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Festival ‘traditions’ continue

After a somewhat wet Friday, the Urbanna Oyster Festival was blessed with a beautiful sunny Saturday and mild temperatures. Above, festival-goers enjoy the antics of a unicyclist who could jump rope on his one-wheeled bike. (Photo by Larry Chowning)

by Tom Chillemi

Traditions take time to develop.

A few years ago Urbanna Oyster Festival visitor Mike Tokarz couldn’t find any oyster necklaces he liked. So, last year he made a few necklaces of his own design “to celebrate the oyster.”

As luck would have it, someone to whom Tokarz had given an oyster necklace was wearing it in the Sentinel’s front page 2012 Oyster Festival photograph.

This year, Tokarz made 50 necklaces with beads connecting to a decorated oyster shell. Tokarz, of Richmond and Urbanna, had started out Friday wearing all of them around his neck. By 1 p.m., he only had about seven left. He had given them away to just about anyone who asked where they could get one. “I’m giving them away to spread Oyster Festival cheer, and the Oyster Festival spirit,” he said.

When asked to define “spirit,” his wife Donna added, “It’s food, fun and fellowship.”

Could Tokarz’s mementos be the start of a tradition?

This aerial photo of the Urbanna Oyster Festival was taken during the afternoon parade on Saturday. (Photo Courtesy of

A “tradition” is what Jan and Ian Fay said they were trying to start as they walked from their motor home toward the festival on Friday afternoon. She was dressed in red and blue with a cape as “Wander” Woman. He was sporting a top hat, with a long curly wig bursting from under it. With a chain around his neck and wearing sunglasses, he could have been mistaken for Slash, guitarist of “Guns ’n’ Roses.” Instead, he’s “Slush.”

“We’re trying to start a tradition of wearing costumes,” she said. “The Oyster Festival is so close to Halloween.”

The couple grew up in Lancaster and the festival is a homecoming for them because they stay with high school friends, said Ian. “It’s a getaway.”

Deep Fried
The Oyster Festival has foods that are not found just any place—such as deep fried Twinkies, Oreos and candy.

The curious combination of sweets dipped in funnel cake batter and then deep fried sounds appetizing when described by Greg Sheets of MacBrands Food Concessions of Richmond. He said deep frying candy improves the flavor. Fried Oreos taste like a chocolate funnel cake. As for fried Twinkies, “They taste like a funnel cake with a Twinkie in it.”

New this year, Sheets had a cooker divided into four sections that separated the cooking oil for each item to keep the flavors pure.

Friday’s Sprinkles
The weatherman may have kept some folks away from the festival on Friday. Although there were occasional short sprinkles, the day was mostly dry. At times it misted just long enough to make you appreciate that it was not really raining hard.

The threat of rain scared away Melissa Morris and Jim Blackman of Powhatan, who stayed home until late on Friday. “We should have come anyway,” he said as they enjoyed raw oysters at the Middlesex Kiwanis Club tent. “They’re definitely good this year.”

Another customer chimed in, “They’re so good, I think I will get some more.” Six oysters is never enough.

At the waterfront, Sara Beam of the Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School showed examples of oysters that were raised in Jamison Cove, next to the Urbanna Town Marina. Two wild small oysters were attached to a larger aquaculture oyster. Farm-raised oysters are providing substrate for wild oyster seed called spat. The wild oysters are impaired because of the loss of natural reefs, she said. Oyster aquaculture is a step toward improving oysters and, in the long run, water quality.

As he walked down Virginia Street on Friday, Bud Rutkowski said he was struck by how the memories of past Oyster Festivals are held in the bricks, walls, sidewalks and buildings of Urbanna. “These are the same places we walk by (during Oyster Festival) year after year and we see the same booths set up in the same places. I always say, ‘I’m not going,’ but I end up going anyway.”

posted 11.06.2013

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