EASTHAM – We went to the Eastham Turnip Festival on Saturday looking for someone else who has just fallen off of a turnip truck because, as Eastham Turnip farmer Bob Wells said, “This would be a good place to look.”
We have met thousands of people through decades of life, and virtually everyone has bragged that they did not just fall off of a turnip truck. Wells owns a truck that carries turnips. Turnips have fallen off of his truck from time to time, he said. But, he said, he has never fallen off of his turnip truck.
We were naive enough to believe that Wells has never fallen off of his turnip truck. “Have you ever had an Eastham turnip?” he asked. Wearing turnip farmer overalls, he described the humble tubers as “addictive.” He grinned.
“Be careful,” said Wells. “You can get hooked on these.”
We ran in the other direction. At which point, we ran into Jack Kerig, dressed head-to-toe as a turnip. “I represent the best of the Eastham turnip crop,” he said.
But has he ever fallen off of a turnip truck? “Would you like to see the road rash?” he asked.
We did not want to see the road rash. In certain matters of Too Much Information, we prefer to be naive.
But we were curious as to how the turnip festival started. Plus, we were hoping to find someone not dressed as a turnip who would admit to having fallen off of a turnip truck – preferably very recently.
And as we wandered through the cafeteria of the Nauset Regional School, with murals of surfers on the wall, we met Tricia Ford Gardner, who chaired the festival for the first eight years. In fact, the 11-year-old festival was her idea.
Ford Gardner said she modeled the idea of the Eastham Turnip Festival on the successful Wellfleet Oyster Festival, which she described as “upper class, fancy.”
But turnips, she said, have a different reputation. “Get back to your roots,” she implored. And then she added, “Turn up for turnips.” By about this time, we had a blade of grass in our mouth and some hayseed in our pockets. We were all-in.
Earlier, we ran ran into the current chair of the Eastham Turnip Festival, Marianne Sinopoli, who was thrilled to see the cafeteria full of people who have never fallen off of a turnip truck. “We’re drawing a record crowd,” she said. “People have turned up in droves.”
No one ever shows up at a turnip festival. They turn up.
This year’s festival, said Sinopoli, featured local produce beyond turnips, such as apples from Harwich. There were also local crafts in the hallway outside the cafeteria. But don’t be lacking in wisdom about this event. It was about the turnips.
There was a turnip-shucking contest, Mr. Turnip Head, turnip ring toss, a turnip cooking contest and more.
“I love turnips,” said Sinopoli. “You can boil ’em, bake em, mash ’em, or smash ’em,” she said. And then, perhaps suspecting that we are unsuspecting of the truth, she reiterated, “I actually love the taste of turnips.”
Sinopoli said she has never actually fallen off of a turnip truck, but added, “If you ask my husband, he’d probably say I have definitely fallen off of the truck.” Organizing a turnip festival, she said, takes a lot of time. “He’s wondering when I’m going to come home from the turnip patch.”
Still, the person running the turnip festival had never fallen off of a turnip truck. Were we really the only ones?
We ran into Sherri Stockdale of Harwich, who teaches kindergarten in Truro. She has written a poem and done a graphic of the “Dance Of The Turnips.” She was inspired, she said, because the idea of a turnip festival is “delightfully weird.”
And finally, when we asked Stockdale if she had ever fallen off of a turnip truck, she responded with an expressive smile that went with her words, “Oh yeah! I think everyone has a few times in their life.”
We hope that you believe that we wrote this entire story from the back of a turnip truck in Eastham, except for the final two words: We’re falling.
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— Brian Tarcy