Experiencing the Peanut Festival as a Reporter is a Little Different
By Jason Jones
GRAPELAND – Saturday morning came a little quicker than I’d hoped. After taking Homecoming Queen pictures then covering the Concert & Dance at Grapeland’s City Park, I eased my way home where I found a house full of my kids, my 4 year-old granddaughter and her dog, all enjoying spirited conversation on my back patio with the fire pit blazing. I had expected to go straight to bed. I did so… at 2 a.m.
Longtime Messenger reporter, Will Johnson, was out. He had contracted the C-word earlier and was still struggling to recover. Having accompanied my wife on her journey through the same virus recently, and still watching her recover, I knew too well that his road would be a rough one. So I covered the weekend’s events without him.
I’ve been to a lot of Peanut Festivals over the years. I’ve marched with the band. I’ve ridden on a float. I’ve driven the truck that pulled a float. I’ve manned a food booth. I’ve sold t-shirts. I’ve eaten enough fried food to choke a T-Rex. But I’ve never looked at it through the eye of a photographer or writer.
It’s a little different.
The parade kicked off at 10 a.m. with Police and Fire sirens signaling the start of the day’s events. If you’ve ever been to a Peanut Festival parade, you probably already know what to expect. It’s basically, well… everything. I’ve always wondered what would happen if there was a fire somewhere in Houston or Anderson County during the parade. Every emergency vehicle is right here! From a purely selfish standpoint, I know that if I get sick or spontaneously combust, I’ll probably be OK. But somebody somewhere might have to wait a few extra minutes.
What follows is a long line of floats, bands, classic cars, special interest vehicles, several of Vulcraft’s finest big rigs, visiting dignitaries riding in a cool train, and plenty of horses to close the show.
It was a great parade. Bartee Construction built a float for Queen contestant Haley Boehm and was awarded First Place. Its theme was Christmas in Candyland and it looked fantastic. The second place float was “Frozen” themed and was built by NAPA Auto Parts and Crockett Tire for contestant Jaycee Graham, and the third place float was a “Classic 50s Diner” ridden by contestant Shania Taylor and built by Betty Boop’s
I got a picture of all of them. Actually, several pictures of each. Every time you press the “go” button on these new-fangled digital cameras, they keep taking pictures until you let up.
I would have been a little worried if I’d been using my old Canon AE-1. A roll of film only holds so many pictures. I took over 300 during the parade. I love technology.
Well… no I don’t. But I did in this case.
It was quite fun. I was no longer a spectator on the sidewalk. I was in the street with the action. Between photos I was able to wave and talk to folks riding the route. I even got a high-five. I felt so important.
Eventually the horses rode by. My granddaughter was elated to say the least. Horses are a huge deal to little kids. It’s like seeing Santa, only bigger. And with more hair.
But the horses have always signaled the end of the parade. Once they passed and I hugged my family which was splitting into several directions, I grabbed my wife’s hand – she was enjoying her first extended outing since her COVID ordeal – and we headed to the park.
I’ve learned a thing or two about the Peanut Festival over the years. Unlike many larger or more prominent festivals across the country, the Peanut Festival is not so much about the carnival. It’s not really about the food vendors or the arts & crafts booths. Those things are important and integral parts, but they aren’t at the forefront of why people show up in droves.
The Peanut Festival is about community. It’s about reuniting with friends and family. It’s about coming home or welcoming those who are coming home. Those things come first.
As I took photos, I ended up losing myself. I snapped a few crowd pictures and covered the booths and the food. So much food. But eventually I let my camera hang around my neck and I forgot about it.
When you pay close attention, you can easily see those important parts of the Peanut Festival. People hug. They hug a lot. And when you veer off in another direction, you see more people hugging. Rarely do you see people nod or exchange a quick handshake. On this day people stop. They laugh together and talk for extended periods. And usually they hug some more.
I’m far from the authority on how to measure the success of an event, but from what I observed it was a good year.
The Peanut Festival is a welcome break from the challenges we’ve navigated over the past couple of years. It doesn’t seem to have been infiltrated by the negativity and ill will we’ve become so accustomed to seeing in the world around us. We all need a little more of that.
Maybe we need two Peanut Festivals every year. Or three.
Jason Jones may be reached via email at [email protected]