A warm and sunny Saturday, a day situated right between the first day of summer and the Fourth of July, was a perfect time for three Windham County towns to celebrate in their own ways.
In Guilford, they got a jump on the Fourth of July events with their annual Freedom Fest, an easy-going, low-key event at the Broad Brook Grange.
In Vernon, townspeople cast away fiscal uncertainty for a day with their annual town picnic at the Recreation Area on Pond Road.
And in Dummerston Center, a long line snaked out the front door of the Evening Star Grange for the Congregational Church’s annual Strawberry Supper.
For area residents who wanted to enjoy the Fourth a week early, there was something for everyone.
Guilford: Small is beautiful
Brattleboro, Saxtons River, and Wardsboro have the big Fourth of July bashes in the county. With big parades in the morning, games and activities through the afternoon, and fireworks at night, it can be a bit daunting for a little town to hold its own.
Selectboard Chair Anne Rider said when Guilford used to have its Fourth of July festivities in the late afternoon, “people were worn out from the other parades earlier in the day.”
“It’s hard to compete with Brattleboro,” said Don McLean of the Broad Brook Grange.
So, Guilford decided to try scheduling their celebration ahead of the Fourth, and do it, as Rider put it, “a la Guilford.”
That meant small, a bit quirky, and totally laid back.
A 3-mile road race started the Freedom Fest. Matt Mann won the race in 19 minutes, 57 seconds, with Bill Colvin of Bennington in second in 20:33. Colvin’s spouse, Jessica Chapman, was the women’s winner in 23:20.
Mann and Colvin are friends and fellow planners, as they work for the Windham and Bennington Regional Commissions, respectively.
The prizes for the runners were a quart of maple syrup for first place and a homemade apple pie for second. “Apple pie tonight, and pancakes tomorrow,” said Chapman.
After the race came what was arguably the shortest Fourth of July parade in Vermont, with a quarter-mile route from the Central School to the Grange. Leading the march was 83-year-old Lila Gregg — “Miss Liberty,” Rider called her — sitting atop a convertible driven by Rider.
The spectators outnumbered the marchers, and even a couple of unsuspecting motorists caught up in the line of march got cheers as they slowly trailed the Guilford fire trucks at the end of the parade.
After the 10-minute parade, people browsed at tables which were set up in the shade with crafts for sale, and a grill cooking hot dogs and hamburgers sizzled. Kids took turns riding around the grassy parking lot in the Gaines Farm’s cow wagons.
“Isn’t Guilford great?” asked Rider, taking in the scene.
Vernon: The show must go on
The town picnic in Vernon had always been an event. Lots of games, lots of food, lots of fireworks at the end of the day.
However, like many events in small towns, they are only as strong as the number of volunteers willing to put the work in to keep them going. After a brief lull, Vernon’s town picnic resumed last year. But not long after last year’s picnic came the news that Entergy was going to close the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant at the end of 2014.
Entergy donated $5,000 for last year’s picnic, and did the same this year, said Josh Unruh, who heads the Town Picnic Committee. But now, the town is looking ahead to the future, and having to find ways to make up for Entergy’s largesse.
That meant seeking help from other quarters.
Unruh said Atlas Fireworks gave the town a half-price deal, which helped a lot with finances for the event. Leader Beverage and C & S Wholesale Grocers also donated the food and drink for the picnic, he said.
“Depending how this year works out, we should have a surplus for next year’s picnic so we can do it without town funding, ” he said.
Unruh said the Picnic Committee is in good shape too, with lots of volunteers that helped pull the event together this year, and to keep it going next year also.
Dummerston: Berry, berry good
Strawberry suppers are a fixture in many Vermont towns in June and July, but the Dummerston Congregational Church’s annual strawberry supper is known far and wide as being one of the best.
The line forms early at the Evening Star Grange ahead of the 5 p.m. opening. Ticket seller Ruth Barton, one of the organizers of the supper, said that it was not unusual to sell 400 meals, including take-outs, in a given year.
This year was a very good year for the early birds. By 6 p.m., 400 tickets were sold. Five minutes later, head cook Sallie May came out onto the Grange porch and yelled out to Barton, “Don’t sell any more tickets!”
At that point, 450 tickets had been sold and May said they were running out of food.
It was Barton’s job to break the bad news to the late arrivals that the dinner was sold out. What those people missed was long tables jammed with people eating ham, baked beans, homemade breads. potato and tuna-macaroni salads, and coleslaw, all prepared by the Evening Star Grange cooks and served family-style.
Then came the shortcake. The shortcakes were as big as dinner plates and layered with strawberries from Dutton Farm in Newfane and fresh whipped cream. Each table got one of these creations, which were cut up and served like slices of pie, and disappeared quickly.
“This is the best turnout we’ve had in years,” Barton said.