I’ve been having a blast this spring and now it’s officially summer! Yay! Since I returned home from Wisconsin last month, I’ve been busy working both of my jobs, and secretly planning a quick trip back to my hometown in Kansas to surprise my mother at the Smoky Hill River Festival! I hadn’t been back for the festival in about 8 or 9 years, but I knew that this was the year to go since it’s fairly easy to rearrange my work schedules to allow for more time off.
I wish I had a photo of my mom’s face when I arrived at the festival! I spotted a long time friend not long after I entered the park where the festival is held, and he thought of an easy way to get close to my mom without her seeing me. I walked directly behind him (he’s a very tall man) to where my mom was sitting with other family members, and he asked my mom “Is Jennifer coming to the festival this year?”, and she replied “No, she’s not going to be able to make it back”. And right at that moment I slipped out from behind Mike, and smiled at her. She looked directly at me, and then turned back to Mike and continued to explain why I wouldn’t be able to make it this year. So I took off my sunglasses and smiled at her. By now, everyone around her (my brother, my aunt, some cousins) knew it was me, and my brother even physically tried to turn my mom’s head to look at me again! It was hilarious! But once she realized that I was standing in front of her, she was super excited! And after hugs had been given all around our little family festival squatting area, it was time to find food. Festival food!
If you’ve never been to the Smoky Hill River Festival in Salina, KS, you’re missing out on a slice of midwestern heaven. Held the second full weekend (Thurs-Sun) of June every year, the festival has something for everyone: music by local/regional/national acts on four stages, fine arts, crafts, a children’s interactive area, a five mile running race, roving performers, food trucks and vendors, and the finest people watching for hundreds of miles in any direction. The weather is usually the most cantankerous issue that you’d have to deal with. I mean, c’mon…it is June in Kansas. Some years it’s been above 100F, and some years it’s rained buckets and dumped hail. But the festival, which has been happening annually in Salina for more than 40 years, is attended by thousands each year. Some festival-goers, like my mom and aunt Donna, like to “camp” at the festival. They set up lawn chairs and shade umbrellas, and stay from morning until evening. My mother even boarded her dog for the weekend so she wouldn’t have to worry about going home to let her out. Some people will get to the park where the festival is held hours before the gates open, so that they can be first to run across the park to claim their spot of grass with blankets and chairs. And yes, I’ve been one of those people. A long time ago. Festival organizers blow an airhorn in the morning when the gates open and people just pour into Oakdale Park from a few different entrances. It’s crazy to watch.
But it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement that is the festival. Many high schools have their reunions around festival time because so many folks come back for it. You’re bound to see people you haven’t seen in years. There’s just something about parking your ass in a lawn chair for a few days, listening to music that you might not ordinarily listen to, eating food that is definitely not on your diet, and browsing the creative arts and crafts by artisans across the nation. It feeds your soul a little bit. At least it does for me. I always know that I’ll see my best friend since 8th grade, and her husband who was my best guy friend since I was a freshman in high school. And more often than not, there will be more friends in town and we’ll all get together and laugh about hijinks when we were teenagers, and compare notes from our adult lives. So many of my best memories have happened during festival time.
It was a great weekend with my mom, family, and friends. And now my sights are set on a short backpacking trip next month…but I can’t decide where! Suggestions? I’m doing my best to ensure that my summer will be packed with fun and adventure. I hope you’re able to do the same!