What I Loved About the Cooter Fest
There is a lot to love about Allendale’s Cooter Fest (or Spring Festival, if you prefer). You’ve got lots of food options (though few of which are healthy). You’ve got rides (most of which are wobbly or rickety). You’ve got a parade (though not much shade to protect you from the scorching heat).
And, of course, you’ve got the famous cooter (turtle) race. We won our first race with our rented turtle (“Lighting McTurtle”), but failed to qualify for the division finals. I was partly disappointed, and yet mostly happy. We waited 3 hours for less than 5 minutes of racing. Not nearly as exciting as last year.
The food, rides, parade, and cooter race are what makes this festival so popular. However, what made this year’s event special for us were some relationships. In particular, we were blessed by four groups of people: interns from last summer, a brother and sister, parade hosts, and a family that provided us with lunch.
Return of the Interns
Two of last year’s interns — Greg and Joseph — spent Friday and Saturday with us. The fact that they would drive down here after their semester exams, and hang out with us, was a big encouragement, even if Elijah beat Greg at chess. Again.
In addition, these guys got to see some boys that they connected with last summer. A couple of these encounters were semi-planned, while most were happenstance. You should have seen a smile on their faces — for these college students and for the Allendale students. These enduring relationships are the coolest things we’ve seen God bring about.
We also got to hang out with a brother and sister whom we’ve known for over 2 years. They live down the road from us, and we’ve continually worked with them through summer camps and after school programs. But on this day, their mom had to go to a funeral, so we had the pleasure of them spending the day with us.
The girl is Hannah’s best friend in Allendale, and the boy is one of Sender’s favorites (though he is 5 years older than our son). I guess they connect because of their love of fun, and their high energy levels.
The boy can be somewhat of a . . . ahem . . . “challenge.” But for the five hours they were with us, he did extremely well. Yes, he was busy, but he was respectful and thankful to be there. Though they grew up in Allendale, they had never been to the Cooter Fest.
We are so glad that we got to spend time with them, and that we could serve their family in this way.
We didn’t even have to discuss where we would watch the Cooter Fest Parade. For the third year in a row, we watched it from the front yard of a sweet couple that we barely knew 2 years ago. They have been gracious hosts to us, the uninvited guests.
This is the same couple that volunteered at our After School program and told us, “It feels so nice to be needed.” Well, now weneed them, for a good parade-watching spot.
And if we are in town next year for the Cooter Fest, you can be sure we’ll watch the parade from the same spot.
Local Food, Local Chefs
As we thought about the Cooter Fest a few months ago, we realized that so much money spent at the festival leaves Allendale County. The rides and outside vendors contribute little (if anything) to the local economy. So, we made a point to buy as much as we could from local vendors. For example, we bought ice cream several times from a friend who owns an ice cream truck.
Walking among the vendors on Memorial Avenue on Friday night, we saw a Mexican man cooking tacos under a tent. Joanna immediately recognized him as someone she helped the previous Sunday at a local Hispanic Ministry. (Earlier this year, Allendale Baptist Church launched a Sunday night ESL class, and Joanna volunteered to help a few times.)
We chatted with a Ramone and his family, and when I saw the sign “Tacos $1” I knew I had to bite (pun intended).
Roasted seasoned pork, beans, onions, cilantro, lime, and freshly-cooked corn tortillas. I tell you the truth, it was the best taco I had in years. We told all our friends about it (including the ones at our parade-watching spot), and decided to return for lunch on Saturday. And we did, later joined by some of our friends.
It was neat to see how Joanna’s small part in a ministry came full circle, from serving to being blessed. And we’re not ashamed to say that we are actively working to get ourselves invited to their house for dinner. (Edit: We finally got to eat there 8 months later.)
So, why did I especially love this year’s Cooter Fest in Allendale? Because of the relationships with friends — new and old, and of all ages and ethnicities.