Who knew that Barron Caulfield played the trumpet, that Betty Hart could stand alone and sing the National Anthem, that Dr. G was a music man?
Seated between Bill Warren and Pati D’Amico on my left with Binnie and Jo Turnage at my right, I was getting a new view of familiar faces on opening night of the Watermelon Carnival at the Civic Auditorium. Of course, most know the secret musical life of their neighbors. But a Long Island transplant is taken by surprise.
While I had arrived in time for the carnival last year, my mood was dark. Flooded with mover’s fatigue, disoriented, a stranger in a strange land, I felt tender, wanting to hide under the bed.
But this year I am more settled. My landlord recently came to town and my upgrades include a new mailbox, a carbon monoxide alarm and the mirror that shows my feet. I am more at ease, ready to see what a Watermelon Carnival is all about.
At the car show, Linda Shuffield, my guide to all things Water Valley, cruised me around the popped hoods and high shine of the record-breaking number of entries.
J.C. Cox showed me his T-Model, making its first appearance this year, and Eric Johnson gave me the full details of the fine wheels on his A-Model Ford.
Then I saw it. Right in front of me stood one of the patina-gloss rat rods that had made my heart go pit-a-pat on North Main Street.
Its driver, Bennett Hill, took the time to tell me the beginnings of his devotion, his hours learning at Mill’s Body Shop when he was a schoolboy, his hours rebuilding a car with his father and the hours waiting ahead for him and his own young son to repeat the ritual. Mr. Hill also offered to come get me one day for a ride in his coveted rat rod. I await with great anticipation.
But a carnival observer does not live by music and fast cars alone.
The amplifiers spread the theme of unhappy love over the shoppers in City Park. A man I didn’t know invited me to pull off a corner of his funnel cake and try a new confection. With fingers sticky from powdered sugar, I picked out an orange-metal pumpkin to decorate my yard when the time of the watermelon has passed. Mid South Rehab Services gave me Band-Aids and an ice pack to triage any future missteps.
A dab of funnel cake won’t carry you far and soon it was time for barbecue. Laden with two plates, I was headed down Eckford Street when a small boy eyed my barbecue cargo. I slowed down, offering him a sample of my waffle fries. Soon I heard his feet pounding on the pavement behind me. He liked the fries and making a basket out of his shirt front, cleared my plate.
But when he lifted the paper and eyed my barbecue burrito, I said, “That’s mine.” We both laughed before I continued around the bend to my new home in the old Boggs house.
Later swinging on the porch enjoying the stupor that follows a day at the Watermelon Carnival, I marveled at how many people I know, how many stories I have heard, how many kind words have come my way during this first year as a Water Valley transplant.