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56th Oyster Festival: Good times here are not forgotten

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Click the image to download our special Oyster Festival Section or find it inside this week’s issue of the Sentinel.

by Tom Chillemi

The first time I saw Urbanna was at the Urbanna Oyster Festival in 1987. We walked across the bridge and when I got to the intersection of Cross and Prince George streets I stopped.

From this intersection I could see that Urbanna was unlike any place I’d ever been with its historic houses, Marshall’s Drug Store and the architecture of Taylor’s Hardware.

I knew I had a job interview with the Southside Sentinel two days later. In that instant I remember thinking, “This is it!” It was the feeling I’d found a home. I’ve been a photo-journalist at the Southside Sentinel since Friday the 13th of November, 1987.

There have been other epiphanies for me at the Oyster Festival. One year a vendor from the Eastern Shore was selling sweet potato pies at reduced prices as the festival was closing. It was the first time I’d tasted sweet potato pie, which is very similar to pumpkin pie. But, it can be made with locally-grown sweet potatoes, which are superior to canned pumpkin.

Another memory came in 1988 at the Fireman’s Parade. I was covering my first Oyster Festival and came both days. Larry Chowning, who was already a Sentinel reporter, was taking photos of Friday’s Fireman’s Parade. He wanted to get a better vantage point so he had me hold the camera while he tried to balance precariously on the edge of a 55-gallon metal trash can. I didn’t really know what he was thinking, but the can tilted and Larry hit the pavement hard (the camera was spared damage, a testament to his devotion to duty). 

Trash was scattered. The town administrator, who had not seen Larry fall, walked over and handed Larry his work gloves to pick up the trash.

Funny, but I don’t remember if he took a photo, but the story never fails to make us laugh.

Another year we were riding around in a golf cart late on Saturday with one of the festival volunteers. He was looking for the woman he’d talked to a few hours earlier (for some reason he’d changed his mind about her looks, or lowered his standards, and was now trying to hook up). It seems like yesterday. He got married (not to her) and he and his wife have two grown children in college.

Then there was the year Marvin Mason drove a car in Saturday’s Oyster Festival Parade. He stopped in front of his girlfriend who was watching from the curb, got out, and proposed marriage to her in front of the crowd. She said yes! Their daughter is now in elementary school.

Who knows what memories will bud when thousands of people come together for this Friday and Saturday’s Oyster Festival, as they have since 1957.

There’s no place like Urbanna—especially at “the” Oyster Festival.

posted 10.30.2013

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