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Village Strawberry Festival
The strawberry festival in Westlake Village is observed on the first "nice"
Saturday in June. We observe it outdoors, so we are at the mercy of the weather,
therefore we wait for the first "nice" Saturday. Town Supervisor Bacardi makes
this momentous decision personally on the first Thursday in June that forecasts
a 'nice' Saturday.
It is without doubt the most important decision Mr. Bacardi will ever make in
his political life, for once he says "GO", he sets in motion an engine of
ponderous and unstoppable power.
Committees in charge of refreshments, amusements, chairs, tables, decorations,
sound equipment, press coverage, and most important of all, Bridget O'Riley the
balloon girl, are poised to swing into action to observe the first "nice'
Saturday of June. Oh!! I forgot the strawberries didn't I? The ladies of Our
Lady of Congeniality sell strawberries at the fair末they are, (the strawberries,
that is) after all, the star of the show.
We don't grow strawberries in Westlake Village末the Village is not strawberry
country. Most of our strawberries come from Mexico. A sobering thought, to be
sure, but末well, you've got to give the devil his due. When Supervisor Bacardi
says "GO," his secretary calls Meyer's Trucking Company and off they go to the
wholesale market in Queens. The avalanche of events has begun. With one simple
telephone call the great event is underway末the process brings to mind
"Operation Overlord" of WWII.
During the next two days Bridget O'Riley will inflate more than a 1000 balloons
with helium gas and the congeniality ladies will whip up enough cream to fill a
railroad tank car. The speaker's platform will be decorated with bunting and
wired for sound. There will be speeches of course末the primary one coming from
none other than Town Supervisor Bacardi himself. It will be a tub-thumper I'm
sure, for this is an election year.
If, by some cruel stroke of fate, foul weather makes an unexpected appearance on
Saturday morning, the entire proceedings will move indoors. The church basement
is the only alternative to cancellation ... and cancellation is unthinkable. you
can't cancel an avalanche. With that caveat in mind you can imagine Supervisor
Bacardi's attention is glued to The Weather Channel two weeks before the event.
His only other consuming interest of course, is his speech. Daisy Donahue, his
secretary, tells me he is torn between the two and he sits at his desk by the
window writing and casting anxious glances at the sky ... she too is a nervous
wreck by the end of the week.
Bridget O'Riley has her eye on the weather channel also. Her husband, Max,
hasn't had a cooked meal all week and the unfinished basement is wall to wall
helium canisters; he says his wife won't let him smoke his pipe in the house
until the balloons are filled. Bridget lives next door to Our Lady of
Congeniality and when her balloons are fully inflated on Saturday morning she
will tie them in bundles and carry them to the festival site.
... and that's where our story begins.
Last year the third Thursday in June was a lovely day and all forecasts
predicted the weather would be fair and warm right through the weekend.
Supervisor Bacardi confidently, but with all ten fingers crossed, signaled "Go."
The wheels began to spin, and Daisy Donahue breathed a sigh of relief. Bridget
O'Riley opened the valves on her canisters and the ladies of Our Lady of
Congeniality started whipping cream.
By Friday night Bridget had inflated almost 1200 pink, yellow, red and blue
balloons. She and her husband tied each of them with a four foot length of
string and then tied them again in bundles of six each. It sounds like a lot of
work, and it was, but they had volunteers to lend a hand. During the daylight
hours of Thursday and Friday neighbors stopped in to lend a hand. Saturday
morning was to be devoted to the inflation of the giant strawberry balloon, big
around as a beluga whale. It would be tethered to the speaker's platform and
everyone throughout the village would be officially aware that the annual
Village Strawberry Festival was underway.
The limp vinyl strawberry was laid flat on the road in front of the cathedral of
Our Lady of Congeniality in wait for Bridget O'Riley and her truckful of helium
canisters. Even though he knew very little about the procedure, Supervisor
Bacardi seemed to be in charge. With much waving of his arms and using his best
drill sergeant's baritone, he directed the positioning of Bridget's truck, the
connection of the balloon's intake valve to the canister's nozzle and a general
warning to everyone in the immediate vicinity to give way to the giant
strawberry as it began to swell with helium gas.
It slowly picked itself clear of the ground. Everyone on balloon tethering duty
cheered loudly and gripped his or her tethering line tightly. The balloon rose
slowly, but triumphantly, like some monstrous storybook dragon ... that just
happened to resemble a strawberry. A few children cried out in terror. A few
elderly ladies clucked their tongues and said, "Did you ever ...?" Young lads
pelted it with pebbles末but you can't bring a forty foot strawberry down with
Or can you?
Yes ... in spite of the glorious weather末faultlessly forecasted by Supervisor
Bacardi. In spite of the fascinating trinket booths, the strawberries lavishly
lathered in whipped cream offered for sale by the ladies of Our Lady of
congeniality, the kiddy carousel, the test your strength sledgehammer apparatus
and the intimate fingers of Ernie Wilson and his all too accurate "Guess Your
Weight" scale, I can attest that the 44th annual strawberry festival was not
without a touch of terror and tragedy.
Midway through Supervisor Bacardi's self-aggrandizement of his many successes as
supervisor and his masterful shepherding of Westlake Village through thick and
thin, it became apparent to everyone in the audience that the inflated
strawberry above the speaker's stand was slowly descending.
Could it be that one of those pebbles reached a vital spot after all? It was not
only descending, but it was becoming flaccid as well.
The audience was divided almost equally between people who were eager to see it
engulf the entire speaker's rostrum and all the town dignitaries, each of whom
waited patiently for Supervisor Bacardi to finish his speech so they could have
a crack at the microphone, and all others whose better sense prevailed. The
result did, however, put an end to the palaver.
In retrospect it was a most successful day. Everyone got his and her fill of
strawberries, a few cases of diarrhea were reported, many smaller balloons
slipped away from the children and disappeared into the ether, or wherever it is
that all balloons eventually die, and everyone couldn't wait for next year.
ｩ Harry Buschman 2010
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