs upstairs until dinner. I usually made myself a Vodka and diet caffeine free coke to sip on until supper.

Patty cooked for an army. My favorite was a family recipe for baked spaghetti with meat (real hamburg) and garlic or plain bread. I usually brought two jugs of red wine to go with supper. We put as many people around the table as practical. The younger ones would sit at a smaller table to the right of ours. It got really crowded in later years when girlfriends and boyfriends joined us. Until they split up, Paul Jr. would bring his wife and daughter Natasha; Christopher brought Donna. Jenny brought Phil. Josh had Elizabeth and later, Beth.

Funny though, it never seemed overcrowded even with Xavier, the black lab, and the two cats.

No sooner was the last mouthful taken, then Josh or Joel would run to the kitchen for the desserts that Terry had cooked: chocolate chip cookies being the foremost. On occasion, Patty would bring out some ice cream.

During supper we had what my mother used to refer to as ‘sparkling conversation’. We weren’t a quiet group; everyone spoke at once until either by sheer volume or something of general interest, someone got the floor and everyone's attention. It was raucous, chaotic and I loved every minute of it.

It reminds me of a contrasting situation years ago. I visited my sister and her husband Brad in Fort Wayne, Indiana. We were all invited to one of Brad's relatives to spend the evening. There were about 15 people there. It was quiet as a wake and I thought something was wrong until it came time to leave. As everyone left, they thanked the hosts for a great evening. The only person uncomfortable there was me, the city boy. Now, I could empathize with Brad when he visited us. It must have been overwhelming.

After supper, as usual before settling in for the night, I suggested a short walk to aid digestion. Four or five joined me.

"Wow, it's cold, but the air smells so fresh."

"Look how dark it is. It's taking a while to get used to."

We crossed the road to a small bridge that straddles the Warner River. We stood in a row leaning against the railing and watched fallen fall leaves in their splendor from starlight as they flowed down the river.

When we got back, we were just in time to see the last of the dirty dishes being cleaned, dried and put away. We'd sit around watching TV, usually a playoff baseball game, while Terry, Patty, Paul, and anyone not baseball aficionados sat around chatting at the dinner table. In later years, they got rid of the TV (once the kids were out on their own). So, horror of horrors, we had to entertain ourselves. I read or rehearsed some music. The kids would play tapes or CDs. The rest just talked until bedtime.

We rarely had a problem getting to sleep. As I mentioned, there were no curtains on the windows so that at first light, I woke up, dozed an extra hour, then got up. Showing my true nature as a city boy, I’d jump in the car, head a mile or so down the road to the local IGA store and pick up the Boston Sunday Globe. It’s not that I subscribed to their liberal BS, but I really enjoyed the comics, sports, and arts sections. The rest of the paper was only valuable as kindling. Part way through the paper, everyone else would be up and ready for a light breakfast that usually consisted of date nut, cranberry, or banana breads. Patty also made waffles beforehand that we could toast.

On Sunday, we'd get to the Fairgrounds around 10 or 11. The kids disappeared at once, Paul Sr. headed to the raffle, and the ladies shopped. I did only two things on Sunday: attended the parade at noon and in between watched the Woodmen’s Contests.

The Woodsmen’s Contests were almost a religious experience for me. It hearkened back to a simpler but more dangerous and exciting time when men and women struggled just to stay alive. And for almost 15 years, there were faces that would appear year after year. Even though I never met any of them, I thought of them as objects of respect and friends. Let me describe a typical day’s events.

This particular day, it was a cool 55 degrees, partly cloudy, with a light breeze around 11 o’clock. The radio weather forecaster had predicted high 60s and sunny by the afternoon. The contests took place the same area as yesterday's Oxen Pulls and the smell of dung lingered still. Twenty or so contestants milled around the area.

There were familiar faces that appeared year after year -- veterans like Leo Lessard with the red black-checkered jacket, glasses, and stereotypical French Canadian lumberjack face. Leo had a modest build and still had a full head of black hair even though he was in his late '50s, early '60s. There were also two sets of brothers, Rich and Michael Jordan both heavyweights but agile and the Gingras brothers Herb and Jerry, who were serious, slender, and physically opposite to the Jordans. Lastly, was Sheridan Doyle with chiseled Charlton Heston, Ben Hur type features, and probably the best all-around athlete.

There was a lot of pre event nervous chatter as contestants did last minute checks on cross cut saws, chain saws, axes, log rolling tools, and block supports. Four time keepers and the announcer/director were gathered around the registration table under the open tent at the far end of the area. The audience wasn’t permitted in this quadrangle but could stand along the fence that ran around the perimeter or they could sit in the stands (three to four seats deep) located to the left and right of the contest area behind the fences. There were amplifiers set up on both sides of the tent.

