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Kitsch, Crowds, and a Couple of Queens


Back in the day, the Shenandoah Valley was known as an apple valley and each spring the locals would pay homage to their industry with the Apple Blossom Festival.
The fact that most of the orchards have been plowed under to make way for huge cookie cutter housing has done nothing to deter civic leaders from continuing this celebration featuring parades, silly hats, a few queens, a formal ball, amusement rides, a circus, luncheons (as opposed to “lunch”) and banquets and enough past-celebrities to clear out Branson, Mo. Sometimes you will see an apple blossom float out of someone’s yard, but that has very little to do with the festival other than provide the pink and green graphic for the official souvenirs.

As a disclaimer, I have to state that I do not do crowds well. I avoid large gatherings of people, especially ones that have standing-in-line potential. Standing in line makes me feel like cattle or like the Eloi in H.G. Wells’ Time Machine, placidly filing underground to be slaughtered and eaten by the Morlocks. And Apple Blossom Festival crowds are huge and you stand in line for everything. But this is a tradition for Dirtman, one he is passing on to the Heirs. So I take my knitting, drink plenty of water and try to keep a straight face when people go berserk over one of the Dukes of Hazzard (the television version).
The celebrity factor is treated rather uniquely at the Apple Blossom Festival. For the most part you really don’t have to be a celebrity at all or just related to one. One of this year’s sports luncheon celebrities is Mohammed Ali . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ’s nephew. (Also Johnny Bench. I know Johnny Bench. Didn’t he do deodorant commercials?)
Even Queen Shenandoah LXXIX (meaning “79,” not the size of her t-shirt) is the daughter of Dorothy Hamill. But this is another tradition. A daughter of some celebrity is picked to be one of the queens in the hope that her famous parent will show up also. This practice was backfiring quite a bit in the 90s when the festival featured the daughter and spouse of the celebrity, who at least sent their regrets. I guess the agreement with the publicists have changed because now the celebrity always shows up or at least sends another celebrity of equal or greater value. A few years back Paul Schafer stood in for Martin Short.
The other queen is the winner of a beauty pageant held prior to the festival. The Apple Blossom Queen goes on to the Miss Virginia pageant that is ultimately a part of the Miss America Pageant. You know – the “scholarship program” that gives a leg up to beautiful women who otherwise go unnoticed and neglected in our society.
There are lots of clowns at the Apple Blossom Festival. Apparently the organizers are under the impression that people actually like clowns, so they put them everywhere. Worse, are the amateur clowns, members of some club or organization who sign up to march in the parade. They pile on clown makeup they’re not used to and end up with an allergic reaction making their eyes look like they’re going through heroine addiction withdrawal. There should be some sort of Clown Code stating that any clown over 50 may not wear the white makeup that sinks into their wrinkles and scares small children. But instead they insist on shaking the hand of every toddler in the crowd. When the Heirs were little they spent three quarters of the parade time hiding behind a tree.
I have never attended any of the “official” meals that surround Apple Blossom weekend. I don’t qualify for the Stag Luncheon and I wouldn’t disturb the gods by attending the Ladies’ Horticulture Luncheon. I could have attended the prayer brunch in order to meet another typical Apple Blossom celeb, the founder of Chick-fil-A. This particular event is touted as “interdenominational,” though its list of past attendees reads like a George W. Bush campaign donation list. What goes on in the Shenandoah Valley, stays in the Shenandoah Valley.
For Dirtman, though, Apple Blossom weekend means one thing: he gets to wear a pink shirt without apology. Dirtman inexplicably loves pink shirts. And on this weekend, he blends in with the crowd of other hideous outfits. The Heirs and I walk several steps behind and keep our sunglasses on. When we get home I take the pink shirt and hide it until next year. It’s very pink.
So next year on the first full weekend in May, if you happen to be in Virginia, you should stop in Winchester for the festival. Don’t look for me, though. I’ll be at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.

Share  Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 9:05 AM | Permalink

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