One of the most delicious treats at the Lewisburg Chocolate Festival is the eclectic tastes it brings to town. Not the confectionary delights around every corner. I’m referring to the flavorful mix of people zigzagging through Main Street sampling tasty tidbits to benefit The United Way. When West Virginians from all walks of life get together (or unite) for something good, there’s nothing better.
I’m reminded of Shock family reunions, a tradition now extinct in my clan. Each summer, a group of virtual strangers (to me) came together and connected as kin for a day at Cedar Creek State Park. I was transfixed by my grandfather as he swapped stories with other old-timers, including his “baby” brother, James, reminiscing about the good ole days growing up in West Virginia.
I was engrossed as these boyhood bards battled back and forth trying to one-up each other’s tales of orneriness from their glory days long gone. When I was 7-years old, it was the holy of holies to sit within earshot of my elders and listen to such salacious secrets. Thanks to my eavesdropping, I’ve grown into an avid storyteller myself.
Anyway, the menfolk would sneak off in teams to take a “snort,” which in my day meant a swig of whiskey. The tales would get taller and laughter louder with each sip. The womenfolk acted not to notice and tried impossibly hard to remain humble as praises for their signature dishes were passed across picnic tables packed with the finest food I’ve ever eaten. To this day, my Aunt Francis’ meatballs are unsurpassed.
Eventually, sunset shadowed our day together. We’d pack up, say so long, and go back to wherever we came from, and separate for another year. Looking back, I reckon, the Shock family reunion was my first festival. Food, fun and family, it even had chocolate.
My childhood remains a treasured time of my life. No matter how many beat downs I’ve endured here, I still espouse our greatest resource in West Virginia is our home grown goodness. Whether it comes from the earth or from our heart, it’s always good to the core. Sure we have critters in our crops. They generally get weeded out over time. Otherwise, we’re a pretty good peck of people.
As spring starts to wipe winter sleep from its eyes, it also reveals a fresh perspective to us. We’re simply in a better state of mind I call West Virginia. Our smiles are brighter. Optimism catches our eyes like the first clusters of daffodils arousing on barren roadsides. A sense of renewal surrounds us and settles into our restless souls sufficiently enough to let us soothingly sigh. Winter’s gone. We look forward to putting away coats and wrapping ourselves in the rushing rivers and fertile forests of our Mountain Mama’s embrace.
That’s why I look forward to the Lewisburg Chocolate Festival. In a way, it’s our season opener, paving the path for more good times ahead. On that one day, in early spring, we’re all wide-eyed kids walking through a candy store hand in hand. When the festival is over, I hope the sweetness of living here lingers.
Please, don’t let the smiles melt, grumbles grow, and dividing differences over this and that arise. Whatever “it” was that made Lewisburg, WV “The Coolest Small Town in America” in 2011 still exists somewhere. Like dormant daffodils, “it” just needs warmth and encouragement to spring back to life. The Lewisburg Chocolate Festival is a perfect place for “it” to begin anew!
– Jim Shock, LBSPY #52 (April 7-May 5, 2014)