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Village Strawberry Festival


Harry Buschman

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 pebbles.

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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