When one of my students called me over to look at a map in a picture book on Johnny Appleseed, I wasn’t expecting to get the biggest laugh of my day. “Miss, have you ever heard of this place?” he asked. I looked where he was pointing–a giant star next to a tiny town–Franklin, PA.
I doubled over laughing.
Poor kid, he was so confused. “That’s my hometown,” I told him, when I caught my breath. “I grew up there. And yeah, Johnny Appleseed’s a pretty big deal there.”
If you know anything about Franklin, you know about Applefest. Normally, the population is around 6,000 on a good day–if everyone’s home for the holidays and you count all the cats and dogs. Applefest weekend, the first weekend in October, that number swells to probably 20,000. A craft fair and fried food vendors, apple-everything (my preference is for the dumplings–they’re to-die-for), a 5k “race for any pace,” music, face-painting, the famous apple pancake breakfast–it’s everything wonderful about fall. Growing up, to me, it defined fall.
Until 2013, the last time I was at Applefest was my senior year in high school. After that, I went off to college, then moved to Texas. And when you operate on a school-year calendar, the first weekend in October isn’t exactly a convenient time to get away.
But in 2013, having finally moved back within driving distance of my hometown, I decided to surprise my parents (Applefest weekend is also timed with both of their birthdays) and take a couple days off to head home for the festivities, 8-month-old tiny person in tow. And it was a great weekend. My parents were surprised and thrilled. The apple pancakes and apple dumplings were as good as I remembered. Brunch at our favorite restaurant after the 5k was fantastic.
But Applefest had changed.
I should’ve known that it would just keep getting bigger. It’s a huge tourist attraction, and it really is our town’s biggest weekend of the year. But when my sister-in-law and I decided to take a couple hours and visit the craft and food fair in the park–always the highlight of the weekend for me growing up–it was so crowded we could barely move. Crowds shuffled us along the sidewalks, making it almost impossible to stop and visit a booth.
It wasn’t the carefree fun I remembered.
I don’t ever want to see Applefest end, and there still is so much to love about it. But I hope that organizers can also find a way to adjust for how much its grown, or make it less of a jam-packed tourist trap in the park. As much as I loved going back–and hope to again this coming fall–I missed the simplicity.