Will Call: A spudtacular day
Carbondale has many bigger events, but Potato Day is the oldest and my favorite.
I have even claimed, and it may be true, that it’s my favorite holiday altogether. Folks are generally incredulous that a little parade and a picnic in the park could top Christmas, but it’s not about the activities. It’s about the people and the tradition.
There was a time when Potato Day was an all-day affair with lawn games and a big dance, celebrated by folks whose fields were full of spuds. There aren’t a whole lot of people left who remember it that way. I certainly don’t.
Instead, my earliest memory of the event is donning a potato sack to march with my elementary school classmates. I can only assume Bonnie Fischer was involved, as the parade is incomplete without her.
Back then, a whole team of pooper scoopers were necessary to cleanse the street after the horse-heavy procession went by. I don’t think I was ever conscripted for that duty, and instead contented myself with spectating for the next few years. That’s about when my brother hit high school, and I remember cheering for his class float the year of the “Grease” theme.
I think that’s also about the time I gave myself the challenge of eating potatoes with every meal to celebrate the festival. Luckily, they’re quite versatile, and the traditional pulled beef lunch — slow cooked in pits right there in the park — includes a baked potato. It’s not much of a hardship to nab some hash browns for breakfast and ask for fries with dinner.
The golden era for me was high school. Since Potato Day is scheduled to coincide with Roaring Fork High School’s homecoming, it turns a half day event into a weeklong buildup. For the folks on student council, it starts even before that, planning spirit week themes and float designs. Then there’s powderpuff, the truck rally, the car smash now discontinued in favor of a bonfire. The games — football in particular, but I don’t want to overlook volleyball or soccer — draw out the whole community, and sort of kick off the festival. My senior year I was even runner-up homecoming king, so I got to ride an ATV around the field at halftime.
By the time I was getting up at the crack of dawn to finish the float Saturday morning, the festivities felt nearly over. The parade itself and a quick lunch transitioned smoothly into setting up for the dance, followed by a couple of hours standing awkwardly outside the dance floor. I’ve thought about trying to organize an adult dance for the same night, but I fear the result would be the same.
Anyway, there’s more personal tradition associated with Potato Day than most regular holidays for me. Sometimes they’re aren’t any local potatoes for sale, or Bareback Bonanza is canceled, or the parade gets political in an election year, but overall I know what to expect. It harkens back to local history and reminds us of a time when Carbondale was known for cowboys and miners more than art and music. Most of those who are still around show up for the festivities.
I wouldn’t dream of recruiting folks in Glenwood away from their own homecoming game Friday night, but come Saturday morning I hope to see plenty of people socializing over a cup of cowboy coffee fresh out of the cauldron. I’ll be the guy in the burlap cape.
Will Grandbois grew some red McClure potatoes of his own this year, but didn’t exactly get a bumper crop. He can be reached at 384-9105 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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