Old Home Day, Past and Future
Usually on this weekend, Reading holds its biggest annual event: Old Home Day. If you’ve been to it—and I assume that if you live in Reading, you have—I wonder if you had the same feeling I did when I saw the downtown Reading before the parade. The lack of cars on Route 106 was not unexpected, it was early Sunday morning after all. What was different was all the activity that was happening on the sides of the road. Men were getting the coals set up for the chicken barbecue, residents were setting up tables for the Felchville-wide yard sale, the platform was being constructed in front of Town Hall for the emcee of sorts, Jon Springer, to step up and make pre-parade announcements and later, apply his wit to what he observed from his perch.
In the time I’ve been in town, there have been four Old Home Days. I attended three, missed one, and wrote about two in this column. For both, I played on the fact that it was always sunny on Old Home Day.
The first one I attended was in 2015. We’d been in town for just six months. I didn’t really know anyone too well at that point. I chatted with Jason Dow, whom I did know because he spent a lot of time on my road, sugaring in the spring and performing lots of farming-related chores throughout the rest of the year. He was sitting on his tractor in the lineup, waiting for the parade to advance. I was impressed that he was participating in Reading's parade, even though he didn't live in town. He loved Old Home Day, he told me, and was happy to be part of it.
On that day, I met Nancy Nutile-McMenemy, who was photographing the event for the Vermont Standard. It was the beginning of a friendship, one of my first here in Vermont. She didn’t live in Reading, she said, but she loved the parade and loved covering it for the paper.
I marched with the Reading Recreation Commission in 2017, the first year the current iteration of the board took the helm. It was a sunny morning as Lisa Kaija, former board member Joe Braun, and I stood by the Rec Commission’s float, sandwiched between then-representative-now-senator Alison Clarkson and Senator Alice Nitka in front of us, and Top of the World 4-H and their cows behind us. We handed out rubber duckies to the kids as a way to promote the Ducky Derby, which was happening at 2pm.
Last year, the Recreation Commission marched again and sold tickets for the Ducky Derby from under a tent by the Reading Greenhouse. While selling sponsorships for the last of the 500 ducks, I ran into Cassie George. She is the owner of Bob’s Barber Shop in Windsor, and the woman who cuts my hair. She gave me a hug and told me how much she loved Old Home Day. Clearly, Old Home Day attracts a lot of people from other towns.
Bill and I grabbed a chicken dinner, and later, we watched as kids tossed the ducks off the snowmobile bridge into the water and then followed them as they raced down the river. It was a good day.
Old Home Day began in the early 1900s. Back then, it was a huge, more formal event, with speeches, concerts throughout the day, and at least two meals served. In my mind’s eye, the men are dressed in suits, the women in dresses, there is bunting on buildings, it’s sunny (because it’s always sunny on Old Home Day), and everything is sepia-toned.
What happened to this annual event through the last century is unknown to me. I do know the Reading Historical Society took over the events of the day. Later, in the 1970s, Reading Fire and Rescue took over the helm of an event that takes a lot of people power to make it work.
Things aren't sepia-toned anymore. We may not have an Old Home Day this year, but we still have Reading Fire and Rescue. We still have the library. We still have the Reading Historical Society. We still have the Reading Recreation Commission. We still have a school, for now. We still have Watroba’s. We still have the Reading Greenhouse. We also have a new park, a work in progress called Puddledock Park. This summer, there will be celebrations on it like we've never seen before.
We also have people in town who are mourning the loss of Old Home Day, myself included. It’s not that Reading is unique. Other small towns have canceled their parades and cut back on events. Some celebrations, though, are flourishing.
There are people in town who are passionate about bringing Old Home Day back in some form. They’re putting aside the sadness and are eager to work. Will the new Old Home Day have a parade? Will there be a chicken barbecue? An ox pull? A Ducky Derby? Will it be called Old Home Day? I don't know. And neither do you. But if we pull together and many people do even small things to resurrect this community event, a celebration of who we are and what we stand for, it will return. What I do know is that whatever shape it takes, on the day it happens, it will be sunny.
That’s the news from Reading! See you next week!
This column originally appeared in The Vermont Standard on June 27, 2019.