Friday, June 3, 2011

Celebrating the Strawberry

Good Seats, 2011

There are many things I don’t understand. One of them is pig showmanship.

We went down to the Pungo Strawberry Festival last weekend. Strawberries are a big summer crop in our area. Pungo—a rural hamlet not much bigger than the intersection of two country roads—is arguably the commercial center of our city’s agricultural industry. The Festival began twenty-eight years ago as a way to acknowledge the contribution of strawberries, to have some fun, to generate funds for local charities and scholarships and to keep the identity of Pungo alive in an increasingly suburbanized city. It’s arguably the closest thing Virginia Beach has to an old-fashioned country fair.

As suburban cities go, Virginia Beach can be a little hard to get your hands around. For one thing, it’s bit, covering nearly five hundred square miles. Its densely populated northern end hug the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. Housing’s expensive and undeveloped space is increasingly rare there. It’s mostly a land of business owners, professionals and white-collar workers.

That’s not what you see at the Pungo Strawberry Festival. The southern part of the city is low and flat and open and extends all the way to the North Carolina border. Large-scale residential development is discouraged there. It’s a land of farmers, horse owners, rich soil, low coastal swamps, brackish water and water snakes as big around as your arm.

I’m pretty sure Pungo’s Palin country, a defiant conservative rebuke to the effete suburbanites who live in the Northern part of the city. Festivals in the northern part of the city, for example, tend to focus on seafood, wine and environmental sensitivity. The Pungo Strawberry Festival featured a Patsy Cline tribute show, carnival rides, vendors selling everything from leather belts to strawberry tacos and a tent for pig showmanship.

Pig Showmanship, 2011

This year the Pungo Strawberry Festival chose to honor the 100th anniversary of U.S. Naval aviation. My neighbor was asked to be the Grand Marshal of the festival parade in recognition of his role in getting a monument to naval aviators erected in the middle of the oceanfront resort area (a place a lot of Pungo people probably never go). I’m not sure about the royal lineage of such things, but I believe my neighbor was one-upped in the opening ceremony speeches by the man who’d been named honorary mayor of Pungo and whose lovely wife was the Queen of the Strawberry Festival and wore what looked like a witch’s hat.

Keeping Their Distance from Patsy, 2011


  1. In my teens I passed through that intersection several times a week on the way to and from my first serious girlfriend's house on Knott's Island. (It was serious enough for me to make the 56 mile round trip to see her!) When the Strawberry Festivals started I was living in VB and always meant to go but something else always popped the North End, of course.

  2. That's great! Love these photos. When I was teaching at JMU, I told the freshmen that they needed to be in class every day, and if they couldn't, they needed to let me know they couldn't show. One girl came up to me after class all nervous, and said "I already know of 3 days I'll need to miss this semester, because I've got engagements as "Miss Hog" where I'll be needed at events. It was all I could do to keep from cracking up. She wasn't joking.