When Babe and I discovered Saluda, North Carolina, we bought a house. Saluda is a dear little town and our second home has become the perfect escape hatch. I get to write while listening to the chirping of birds instead of the hum of air conditioners.
Although I love winter life on St. Simons Island in Georgia, when the thermometer starts its annual upward climb, I head for the hills. Suffering from heat and humidity is not what I wanted to do when I passed the age of, …uh, …fifty? It can get warm in Saluda too, but it cools off at night. Unlike in Georgia, I don't feel like a limp dishrag when I crawl into bed at the end of the day.
Each year in July, humans and dogs celebrate the 47th annual Coon Dog Day Celebration in Saluda. This year, the community-supported event will once again be the closest thing to an old fashioned county fair in a coon's age. Oops! Sorry about that.
Contained within three blocks will be food and souvenir stalls and kiddie rides for the little ones who (unlike adults) don't care about stuffing themselves with junk food. Over ten thousand people will rub shoulders all day long in the intense July heat because, let's face it, people are hungry for the good old days before electronics took possession of our minds, bodies and attention spans.
The parade will be way long and this year I have been asked to be one of the float judges. There will be open convertibles chauffeuring the obligatory dignitaries as well as Coon Dog Day Royalty. The Queen will work overtime at perfecting the Miss America Wave. And what would a parade be without Shriners buzzing around on dune buggies and motorcycles and Elvis impersonators singing 'You Ain't Nothin' But a Hound Dog?' Oh, if history repeats, there will be lots and lots of fire trucks.
As if we haven't had a bellyful of politicians this year, there will be too many of them marching to well-known Independence Day tunes. Hopefully, the Democrats and Republicans will refrain from plopping mud at each other.
Throughout the day, coon dogs will drag their masters down the street while sniffing and baying at nothing at all. After 48 years, coon dogs rule. Humans only show up to enjoy live music, clogging, square dances and all the junk food they can cram down their throats.
Ordinarily, sleepy little Saluda has no need of a wide thoroughfare snaking through it and no reason to entice looky-loos to the area. But on this Coon Dog Day, July 9, 2011, the narrow main drag adjacent to the unused railroad track will be jammed with people bent on buying everything from funnel cakes to funky jewelry.
Fast food joints are normally verboten inside the Saluda city limits, but not on this illustrious day. To say that Babe and I will seriously pig out is no exaggeration. We'll eat barbeque from North and South Carolina, hot dogs, hamburgers, cake and ice cream. French Fries in cone-shaped cups, fried in lard and sprinkled with vinegar.
Coon Dog Days began almost half a century ago as a fundraiser for the local Coon Dog Club, and over the years has evolved into something no one ever envisioned in 1963. Today, the festival is a major event for Polk County that brings in over 10,000 people to mill around the streets of Saluda. It begins on Monday and culminates on Saturday with a plethora of activities that conclude with a contest for the dogs themselves, the indubitable VIP's.
As summer residents, we have quickly adapted to this small community of people who feel like neighbors we've known for a lifetime. We reconnected with some old friends who had moved here earlier and we met many others.
People like Judy Ward became friends. Judy moved heaven and earth to reopen Ward's Grill, a favorite local eatery. Why did she do it? Because sadly, when the Grill closed down a year or so ago, it was as though the heart of Saluda itself had died. Judy pledged to give back to the town a little piece of history that everybody loved. Because of her vision, the soul of the town is now back where it belongs, and her hamburgers are too!
People like Judy make Coon Dog Day an event that brings in folks from all over, folks who proudly sport Coon Dog Day t-shirts and more often than not are heard to ask: 'Can a coon dog really tree a coon?'