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Before this past spring, I had never been to Water Valley. Three months ago I moved here and I just experienced my first Water Valley Watermelon Carnival. I was delightfully surprised by what I saw unfold in this town during the festival. Like a well-oiled machine, this community pulls together and flourishes at its annual watermelon festival. I thought that people here might like to hear how an outsider might see you.
Although I am new to Water Valley, I am not new to Mississippi. I attended Ole Miss at the time when much of the state was exclaiming, “Archie Who?” And after that, I remained in various spots in Mississippi for 38 years before circumstances shuttled me away to live first in New Jersey and afterward, in the Ozark Mountains. While I have enjoyed every place that I have lived, I always knew that I would one day return to the state where I had attended college. Because of its proximity to Ole Miss, several people had told me that Water Valley would be a good place for me to move. Before I go on, I want to point out that I have learned that Water Valley is much more than a town near Oxford. It is a community that stands squarely on its own and in many ways, I believe, surpasses the large, bustling semi-city that Oxford has become. But that is fodder for another story.
When I first moved here, I mourned the fact that Water Valley had no Walmart, no TJ Maxx, and no place for me to buy art supplies. But after about a month of living in this town, I realized that it is because of its lack of commercial growth that Water Valley has managed to retain its sense of community. For me, Water Valley is a step back in time. I grew up in a small town that is surrounded by cotton patches, and I love that Water Valley is an agricultural community. But this town carries me farther back than to my own past. The first time that I saw the bandstand in the middle of the park here, I thought of the movie, “Pollyanna,” and in many ways, Water Valley is a step back into that turn-of-the0century era that is probably my favorite time in history.
If you will recall the movie “Pollyanna,” you might remember how the entire town pulled together to throw a bazaar to make money for their financially neglected orphanage. People brought cakes and other things to sell, and they set up around a park-like setting. In my mind’s eye, I see a 19th Century bandstand there. As the people planned and produced their community bazaar, they not only functioned as a unit, they learned to love things about each other. Yes, they had a bazaar – or a carnival – but that festival was steeped in community love. And that is how I perceived my first Water Valley Watermelon Carnival–a celebration of a community steeped in love.
As soon as I moved to this town, I began hearing rumblings of the coming carnival and having lived in Mississippi before, I knew that it would be as hot as fire outside at the time that the carnival was scheduled. I told one person after another, “I won’t go to the Watermelon Carnival. It will be too hot.” But as I watched the town transform itself with watermelon door hangers and t-shirts, I became curious. I bought two t-shirts, the biggest watermelon door hanger I could find, a carnival program, and a ticket to the barbecue contest. By the time the carnival opened, I was itching to go see what the watermelon fuss was all about, and I am glad that I did.
Long before I reached the park for the festival, the wind carried the smell of the carnival toward me. The scent of frying blooming onions and funnel cakes had perfumed the air, and I was eager to see what else had dotted the square around the bandstand. It was indeed hot, but to keep the sun out of my eyes, I bought a hat from a vendor, and I continued to circle around the booths.
Because some of my first friends in this town are in the Chamber of Commerce, I paused at their tent, and allow me to say that the Chamber of Commerce and the Ambassadors deserve a great deal of credit for the work that they do to see that the carnival operates smoothly and successfully. But other community groups also contribute time and money to this event. For instance, I cannot imagine the festival without the fireworks display that the Mechanics Bank+Bank First provides on Friday nights, and the musicians at the Street Dance were also fabulous. If it were not for the C. W. White Company, I have no idea where people would park, but the list of contributors to this event is vast.
Carnival weekend also hosts the Memphis BBQ Network, the antique car show, the watermelon run, and I am not sure what else. Needless to say, Water Valley hops for two wonderful days, and as a first-time carnival goer, I can honestly say that I was wowed! From this time forward, I’ll never miss going to a watermelon carnival. I highly advise everyone near this town to vow the same.
But before I finish commenting on the events of the festival, I want to commend the Water Valley Police for the vigilance and support during the weekend and the city workers, who set up the booth spaces and kept the town spotless during a hot, busy time.
All-in-all, Water Valley is a fine place to live, and the carnival is a living testament to the town.
At a time when most communities are politically divided, Water Valley continues to work, worship, and play together. Water Valley, Mississippi, is a place that I am proud to call my new home, and the Watermelon Carnival is a flower in this town’s cap.-