WESTMINSTER WEST—“We’re closing the White Elephant sale in 10 minutes,” the volunteer said, her voice booming into the Old Town Hall.
It was just about 10:15 on Saturday morning, and the rummage sale — part of the day’s Westminster West Community Fair — had been open only for about an hour.
Why so soon, a shopper wondered to herself.
The message must have gotten through.
“The White Elephant sale will close just for the parade,” the volunteer’s voice echoed through the hall, over tables of holiday decorations, gently used kitchen implements, and other quintessential items.
She assured patrons the parade would only last about ten minutes, after which they could come back and resume their shopping.
Proceeds from the sale, and from all other events of the fair, support the Westminster West Congregational Church: the church’s emergency food fund, and its Manna Collection, which collects money year-round to purchase grocery store gift cards at Christmastime for food-insecure community members.
Funds also support other community endeavors, including Our Place Drop In Center in Bellows Falls and Southeastern Vermont Community Action.
As is common in small New England towns, the village church serves as meeting and practice space for local groups, religious and secular alike.
The fair also helps fund the publication of the West Parish Whistler, written by fair organizer Alison Latham and mailed to subscribers for free.
As the parade-goers made their way down Church Street to seek shade from the hot, late-summer sun, a man stood on the east side of Westminster West Road and motioned for cars heading north to stop.
While the parade participants lined up at the Westminster West School, patrons perused the Westminster West Library’s Giant Book Sale.
Librarian Bev Major sat in the shade, greeted browsers, and collected their money.
“This is generally one of the biggest fundraisers of the year for the library,” Major said, noting that the book sale usually brings in about $4,000, “but it costs much more than that to run the library.”
“The poor board has to raise about $8,000 a year,” she said.
The Quechee Public Library supplied most of this year’s books. Major said that library recently had its own book sale, but “it must have been a rainy day,” because they had many leftovers. She said their volunteers brought the books down to Westminster West, “already sorted, in cartons, and we just put them out."
“We’re very grateful for that donation,” she said.
Finnegan Pucciarello, age 7, said the book sale was his “favorite part” of the Westminster West Community Fair. He said he picked up an English-Spanish dictionary and a book on Egyptian mythology.
Pucciarello, who comprises half of the band CAVEBOY, performed at Future Fest 4 in Brattleboro the weekend before, playing songs based on Greek mythology.
“I know a lot about Greek myths, but nothing about Egyptian,” Pucciarello said.
Just after 10:30am, the sound of a gong reverberated down the road. It was quickly followed by its source: Charlotte Gifford, whose percussion performance officially kicked off the parade.
Behind her was a collection of mostly kids, mostly on decorated bikes, with one gentleman deftly gliding by on a skateboard.
The rest of the brief parade included a hay wagon pulled by David Major and his tractor, a white puppet that stood about as tall as the telephone lines, and a variety of locals marching from the school to the town library.
Rev. Susie Webster-Toleno, pastor of the Congregational Church, sat atop a slow-moving convertible and waved to the audience. In front of the car, two locals walked a banner the width of the road announcing her, and the fair’s theme: “Keeping the Spirit Alive."
As the event’s press release said, Rev. Webster-Toleno was chosen as this year’s Grand Marshal “to recognize the many ways she supports spiritual connection and internal reflection in this community."
Behind the car carrying Rev. Webster-Toleno was a gaggle of demurely dressed political satirists, Ladies Against Women, carrying signs promoting “family values.” As they marched, they sang a song to the tune of “When The Saints Go Marching In,” mock-admonishing the pastor.
“Oh Pastor Sue, love does embrace/But we wish she knew her place!/Her rightful place is by her husband/Not leading church or saying grace!”
Every self-respecting parade includes a firetruck, and Westminster’s chartreuse Engine Number 1 drove by, ending the parade.
Racing and chopping
Back up the hill, between the Congregational Church and the Old Town Hall, a variety of amusements were available for fairgoers of all ages.
Latham offered face and arm painting. Bruce Sterling sat down in her chair and asked, “Can you do a simple Blue Heron?”
“Maybe,” Latham responded, as she went to work on Sterling’s left cheek. Sterling later told The Commons he was very happy with the results.
Additional outdoor amusements included hand-made jewelry and wire sculptures for sale, a man challenging anyone to beat him at Boggle, and Madame Pia providing fortune-telling services. Inside the church were fanciful vegetable sculptures, a bake sale, and a silent auction.
At high noon, Gifford, who also serves as race director for the fair, lined up 15 runners between the ages of 3 and 12.
“Remember to run kindly and not run anybody down,” she instructed the athletes, pointing out the youngest runners and their potential for getting underfoot.
Avi Moses, age 10, took first place.
“This is my third time running this [race], and the second time winning,” he said.
“I’ve won two-thirds of the time,” Moses noted. “Pretty good record, I guess.”
Bella Hodson, the day’s youngest runner — age 3 — completed the race barefoot, accompanied by her mother, Louise.
The younger Hodson declined to be interviewed as she shyly burrowed her face into her mother’s shoulder. (“Bella has never run a race before,” her mother explained.)
Meanwhile, a crew of men were behind the church busily grilling chicken for the barbecue luncheon.
As diners feasted on two kinds of chicken, hot dogs, salads, and fresh corn-on-the-cob, traditional band music was provided by the Grafton Cornet Band, which performed on the church’s terraced lawn.
After diners finished their meal, they were asked to toss trash in one barrel, silverware in a tub of soapy water, and corn cobs into a separate bucket.
Those corn cobs provided fodder for what may have been the most suspenseful event of the day: The Chop-O-Matic, where young children were given hatchets.
As Tom Griffith, who operates The Chop-O-Matic, explained to The Commons, a corn cob nestled atop an old-fashioned roller-skate is placed at the top of an inclined plane. When the cob-skate reaches the bottom, the youngster whacks at it with a hatchet.
The goal is to chop the cob to bits, or at least in half.
Not wanting a preview of the Westminster Massacre Re-enactment [story, B6], taking place a few miles and a few hours away, the Chop-O-Matic had strict rules.
Only one kid at a time may play — under very close adult supervision.