I love the Fireman’s Festival and Fourth of July parade. This grand weekend always occurs in July, a month that is famous here for warm weather. It isn’t always warm, but we’ve a better chance of it now than on Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving, Easter, or even Memorial Day, when the last of our vast snow piles melt.
Like any good pagan, I cherish the sun. I cherish anything that brings people together and makes them happy, or makes them think they’re happy. A person eating cotton candy on the Fourth of July falls victim to this, including yours truly. I reserve my fluffy passion for this weekend, and generally buy two bags of 100% cotton candy, sometimes three.
Cotton candy is a piece of heaven come to Earth. Sugar, I think, is a scaled-down version of something divine. The earthly version is deadly sweet and so pleasurable that it eventually kills us, while it’s heavenly counterpart—whatever it is—gives life. Whoever dreamed of converting sugar molecules to this light, airy substance outmarveled Einstein. An angel touched this clever individual, I do believe that. God inspired a modern-day prophet to turn the miraculous substance blue and yellow and orange and green, and another spiritual pioneer, unnamed, thought to twirl it onto a stick.
The parade is only a part of the greater festival, headquartered at the village reservoir grounds behind the old high school. It is here that the Ferris wheel scoops up its waiting passengers, the ponies tramp patiently around rings of sawdust, and a matronly woman in an apron becomes willing—for only two dollars!—to measure the speed of your best-thrown baseballs. Guess the speed of your third pitch and you win a prize worth seven cents. A miracle akin to cotton candy occurs here: people bartering two dollars for seven-cent prizes walk away winners.
Besides the parade, the best part of the festival for Melody and me has always been manning the Coca-Cola trailer. We are asked every year by some of the firemen’s wives to man the Coke trailer. I cherish it. It is such blessed relief from my regular job.
For 364 days of the year I am an evangelist akin to Paul, suffering evil as an ideal soldier for the sake of Jesus Christ. For one day of the year, I sell Coke. It is a glorious day. Why? Everyone wants Coke. Everyone wants ice-cold carbonated sugar water. We are gods of this eon, Melody and I, whenever we sell the premier product of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company. Some people do this for a living; I can hardly imagine. I can hardly imagine the crush of accompanying love. “For God so loved the world that He sent them a sweetened beverage colored with caramel and flavored with phosphoric acid.”
I once asked a man who worked for the Coca-Cole Bottling Company: Have you ever been persecuted? He said no. Not even by Pepsi people? No, not even by them. One day out of the year, I taste this blessed state of belonging.
No one approaches the trailer to question our doctrine. For our doctrine is merely this: Drink Coke. No one questions our motives: Just why are you selling this carbonated beverage? No, we never get that. Who dares to attack the virtues of Coke? No text of any kind is ever brought against us to refute our position. For our position is merely this: Drink Coke. We are spared even the effort of announcing our evangel. Our evangel announces itself: ICE-COLD COKE HERE. This alone brings us more disciples and worshippers than we care to count. We are the friend of man, woman, and child. I never realized before manning this trailer how fond I could be of unfeigned love, respect and acceptance. If not for the shortness of the shift and the gig (three hours, once a year), I would give up everything and travel the country in this trailer. God, in His mercy, curtails the joy. But never so much as this year.
This year, Melody and I got overlooked for the Coke trailer. I was devastated. “They want us to make pork and beef sandwiches at the main building instead,” said Melody. I thought she was joking. I thought she was telling me a Coke joke. But no. There would be no Coke trailer for us this year. This year, we were damned to Pork and Beef Purgatory. I was damned to it, that is. Melody got assigned to cake and pie duty, leaving me to my torments.
I walked into the building after the parade and announced to one of the firemen: “Here I am. Do with me what you will.” He set me in front of several vast vats of shredded pork and beef. Some of the vats were pork, some were beef. Beside the vats were piles of hamburger bun packages and sheets of foil. The fireman showed me how to hold the bottom of the bun, scoop on the meat, top it with the upper bun, and wrap it. “Good luck,” he said. I asked if I would see him again, and he said, “No.”
I did my work as unto the Lord. I would become the best sandwich maker ever. With God as my witness, I made sandwiches as fast as I could. It was barely sufficient. Demand was great, for we fed the after-parade crowd, precisely at lunchtime. I scooped and bunned and wrapped with singular purpose. It was hot work; I did not care. In the midst of the battle, I caught myself dreaming of the Coke trailer. Each time the fantasy came, I banished it; I could not afford a pause, not even a refreshing one. I went back to work.
From my pork and beef purgatory, I caught brief glances of Melody. She carried pieces of cherry cheesecake, Texas sheet cake, apple pie, and many other kinds of delicious pie. She grinned and laughed with some of the other women. I dug my big metal spoon back into my meat vat and slung another load of muscle onto the round, white bread. Five hours later, it was over.
(Below: the building in which I slung my meat.)
“Did you have fun?” Melody asked.
“No,” I said. “No one loves me. No one loves the sandwich man.”
“I love the sandwich man,” she said.
I touched her hair and looked into her eyes. “I bet you say that to all the sandwich men.”
“I do,” she said.
We walked around the festival grounds and remembered being there when our kids were little. It was bittersweet—to think of the kids so small—and we were ready to cry, so we bought two large Cokes from the lucky person in the trailer and went to see how fast I could throw a baseball.
I walked away a winner.
© 2006 by Martin Zender