"Morning folks. Welcome to the Warner Fall Foliage Festival's 20th annual Lumbermen's Contests. We'll be going ‘til around noon when everything pauses for the parade along Main Street. Before we start, I’d like to remind everyone to get your Booster Tags. You'll see ladies and gentlemen walking through the crowds today selling Booster Tags, only a buck apiece. You'll see most of the prizes in the garage down the street on the right. It’s the garage with the big mesh screen on the front. You can peek in and see some of the wonderful prizes from the raffle. Don't lean to close to the screen because it’s electrified --- Just kidding. Anyway, we use the proceeds to help civic organizations like our schools, volunteer fire department, historical society, Library, etc. Please show your support for a dollar."

"OK, without further ado, let's get started. First up is the log roll. Contestants in two-man (and ladies) teams with their logging tools will roll the log from its resting place to the two stakes that were driven in the ground earlier over there across the way there. Then they gotta roll it back to the other two stakes where they started. The log you'll notice ain’t even but it’s twice as thick on one end as it is on the other. Makes it difficult to roll. They’ll dig those logging tools into it and working as a team, will roll it across to hit both stakes and back again. Remember the log has to touch each of the stakes. OK, first up is the Jordan boys, followed by Leo Lessard and Sheridan Doyle, followed by the Gingras brothers."

The Jordan brothers dug the rolling tools into the log.

"Timers ready, -- contestants ready? -- 3,2,1, go!"

It wasn't easy because it was tough to roll in a straight line across, but the Jordans had luck and skill that day and managed a time of 49.87 seconds.

The next closest was 1.01.25 posted by Lessard & Doyle.

It’s funny; it wasn't like being at a ballgame or something like that because the audience, with a few notable exceptions -- mainly me --, was constantly in flux. They’d come and lean against the fence for about 10 or 15 minutes, then wander off. The only consistency was that there were always a couple of hundred people watching and always ready with a cheer or a groan.

"Next up is the Ax Toss. Contestants stand about 30 feet away from that wooden target over there with the bull's-eye painted on. You get three shots: three points for hitting the inner circle, two points for the second, and one point for the third. You folks over near the target might want to move away because there aren’t any points for hitting a spectator. Ladies go first and first up is Rich Jordan’s lovely wife Carol."

Carol was not lovely but she was accurate, getting two bull's-eyes and one in the third circle.

"If I were you Rich, I’d treat that lady with the utmost respect."

Leo Lessard was the eventual winner with three bull's-eyes. The scariest part was watching one of the guys who must have had a death wish. He would swing the two-headed ax over his head and go so far back that if he went another ¼ inch further, he’d put a second crack in his butt.

The next event was another favorite: the two-man cross cut. This combined skills of speed, dexterity, teamwork, and well maintained saws. There was also an element of luck because a hidden knot inside a block of wood could spell disaster. The square log was about 12 inches by 12 inches and was secured to a wooden frame by chains. Each team had its own particular liturgy for dealing with the cross cut. The Gingras boys, for example, would first remove the saw from its case with the reverence of a priest holding the Eucharist or a rabbi holding Torah scrolls. In this age of the machine saw, the cross cut saw must have been very expensive. Next, while Jerry held the saw in an upright position, Herb would spray a meticulously even coat of WD-40 lubricant. Next, they’d visually inspect each section of the log to be cut for potential knots. Satisfied with their portion of the log, they marked lines with a red magic marker and T-square. Jerry then used a wire brush to smooth the area to be cut. I found it strange but understood liturgy. Each team had to make three cuts. By the way, footing played a part. The stance you took determined the efficiency of the cut. Jerry checked the dirt. He mentally dug off where to stand then dug a channel in the ground to secure his right foot (or left) during the cut. Today, however, wasn't to be the Gingras brothers’ day. They hit a knot that was like steel and their time was around 20 seconds. The Jordan boys won in a remarkable time of 5.3 seconds; astounding when you consider the average time of around 40 seconds represented by Leo Lessard and Sheridan Doyle.

I came out of my reverie just in time to see the kids approach the stands were I sat. Chris, Donna, Joel, Josh, and Julianne joined me for a while. They came bearing greasy French fries with ketchup.

"Well, folks, the parade should be starting in about 15 minutes so we’ll close up shop here for a bit to give you a chance to meander down to Main Street and pick out a good viewing location. Our booster people will again be passing among you so if you don’t have your booster tag yet, then now would be the time. Thank you timers, contestants, and you our great audience. Why don’t you all give yourselves a big round of applause."

We clapped for about 40 seconds and moved en masse to Main Street. We had our traditional spot next to the bank. Patty, Paul Sr. and Jr., Jen and Phil, and Terry were already there by the time we arrived. Every year the parade had a theme. This year it was famous people in American history. The crowd was 5 and 6 deep on both sides of the street for a quarter-mile. We old-timers and young kids probably enjoyed the parade more than the teenagers and young adults. To us old farts, the parade was a throwback to earlier years when we had parades every Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Armistice Day, later called Veterans' Day. These were to honor country, its history, and the men who defended her. But, if history has taught me anything, it's that public memory only lasts for about 10-15 minutes . And if we don't have to fight to maintain our liberty, we take it for granted then forget about it completely. The most dangerous enemy we ever face is ourselves.

