Apple Harvest Festival – 2006
Town and county fairs are a New England tradition, and Southington – a town in the Quinnipiac River Valley and known for its orchards and farms – holds a town event called the Apple Harvest Festival . It’s grown to a two-weekend event, and hosts the usual assortment of crafters, souvenir hawkers, baby-kissing politicians, and of course, an assortment of foods. Times being what they are, we seem to see fewer apple-related treats and more of the “chicken-on-a-stick” genre. We don’t mind, though, because it’s all delicious. Diets take a back seat to deep-fried donuts, fritters, and of course, to the Friendship Lodge “Apple Wedgies.”
For almost 40 years, Southington has held a festival of some sort, but it was only about 20 years ago that it became a large and widely known affair. As the Festival is held on the town green, right across from the lodge, Friendship Lodge has used the opportunity to set up a booth to sell “Philly”steak’n’cheese sandwiches. Oh sure, anyone living between Trenton and Baltimore may turn up their noses, but few others north of the Passaic can resist a generous helping of freshly cooked seasoned shaved steak, smothered withsauteed onions and red peppers, surrounded by a delicious sandwich roll.They totally rock! I can eat those things every day for a week.
Anyway, a few years ago Friendship Lodge needed to augment the sandwich sales with something else. We tried various apple-y things, finally coming up with the idea to take a peeled and cored apple, cut into wedges, dipped in a batter and then quickly deep-fried, and then covered with cinnamon. Delicious! Each wedge is like biting into a teeny apple pie. We’ve been selling them for the last six or seven years, and have become a local hit.
The Festival is really the only fund-raiser that Friendship does, and we try to work at making it a success, although some years bad weather keeps the fair-goers home. A few years back, downpours on both weekends spelled disaster for many craft and food vendors, but fortunately that’s a rarity. But every year we’re optimistic, and that’s why you can find anywhere from four to a dozen of us inside a 20′ x 20′ nylon tent with a couple of 120 lb “portable ” grills, some crock pots, and a deep fryer.
But perhaps just as important as the fund-raising is something that we don’t think about as much: the brotherhood-raising. Friendship is a lot like many other lodges: There are a certain number of brothers who are active, another group that show up once in a while, and others that show up rarely or never. But the Festival will draw the brothers down, and even the men that haven’t been to lodge in ten or twenty years will stop by the booth. Some will just stop to say “Hi” and to see who they remember. Others will stop to say “Hi,” have a sandwich… and then say “What the hell,” and pitch in to help. Sometimes just the camaraderie stays with them for a few weeks, and we see them stop back at lodge again. Sometimes not. More importantly, though, is that they’ve renewed their connections with Friendship and with Masonry.
Just as important as those renewing their connections are those who are developing it in the first place. Five years ago, I was a new EA, and didn’t know anybody at the lodge. I was initiated just a week or two before the festival, so naturally I came down to help. It was the best thing I could have done to get to know my lodge brothers – instead of sitting quietly during a meeting, I got to talk and mingle, all the while getting some work done. There is a section in our Charge to an EA that explains in order to improve in Masonic knowledge, we must take the opportunity to converse with our more well-informed brethren. On breaks in the activity, we would an opportunity for a beer or a coffee (depending upon the hour), and I’d get an opportunity to learn more about the various activities, and who these men were, and what attracted them to Masonry. Some of the men seemed to go out of their way to make sure that I was comfortable, and that I knew where everything was, and to talk to me a bit – something I appreciated at the time.
I was reminiscing about that first Apple Harvest as a new Mason, and the thing that sticks in my head was this: A few of the brothers, knowing that I didn’t know anybody, in several separate incidents took me aside to let me know that we had some members who might be “a little rough around the edges” or who could “rub someone the wrong way,” and that I should not take anything personally. How interesting to discover that these brothers were actually among the several who made a point to make me feel welcome.
Every year the suggestion comes up that we have a “sign up sheet” for people to work the booth, do the prep work, cook the meat, etc. It never works. People stop in, help for an hour or two, leave, come back, wash some pans, have coffee, visit the other booths… the expression “herding cats” comes to mind. It’s never been a problem, though; things always get done, and sometimes the best part is at the end of the day after the cleaning up is done, when we sit back and have a coffee or a beer, and just let of some steam. We just spent the last two nights getting prepped: set up the tent, install and level the floor, carry out the grills, run the wiring, etc.
This year, as it happens several of the “old timers” aren’t around to help. One of them was called to the Celestial Lodge a couple of years ago. Two others are in the hospital for various ailments, one is tending to the arrangements of his daughter’s wedding, and a few others are absent this weekend for one reason or another. It was strange for me setting up without them around.
The frightening part is that for the last two nights of setup, I was the old timer. How did that happen?
Fortunately, we have some younger members who are active, dedicated, and more importantly, don’t mind rolling up their sleeves and pitching in. They’ve done a yeoman’s work, and I’mgoing to make a point to tell them how much I appreciate what they’ve done for the lodge. In fact, as I write this, the only thing left to do is for me to pick up some cases of apples at the local orchard (I live right near an orchard; how cool is that?) and some ingredients for the batter mix.
I’d write more, but somebody has got to get there early to do the taste testing!