Every year for the past fifty-three years the Ripon Chamber of Commerce has hosted the Annual Almond Blossom Festival. Almonds aren’t the only type of nuts grown in our area of the Central Valley of California, they just happen to be the most plentiful. In February you will see the beauty of the white almond blossoms exploding on the countless number of orchards around the Valley. What makes the blossoms so much fun is when the petals fall to the ground it looks like we’ve had a light winter snow fall, which for our geographic location in California is rarer than a blue moon.
So to celebrate the beginning of a new crop of almonds, the folks in Ripon decided a special weekend needed to be set aside for such a grand occasion. The last weekend in February is the time all manner of activities take place. We have a short walking/running event through neighborhoods. There’s also the Almond Blossom Banquet in January where the candidates for Almond Blossom Queen are introduced. There’s also a carnival at Mistlin Sports Park just outside of town. And there is the parade that makes its way down Main Street and back through some of the neighborhoods paralleling Main Street.
It is the parade that I wanted to share with you since that’s what I participated in. My oldest daughter, Laura Roots Spence, works for the Chamber of Commerce, so she’s been very busy for the last number of weeks. Word came down that convertible cars were needed for the parade. So I called a couple of friends who I knew had nice cars. One of those friends is Rick Van Unen of Van Unen/Miersma Propane alongside Highway 99. Rick is a former Recon Marine, and Vietnam Vet. He also happens to love cars. I have enjoyed being around a number of his cars over the past sixteen years, my favorite being an orange hot rod he had built. Well, last fall Rick and his wife, Valerie, flew back to Bowling Green, Kentucky, the “Home of the Corvette.” They then drove their brand new fire engine red Corvette Stingray back to California. When I called and asked him if he would want to drive it in the parade, he said he was going to be out of town. He then suggested I drive the car in the parade. I was quite literally stunned. Driving this car is like sitting on a rocket. It has a 460 horsepower engine. What an awesome machine! And of course I said YES!
I picked up his beautiful car Saturday morning. After receiving instructions as to the particulars of this car, everything from how to open the doors to the use of the FOB, I was ready to roll. He also told me to take it out and see what it could do. Well, how could I not? I glided onto the freeway for the three mile trip to my exit. With the coast clear, I stepped on the gas and had that baby up to 100 mph in nothing flat. No telling just how fast it could go, but that was enough for me!
My job in the parade was to drive the president of the Ripon Chamber, a.k.a., King Almond, better known as John Mangelos, who was neatly seated next to me in the passenger’s bucket seat. Also accompanying me in the car was our mascot dressed in the Almond Nut outfit, Alexandria “Lexi” Anderson. And lastly, seated next to Lexi on the back of the car was my 7-year-old granddaughter (Laura’s daughter), Alyssa Grace Spence. We were last in the line of Corvettes conveying the new Almond Blossom Queen (Amanda Neeley), all the princesses (8), and the 2014 Queen (Jessica Carmona). Behind me were the rest of the parade participants, beginning with the Ripon High JROTC marching unit.
We rolled along at a pace that was slower than walking, waving and smiling to the crowds on both sides of Main Street. It took the better part of an hour, but it sure was fun. Alyssa enjoyed sitting up on top of the car and waving to her little friends from Mrs. Luchessi’s first grade class from Colony Oak!
However, I couldn’t help noting the obvious incongruity. Here I am driving this beast of a car that is nothing more than a rocket with a steering wheel, and I’m poking along at 2 miles per hour in the parade! You have to laugh at the paradox.
Last year the director of the Chamber, Tamra Spade, invited me to offer prayer at Mistlin Park leading up to the Almond Blossom Festival. So the three of us, Tamra, Laura, and I did just that and the weather was fabulous. Again this year about ten days prior to the Festival, we three gathered for prayer again. The weather all week was quite pleasant. However, Saturday morning was very cold and heavily overcast. Prior to the start of the parade at one o’clock, I was walking along Main Street and talking to the Lord. Not that God needed to be reminded, I felt compelled to bring up the specifics of the aforementioned prayer request: I said, “Blue skies and 70 degrees is what I’m asking for.” About quarter to one, the parade was all formed and ready to go. Just as we began to drive to the starting point, the clouds broke, offering us clear blue skies, and the sun hit my face with such warmth that it startled me. I mentioned it to John who was smiling, which prompted me to say out loud, “Thank you, Lord!”
It was a glorious day!