EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Judy Fernald has been basking in the elation that only another grandmother who sees her grandchildren every few years can grasp completely.
When she isn’t cooking for them, cleaning up after them and just generally fussing over them as grandmothers do, Fernald plays board games with her grandkids, and sometimes, she noted mischievously, she sneaks away from her children to be with them.
And Fernald has nine grandchildren, which could mean that she feels the joy that any grandmother and grandchild feel together — times nine.
“They are from everywhere,” the 62-year-old town resident said Thursday, adding that most come from Virginia. “They all get along so well when we get together. When you don’t get that opportunity to be with them every day, you have to get the very best out of it.”
East Millinocket’s SummerFest 2011 is a big part of Fernald’s delight. The Fernald family reunited for the festival and spent most of Thursday enjoying the opening day of the four-day event at Opal Myrick Park. Every year, the Fernald family gets together for the annual SummerFest.
Event co-organizer Kelly Willigar said that with several classes of Schenck High School alumni arriving for reunions timed to coincide with SummerFest, lots of families will be experiencing the sublime sweetness of family reconstitution.
Thursday’s SummerFest drew a few hundred spectators to the park for music, booth games, a children’s parade, shopping and fresh-cooked food. Friday will feature pony rides, a golf tournament and a fireworks show that starts at 9 p.m.
“Today is a setup day [for vendors]. People are just getting into town,” Willigar said Thursday, “and the weather is supposed to be gorgeous. That’s going to help things here a lot this weekend.”
As many as 5,000 people are expected at the event, which town officials said would not have happened without the extraordinary commitment of volunteers Kim Marston and Willigar. They raised $6,500 on their own to help fund it after town leaders realized that the closure of the Main Street paper mill would deprive them of the $10,000 usually allotted to the event, among many other things. State officials have until the end of this month to find a buyer to revitalize the Main Street and Millinocket mills.
“It’s off to a good start. When I first got into this years ago, I said, ‘The thing I want to see is this thing be self-sufficient,’ and guess what — it is,” said Selectman Jim Federico, who manned a soda vending truck at the park. “I like anything that reduces the taxpayers’ burden. This is a good example of what volunteerism is all about.”
“I think we will see a big crowd tomorrow and an even bigger crowd on Saturday,” he added.
To help make SummerFest happen, donations of money or volunteer work came from the artists that perform in the event, local residents, unemployed millworkers and most of the town’s businesses, Marston said.
At least nine businesses donated at least $100, with another 42 giving $10 each, and unemployed millworkers helped set up tents and chairs.
For state Rep. Herbert Clark, who donated $100 on Thursday, the event was a chance to get away from the stress and commotion of business at the capitol.
Clark made a big point of telling friend and former millworker Ronnie Waite, who makes fly fishing ties, that Clark and his wife planned to get in some serious fly fishing this weekend.
“What kind of flies you got this year?” Clark said.
“All kinds,” Waite answered.
“Are you going to be around this weekend?”
“Sunday,” Waite said.
“We’re going on Saturday,” Clark said, “but I think I have enough flies to get me through. The wife likes fresh new ones instead of the old stinky ones.”
“Naaah,” Waite answered.
A few yards away, Laura King was fighting a largely unsuccessful battle to keep sons Brayden and Jordan Gagnon’s faces clean of the mustard and ketchup on the hot dogs they were eating.
“It’s very hard,” King said. “They love it here. Hot dogs are their favorite.”
The festival concludes on Sunday.