I’ve moved a bit throughout my adult life. I haven’t bounced around a lot, but I have been new to a community a handful of times. Being new is hard. You don’t quite have your bearings and don’t know the hot spots and the “hot nots.” I’ve found you figure it all out through trial and error, but an error I repeatedly make is using community calendars as a resource. Community calendars are useful, I suppose – if you’re looking for Ping Pong for Seniors or semi-depressing trivia nights in a dark bar with soggy carpeting. Displayed in free periodicals and on town websites, they hold so much potential yet often result in so very little. Overall, they are generally a sad grid of undelivered promises.
“Have a ‘Clawsome’ Time at the 16th Annual Rotary Club Crab Feed!” it declares in big bold letters. For only $65 per person, you can sit alongside public officials (one city council member) and friendly neighbors (people you’ve never seen and will never see again) and wonder how they acquired all this crab meat. “Do people love overpriced shellfish so much that they’ve done it for 16 straight years,” you ask yourself. Ol’ Bill from Bill’s Auto Body sure does. Easy on the sourdough rolls and butter, Bill. You have to keep an eye on your blood pressure.
Next week, come to the “3rd Annual Pancake Breakfast at the Firehouse.” Stand in line for 40 minutes for exactly one pancake and to watch the person in front of you get the last sausage, all the while pretending to not ogle the firemen. “Are they empirically attractive, or is it only because they’re firemen,” you wonder. It’s a real chicken and egg dilemma. Speaking of, weren’t there supposed to be scrambled eggs at this thing too?
Then there’s the “Holiday Craft and Culture Fair,” a staple in any community, any year, and pretty much any weekend from October to November. Somehow I’ve convinced myself that I will find the solution to every gift giving dilemma at these things, and each time I am reminded that I am wrong. No one in my family needs a dusty quilt, sea glass earrings, or lacquered fruit.
Despite attending countless events within the musty chipped paint walls of community centers and public parks for which I am always wearing the inappropriate number of layers, I still visit that calendar every so often to find upcoming events that I will both attend and subsequently be disappointed by. Last year was no different. Inspired by living in a new community and wanting to show my visiting in-laws around, I made us walk a half mile from my daughter’s ballet practice to the town center for a local Dia de los Muertos celebration.
It was an unusually warm day for which I was overdressed (as predicted, above). Despite my fear of overheating I was very excited. Elote, tamales, and Mexican hot chocolate were certainly waiting for us all to devour! There were going to be so many beautiful ofrendas and kids’ crafts! It was going to be amazing! But as we neared closer, it became clear that the community celebration was underwhelming to say the least. There were exactly three booths and one popcorn stand. Oddly there were two competing face painters which means someone over at parks and rec needs to get their merchant processes in order. There wasn’t even any music; just the hum of a generator inexplicably powering something. Not to be rude—and to make due in an otherwise disappointing situation—we all took our time to visit each vendor and wandered the community center grounds.
Set off from the main structure, we saw a group of people painting a mural. We walked over with my four-year-old daughter leading the way in her Belle Halloween costume because of course that’s what she was wearing. The group was an art club from the local high school who were commissioned to paint the blank wall with a nature scene representing the natural beauty our region has to offer. Rolling hills, flowing creeks, and Eucalyptus groves were all drawn out in varying states of completion. Set off to one side two young women were painting Monarch butterflies. Monarchs migrate to our city every year, which is a sight far more interesting than most organized community events come to think of it.
The lead art teacher looked up from her work and regarded my daughter with interest. I thought she’d merely remark on her Halloween costume and the bright pink rain boots, but instead she asked her to come closer. “This is next to a preschool, you know. Kids love posing by things and she’s the perfect height. Would you mind if she modeled for a butterfly?” It took some urging, since apparently four-year-olds are not too shy to wear mismatched ostentatious outfits but are too shy to walk seven feet away from their parents. But, she finally agreed and stood long enough to mark her measurements on the bricks.
A few weeks went by and I finally revisited that mural. Sure enough, there in that beautiful completed mural was my daughter’s butterfly – the community’s butterfly.
Bright yellow set against a pale blue sky, its wings slightly overlapped a vibrant rainbow with a kitten playing with another butterfly beneath it. I hope children do stand against it for pictures, and I hope it stays there long enough for us to visit as she outgrows her princess dresses and mismatched shoes. Despite the other substandard aspects of that day, I was so glad I responded to our sad little community calendar. It reminded me of the importance of walking around and engaging in local opportunities, even if those assholes didn’t offer me any delicious street corn.
Was there a time you were pleasantly surprised by a local event?
What are some of your favorite community celebrations?
Share them in the comments!
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Draw your own child-sized creatures on glass windows or other surfaces
Make and season your own damn corn at home
Bring reusable bibs to the next crab feed