The week after my birthday and the first weekend of May is really all about Pella’s Tulip Time Festival. For several years Wendy and I were regularly a part of a production that our community theatre, Union Street Players, produced for the thousands of visitors to our town. USP stopped doing Tulip Time productions a few years back and Wendy and I admittedly took a respite from volunteering for a few years. Guilt would set in as we wandered up to the square from our house, just a block away. We vowed that we needed to get in costume and volunteer. It takes a not-so-small army of volunteers to make this thing work, and at some point it would be time to play our parts once again. Ironic that we’re more involved now that we moved far away from our prime property just off the square.
Last year was the year to dive in. We volunteered to portray our town’s founders for the annual three day event, roles that we’ve played on stage multiple times. Last year we were in costume for 12-13 hours straight all three days, but discovered that it was a little much. The 1860s fashion was a little overwhelming to don all day. So, this year we vowed to do things a little differently.
Weather for the festival this year was pretty stellar. Thursday was sunny and relatively cool. Friday was the hot day with temps reaching near 90. Saturday was cooler, much more humid, and hazy. There was a brief sprinkle during the afternoon parade and an intermittent light rain during the evening parade, but the sun made regular appearances in between..
We spent our mornings outside the Scholte House Museum greeting visitors and talking a few confused passers-by into giving the museum a try. And, we got our pictures taken somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,344,682 times. The most fun were the wandering gaggles of foreign visitors who would, as a group, whip out roughly a dozen or six cameras at the same time. Then, various members of the group would take turns running up to stand with us while cameras, cell phones, and iPads were hoisted like paparazzi next to the red carpet. Wendy said her face hurt from all the smiling! 😉
We took a brief break for lunch around noon and continued our duty outside the Scholte House until around 2:00 in the afternoon. We would then wander back across town in the early afternoon, stopping every 5.34 feet for another picture. I’m not sure how many international dialects I heard saying “One…Two…Three!”
By 2:30 we were in our places to be picked up for the afternoon parade. Our horse drawn carriage (refurbished this year and sporting a beautiful sign) was actually pulled by the Tulip Queen’s horse. So we would sit behind the Historical Village and wait for the Queen to make her pilgrimage through the parade. The horse would quickly be switched from the Queen’s luxurious ride to our humble little four seater. It was rather comical getting Wendy in her HUGE hooped skirt to squeeze into the back seat of a carriage that had been designed for much smaller people. I joked that there wasn’t enough room for Wendy, her dress, and me. We would then take back streets to the beginning of the parade route and pray that we made it on time. We actually made it five out of the six parades this year.
It was fascinating to watch the crowds at each parade. They shift and change. The Thursday afternoon crowd is filled with seasoned citizens who arrived on one of an army of buses from around the Midwest. Thursday is always the lightest day from the sheer number of humans, and the Thursday evening parade feels like mostly locals with their families and visitors. Friday is the hybrid crowd. There are still a number of bus tour visitors, but there’s a growing number of diverse visitors from all over. By Friday evening, the after-work, weekend crowd had fully descended for a picture perfect Iowa night. The parade route on Friday evening was packed. Saturday is the crowd crazy day. The sea of humanity is varied, colorful, and a ton of fun. The Saturday afternoon parade had people packed deep the entire length of the parade route.
After the afternoon parade it was time to get out of costume and enjoy being Tom and Wendy for a while. The difference between Tom & Wendy as Henry & Mareah Scholte and Tom & Wendy as Tom & Wendy Vander Well is quite a contrast, to be sure. On Thursday afternoon I had forgotten something in the Historical Society’s Curatorial Office where we’d changed back into our mild-mannered civilian selves. I returned to the office where a number of workers from the Historical Society were gathered in any number of official duties. One young woman who works for the Society thought I was a tourist and said to me, “I’m sorry sir, this house is not part of the tour!”
She was a big confused and taken aback when I simply smiled and said, “I know,” and walked right past her into the back room where we’d stored our belongings. When I returned she was still standing there looking confused and bit frustrated. As I passed by her I smiled and said, “You don’t recognize me out of my Dominie costume, do you?” It was then that it dawned on her who I was. I wish I had a picture of the shocked look on her face, before she began laughing and apologizing.
Our afternoons incognito began at the Heineken Loft in the Pella Opera House visiting with friends and relaxing in the air conditioned loft while we watched the festival pass by on the streets below. Then it was off to the food stands to try one of the many tempting options afforded by the food vendors at Tulip Time.
This year’s culinary surprises were the “Double Dutch” which Wendy had on Thursday night, and the Romanian Sausage sandwich I had on Saturday. The Double Dutch is a quarter pound hamburger topped with Gouda cheese, which then gets topped with a large slice of Pella bologna. Sounds a bit strange, I know. Wendy loved it. I only had a bit, but had to admit it was pretty delicious. Our friends from Pella’s Greek Orthodox Church sell a Romanian sausage sandwich. The recipe came from the the grandmother of one of the people in the parish and it had been highly recommended by our trustworthy City Council representative, Larry Peterson. Again, I was surprised at how good it was. Not something I would have ordered otherwise.
Of course, we also had to get our annual taste of the Tulip Time staples. Stroopwaffels, Poffertjes, Dutch Letters, corn dog, tenderloin…. You get the picture. Regular diet resumes sometime today (after we finish up a few of the leftovers!).
On Thursday night we took our supper from the food stands to the Cellar Peanut Pub’s courtyard. The Iowa Craft Beer truck was set up at the back of the Cellar’s garage and was serving a special wheat ale from Peace Tree Brewing in Knoxville that is made with wheat milled by Pella’s Vermeer Windmill. Everything the Cellar served on their 50+ taps during Tulip Time was from local Iowa breweries. It was a great addition to the Tulip Time offerings.
About 8:00 we were back at the Historical Village getting back into costume for the 8:30 parade. When the parade was over we would quick get to our car and try to navigate the back streets home before the parade was completely over.
It was good to see family and friends, as always. Taylor came to town late on Thursday and was supposed to join us again on Saturday until some kind of intestinal crud struck her. Madison and her boyfriend, Matt, arrived on Saturday morning for a cup of coffee together before Wendy and I headed into town. Madison had fun introducing Matt to everything Pella and we joined for some enjoyable conversation at the Heineken Loft in the late afternoon, then debriefed at home late into the night. Today was supposed to be kind of a 50th birthday celebration with the girls, but with Taylor down those plans got theoretically rained out just as my Cubs-centric birthday bash got rained out in both Chicago and Des Moines last weekend. I guess, once again, “there is no joy in Mudville.” C’est la vie.
Today is rest, recuperation, and reentry into routine. It’s been a fun week. Once again I shake my head in amazement at the unique community we’re blessed to call home.