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October 11, 2013

NASH: Harvest Homecoming 2013

— We went from having the air conditioning on full blast to being too chilly to leave the windows open all night. Some of the trees around here have started to shed their leaves and soon raking them up will be a full-time job. Except for all that rain we saw here last weekend, fall is indeed upon us and it is time for everything autumn.

This weekend people will descend upon downtown as the Harvest Homecoming is in full swing in New Albany. The forecast seems to be cooperating for most of the weekend so that booth operators will be able peddle their wares. A lot of work goes into preparations for those groups, for many this is their biggest fundraising event of the year.

I have been a fan of the Harvest Homecoming since very early on. I remember riding the rides in my younger days. These days I look at the rides, and the operators, and wonder what was I thinking. My favorite when I was a kid was the bumper cars with spinning rides always scaring me just a little. I remember an incident as a teenager of eating too much junk and then riding “The Scrambler.”

I have been in the parade and have watched from the street. I remember that feeling in your chest as a high school marching band passed by with their drums beating. I also remember the fear as the Shriners drove their tiny cars in circles down the street. I was sure they were coming right toward me. I think they have been banned.

It is always interesting how different groups interpret the theme each year and it’s impressive how much work some people put into their floats.

I have been a booth vendor and have been a very good customer for many of the traditional Harvest Homecoming staples. Most people wouldn’t believe the amount of time and effort that groups of mostly volunteers contribute to making the Harvest Homecoming what it is.  

Each year it seems another group will disappear as finding people to help gets harder and harder. If you hang around with any of the perennial booth operators there is always someone that claims this will be their last year, but many times you see them again the next year.

Caramel apples use to be one of my favorites, but they are getting harder to find.  There is always a debate on who has the best “Chicken and Dumplings.” It is not uncommon to be stopped by a stranger wondering where I got mine as I walk down the street carrying a bowl.

I usually buy a large persimmon pudding from one of the church groups that sells baked goods. It gets me in the mood for more just as the fruit begins to ripen on local trees. I also go for the peanut butter fudge and maybe some “buckeyes.” A former co-worker works at one of those baked goods booth and it is always good to catch up every year.

Years ago there use to be several games of chance located among the booths.  I remember spinning wheels and balloon popping with a chance to win a prize. I believe that state laws have changed forbidding this kind of fundraising.

I also remember a pie throwing booth. Local “celebrities” would stick their heads through holes as people would pay to toss sponges covered in whipped cream at their protruding faces.

I can understand why some people do what ever they can to avoid downtown during booth days. The traffic and crowds that assemble  during the festival are not for everyone. As long as everyone is civil and acts their age everything should be fine, but there are always a few that ruin it for everyone.

Over the years there have been many changes to one of Indiana’s largest civic festivals.  It has grown bigger and more and more people are getting involved each year. Some people begin planning for the next year as soon as they tear down their booths on Sunday. I am always amazed at the hard work that so many people contribute each year to make the Harvest Homecoming special for all the citizens of  New Albany.

— Matthew Nash can be reached at dmatthewnash@gmail.com

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