Oh well.

The little ones sat on the curb getting antsy. The police car with lights flashing and siren blaring announced the beginning of the parade. The Kearsage school band followed, played a tune in front of the grandstand then turned off Main Street up the side street to the end about 300 yards down. There followed an assortment of clowns, kids pushing decorated carts, a few bicycles, etc. For years, the town’s crazy man would ride in his 50s style Schwin bicycle. His wide brimmed hat was covered with stickers and buttons. His face was pudgy and ruddy. His clothes were mismatched. And, he had that faraway look that said I may be nuts but my problems are over while you still have yours. With the insane, the joke’s always on us.

There were also seven or eight floats decorated to represent this year’s theme, a group of twenty young unicyclists, and, my favorite, the Leapin’ Lizard. The Leapin’ Lizard was a 1940s style car complete with rumble seat in which sat four people. There was a large 4’X12" piece of wood in place of the rear fender. The car was weighted so that when the driver accelerated, the Lizard would do a wheelie, her front lifted high and her rear scraping the asphalt. The horn honked like a flock of geese and both kids and adults howled.

The parade ended with fire engines from every town within 20 miles. The crowd disbursed.

"Why don't we all meet here at four o’clock? Suggested Patty. "I’ll need some time to fix supper."

"Sounds good -- --"

"OK."

"See you then."

We all took off in ten different directions.

I returned to the Lumbermen's Contests.

"Hello again folks. Hope you all enjoyed the parade. Next up is the cross cut with modified chainsaws."

Woops, not my favorite. Too noisy and high-techie. I'm a purist. Pierre the lumberman would not have approved of chainsaws as part of these contests.

I decided to leave and stand in line at the fried onion rings concession. This was akin to a religious experience to me. I am a connoisseur of onion rings. I have started a new organization similar to France's Michelin in order to rate various venues of onion ring servers. So far, number 1 with 3 Carmody stars is Woodmen's in Essex, MA. They make theirs with a beer batter. In 40 years, I haven't found their equal. However, a close second was the concession at the festival.

There were about 20 people ahead of me in line but I didn't care. It's the only line in the world worth standing in, this from a guy who will walk out of a supermarket if the line is only 1 deep. There were only two people working the onions: they appeared to be middle-aged husband and wife. They cooked and served frantically. Heaped around the concession were twenty-pound bags of onions. The wife sliced and battered the rings, while her husband cooked. Beads of perspiration covered their faces. The smell of the greasy onion rings permeated the air. When my turn came, I piously ordered a large onion ring at $4. I almost genuflected in front of this onion ring shrine. I was now in food heaven. Everything around me disappeared as I savored every ring. You could have killed me then and my life would have been complete.

You can keep your ballpark franks. I'll take the Warner Fall Foliage Festival's onion rings every time.

Anyway, for the last few years, there hasn't been an onion rings concession at the festival. The couple who cooked them probably died of plaque-encrusted arteries. Oh well.

The noise of the chainsaws lessened so I came out of my reverie and headed back to the contests. The next event could cost a man his foot. You were given a square log about 12 inches by 12 inches by 36 inches long, the same size used in the crosscut. You nailed the log to a frame, either wooden or metal. Then, ax in hand, you stood on top of the log. The object was to cut through the log as quickly as possible. In all the years we attended, we never saw an accident though I understand someone lost a few toes about ten years ago. This day, however, Sheridan Doyle's ax cut through the log like a hot knife through butter and he blew the field away in 20 or so seconds.

The last event was the cruelest because it required the utmost endurance for bodies that were just about spent.

"For the last event of the day, we're going to chop wood. Each man has selected two logs about a foot in diameter and a yard long. If you look over to my right, you'll see a wooden frame with hole in it supported by a barrel. That hole is only about seven or eight inches in diameter. They're going to chop these logs into pieces small enough to fit through the hole. First up is -- -- --"

There's not a whole helluva lot of skill here. If the gods are fickle that day, you'll get logs full of knots. Either way, this is an event of endurance and I can surely relate to it. On this day, the lumber gods smiled on Leo Lessard. He topped the field at 13 minutes.

With one last look at the festival grounds, I headed back to the bank where everyone was to meet and we drove back to Patty and Paul's.

That night we had pot roast with all the trimmings.

After a short walk, we turned in early since we were all pretty beat.

Monday morning was usually a let down. In earlier years, the kids were off to school and Paul, Sr. off to work. They didn't have Columbus Day off like we did.

We packed and left around 11. The hour and a half ride home provided the transition time we needed to rejoin the urban rat race.

Fast forward to next August. We got an envelope today containing this year's Fall Foliage Festival agenda. Can't wait!

Epilogue: Patty passed on in late 2006.  We're going to try, however to continue the tradition.