June 20, 2012 Edition

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Reader shares memories
of Portia Picnic

Mary Phillips Holder
Guest Writer

Well it's June 22, only a little over a week until what was all the years of my childhood the most important time of the year. When you grow up in a town of about 100 or less people and then once each year you have a celebration that brings thousands of people to town, well that's excitement.

I don't think that it would be possible to describe the thrill to someone who didn't experience it. To a child growing up in Portia, at least to me, it was not only the highlight of the whole year, but the highlight of my whole life.

I remember the carnival would always arrive in town on the Sunday before the Fourth. In fact it came through town right in the middle of Sunday school class.

Our church was on the corner of Main Street and the street the carnival trucks took to the schoolyard where the carnival would be set up. It would already be hot and of course our church had no cooling system so the windows were open and the kids could see the trucks coming. It was hard to keep your mind on the Sunday school lesson.

In our town the people who lived there when you were born were the same people who were living there when you left, unless they died. Very few new people moved to town. In a town that size we were like a big family, we knew everything there was to know about each other, or at least we thought you did.

To us there were no bad people there, not a one. Some you liked better than others but there was no one you really disliked.

But back to the picnic, the thought of not going was unheard of. Oh sometimes some of the adults took great pride in saying, "I wouldn't be caught dead out there," but chances are you would see them before it was over even if they had to take a kid and say, "I just came to bring the kids." Yeah right, the fact is you couldn't stay away.

Sure it was dirty. Everything was sand then and when you have three or four thousand people walking around for a couple of days and nights in sand, it gets dirty. When it was really dry you could see the dust rising before you even got to town; and some Fourth of Julys have been pretty hot, but you can usually find a shady place in the schoolyard that is cool. If it was too hot you would just wait until the sun went down, that is if you could keep the kids from driving you nuts to go.

I remember the very feeling I always got when I first heard the music start. The music from the merry-go-round is still the prettiest music there is to me. When I would have to go home early, which of course was every year, I always wanted to be able to just stay until it shut down on the last night, but I never got to.

I would go to bed with a window open and listen to the music and hear the people on the rides yell with excitement and my heart would pound from the thrill of it all. That excitement stayed with me for weeks. I remember the smell of the open-pit barbecue, popcorn, corn dogs and cotton candy.

I can close my eyes now and take myself back and smell those smells and hear those sounds. And see the lights. Wow, you could see the lights all over town and halfway to Hoxie leaving or coming into town.

When you got to be a teenager and interested in boys, it was such a great place to get to see them and maybe even talk to them, and at very least just have them look at you and say "hi."

There were people who for years you saw only at the picnic. Even when people got out of school or quit school and went away and got a job, they always came home for the Fourth of July and came to the Portia Picnic. People who lived in other states planned their vacation just for that reason.

We would have a preacher now and then who thought that going to the picnic was a sin (imagine that). Now I always wanted to please God. For as long as I can remember, even as a child, it was very important to me that I did nothing that would get me in bad with God, but not go to the Portia Picnic? Not a chance.

The preacher would have had to show me the scripture that said expressly, "It is a very bad sin to go to the Portia Picnic."

Boy, I don't know what I would have done if I had seen those words.

Every year about this time, a week or so before the Fourth of July, I get a feeling that I cannot explain. The best way I would know how to describe it is that it is homesickness. I remember one time I asked someone, "Do you understand someone feeling homesick when they are at home?" They responded, "No, I would think that if you are home it would be just impossible to be homesick," and that makes sense to everyone who didn't grow up in Portia.

There was one person who understood that feeling - my mom. We talked about it one time and she told me, "Yes, I know exactly what that feeling is like because I experience the very same feeling."

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