The close bluegrass harmonies wafting through the trees cheerfully set the tone for the day as we park and get out of the car. As my four children and I walk through the old cemetery to get to the Webster Fall Festival, the kids read the headstones: “Look, here’s one named after Zeeb Road.” No, kids, it is the other way around–but it is quite visceral to learn our local history this way.
At the entrance, we wait patiently while the ticket seller finishes his conversation with (now lame duck) state representative Pam Byrnes. They both apologize for holding us up, but I reassure them that this is how it should be–chatting casually on a first-name basis with your representative in the clear autumn sunshine, local politics in the actual locality, real old-fashioned conversation as opposed to virtual sound bite.
The festival is jointly sponsored by the Webster United Church of Christ and the Webster Township Historical Society. While the three girls check out all the pies and jams and handicrafts for sale at the country store, five-year-old Little Brother beelines straight for the tractor train ride–a train of brightly painted oil barrels on wheels, pulled by a little red tractor, the “Iron Barn Express.” There is also a hayride on a flatbed trailer stacked with hay, pulled by a John Deere tractor. A row of antique John Deere and Kubota tractors are on display. There is a bloodhound tracking demonstration and a border collie herding demonstration, and a big pile of straw for the kids to jump around in and throw at each other. The 4-H kids are there with their animals–horses, ponies, goats, sheep, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, and a box of the cutest calico kittens–free to a good home. (“No.”)
At the general store (which Little Brother thinks is owned by “the general”), they are selling real, old-fashioned, handcrafted wooden pop guns and not-so-old-fashioned but still handcrafted wooden ping pong ball shooters made by an eighty-seven-year-old Webster resident. We visit the original Webster Township Hall where we read about Webster’s namesake, statesman Daniel Webster. We spend a long time at the one-room Podunk Schoolhouse (its real name), built in 1838, where the children take turns playing teacher, writing on real slates with graphite pencils, and trying on the dunce cap. (“What’s a dunce?”)
At 5 p.m., the famous Webster pig roast begins. Everyone lines up for this German feast of roast pig, potatoes, carrots, sauerkraut, applesauce, popover, and cake. The children are nervous about the sauerkraut–their least favorite food–until they discover that children are allowed to choose–sauerkraut or applesauce. Suddenly they are as cheerful as the bluegrass music enveloping us.