By GRACE GADDY
Light spring showers may have dampened the streets but not the spirits of those who attended the 76th Annual Dogwood Trails Festival in historic downtown Palestine Saturday, which featured a nostalgic 1950s road trip theme.
Despite the ominous skies, crowds still came out for a day that offered the gamut of traditional dogwood festival experiences – from the parade to the corn dogs to the classic car show and collections of East Texas artisans’ arts and crafts.
Marc Mitchell, executive director of the Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce, said the festival was a great way to kick off the three-week Dogwood Trails Celebration.
“We had wonderful arts and crafts and Kids Zone vendors, and great entertainment performing at the Festival and Family Stages,” Mitchell said. “People were lined up along the streets to watch the parade, and the Doo Wop cruise at the courthouse in the evening was a big hit.”
Following the parade, the majority of spectators ventured downtown, where streets were abuzz with balloons, freckled children, the smoke from turkey legs sizzling on a grill, and artisans selling their craft, to name a few.
One of those artisans, Palestine resident Jerry Neill, said he has been bringing his handiwork to the local festival for some seven or eight years since he retired.
“I have a little shop out in the backyard,” Neill said. “I don’t have a store or anything. I just do craft shows and that’s it.”
Neill described his hobby more as a labor of love than of toil. He said the work does require a good bit of time, but it’s worth it to him, as a personal “ministry.”
“People say, ‘Do you have a website?’ and I say, ‘No and I don’t want one.’ I just try to get $10 an hour out of my time, just enough to buy my material and make it worth my while. And it’s really kind of a ministry, because most everything is religious in nature.”
He motioned to the hanging crosses and verses carved in oak.
“I retired from full-time ministry and took this up,” he said.
Standing off to the side of Neill’s booth was Diane Davis, parade coordinator. Davis said she was pleased with the parade and felt the procession went smoothly.
“It was one of the longer parades that we’ve had – almost 50 entries,” Davis, who has worked with the parade for the past 11 years, said. “It went real well, it went smooth. The only thing I hated about it, we only had one band this year – normally we have three or four – but other than that, it went real well.”
As for the chance of rain, Davis added that she was glad the skies were clear for the parade.
“I was asking for a little favor, Lord, and I got a little favor,” she said with a laugh – a sentiment shared, no doubt, by the countless families who turned out to spectate. Families like the Carrs, whose 6-year-old daughter Cambree got to ride on one of the floats.
Cambree told this reporter the parade was her favorite, as her parents stood nearby watching a skilled artist paint a “rainbow tiger” on the fair canvass of her face.
Stacey and Charlie Carr said they planned to spend a few more hours at the festival downtown before taking little tiger-faced Cambree to Boston's Buckaroos Kid Rodeo at the Anderson County Youth Livestock Pavilion on U.S. 287 North, slated for later that afternoon.
“She does a little mutton bustin’,” her father said.
Other festival attendants shared additional joys of the day, such as Palestine residents Danielle Rolen and her brother Caleb.
The two said they both look forward to the variety of food offered at the festival, which proved to be quite a variety this year, from cajun fare to homemade chips to old-fashioned soda pop.
This year, the siblings decided to take it a creative step further.
After giving a peddler a go on his “old-fashioned root beer,” the two headed over to the nearby stand of homemade ice cream with silver mugs in hand – there, to fashion their own on-the-spot vintage root beer floats. Final result: success.
“It was really good,” the Rolens agreed, Danielle adding, “best root beer and ice cream I’ve ever had!”
The 76th Annual Dogwood Trails Celebration includes events the last two weekends of March and the first weekend in April.
Check back in the Herald-Press to see updates of events, shows, tours and other dogwood-themed activities.
For more information, visit www.texasdogwoodtrails.com.