Urbanna Oyster Festival
Urbanna, Va.— Every year I know it is time for the Urbanna Oyster Festival by three indicators: the maple tree in Taber Park turns bright red orange, there is a constant drone of machinery as the town cleans up (leaf blowers, lawn mowers, and trucks hauling in “boothery”), and Lewis Filling, town manager, starts calling me “Ma’am.”
This year’s 51st festival is a double blessing to the town. The revenue that comes into the county during this big weekend carries many businesses and organizations throughout the tourist-thin winter months. And it gives everyone an excuse to come to Urbanna to enjoy the small-town America ambiance once again.
|by Mary Wakefield Buxton|
Editor Tom Hardin was already on hand to help me set up books and newspapers while husband Chip hung a huge banner that read “Book Signings.” It was a perfect day with no wind whistling down Virginia Street which in past years had caused me to run after newspapers whenever there was a big gust; what I called capturing news on the fly.
Throngs of people were already passing by affording me a good look at humanity. No writer could ask for anything more than to sit in downtown Urbanna during the Oyster Festival and watch the rest of the world go by. One could see everything from such a vantage point.
So many friends and neighbors stopped by to say hello that I soon lost count: JoAnn Muir, Fritz and Suzanne Sitterding, Diana Pitts, Carol and Dick Clark, Norma Jean Sears, Herb and Carolyn Davis with their new gorgeous golden retriever “Emma,” whom I kissed on the top of her very beautiful head, John Ridley, Mary Ellen Oakley, Bo Richwine, Wade Belote, Kris Koletar and his friend Cassie, Phil Friday, Leo Chmil, who would compete in the oyster shucking contest the next morning, Patrick Hahen, Bettie Lee Gaskins, Jim and Jewel Ray, Katie Dougherty with her daughter, who was in the Little Miss Spat Contest, Katie’s husband, and many, many more.
Barbara Stutzman modeled a new T-shirt that read “Urbanna is for Lovers” on one side, and on the other “Eat fish and live longer; Eat oysters and love longer.” We all laughed. “I didn’t buy the other Urbanna T-shirt that read “Oysters make my clothes fall off,” she added to more laughter.
It struck me that everyone in town was happy. “Gorgeous weather!” “It doesn’t get any better than this.” “It’s snowing back home in Minnesota!” and “I just bought a house in the area and I can’t wait to move in!” were just some of the jubilant comments.
We were surrounded with the most heavenly aromas of food. Steak and cheese Phillies and Polish sausage hoagies were cooking across the street, oysters at the Kiwanis tent next door, oriental foods, crab cakes, fried shrimp and seafood bisque down the block. How much longer before lunch? At 11:15 a.m. I decided it was certainly time to eat. Beat the crowds, we told ourselves, and have lunch now. “Shall we stick to our diets, dear?” I asked Chip coyly, but with no immediate response. This was what Chip wanted for lunch: cheeseburger and French fries, an oyster fritter, fried onion rings, funnel cake, bag of Kettle popcorn, and maple nut sticky bun for dessert. He thought that might hold him until dinner.
Not me. I’m strictly a crab person. Every year I go to Buster’s for the best in town, but this year I did not see his tent. I ended up at the Mathews Ruritan Club tent for a delicious crab cake sandwich, then over to the Christ Church bake sale for homemade chocolate chip cookies—a perfect lunch.
At the corner of Virginia and Rappahannock I saw Bob Henkel, co-chair of this year’s festival, seated in a chair as if he were a movie director relaxing on the set. Bob had just come out of the hospital after an illness but that didn’t stop him from seeing to his duty.
“Shouldn’t you be at home resting?” I asked Bob.
“Might as well be ‘resting’ here than at home,” he replied with a smile, indicating very well the devotion that Urbanna residents give year after year to their pet oyster fest.
The sun grew hotter and a band started singing hard-rock music from across the street, reminding me of feelings of joy from the past. The crowds surged forward and I was swept up in the sudden excitement and passion of youth. It was time to close up my own shop and explore the many arts and crafts booths and food tents to see everything that I could while the afternoon lingered on under a perfect blue sky.
We were finally stripped of all sweaters and jackets, fanning ourselves, and wishing for a cool breeze. I saw such beauty in the background. A sky as blue as a crayon, a maple tree at its autumnal peak dressed in a dozen shades of yellow, colonial “Lansdowne” elegantly graced with a pair of emerald evergreen trees at its front door, a crepe myrtle that was a vivid potpourri of green, red, orange and yellow, and much more. For one blissful moment nothing in my life seemed more important than the stunning beauty of this breathtaking world.
As the sun began to set in the western sky over my little town, casting long black shadows from our stick legs, we headed down Rappahannock Avenue to home and the welcoming dogs. Another day of selling books and newspapers, meeting friends and new acquaintances, and taking part in Urbanna’s big annual event.
The next day it would rain on and off and the splendor of nature was greatly dimmed. But Friday’s brilliance made the weekend for me, and remains in my memory. Good job, Urbanna. ©2008