In case you’re new to the party, you can find #1 and #2 of the My Hometown Series by clicking on those numbers. I’ve never had a response to anything I’ve written like people have responded to these posts. So, here’s installment #3. I really would like to get stories from other people and even other towns. If you have a great story about Grand Saline or if you come from another amazing hometown, please email me and let me tell it. Email information is below. Enjoy!
My Hometown Series #3 – Boot Skootin’ & Beauty Queens: The Grand Saline Salt Festival
The first Salt Festival I ever went to was in 1980, a year before we moved to town. My sister and I had come to Grand Saline to stay with our great-grandmother and great great aunt for a week or so, and the festival happened to be going on while we were there. We went downtown one afternoon to watch the parade. I remember sitting on the corner of Main and Frank Streets in front of what was then The Karat Patch jewelry store (at least I think that’s what was in that building then). While we waited for the parade to start, I sat on the curb under the shade of the Live Oak tree looking at pictures in a magazine of Mt. St. Helens which had erupted only a few weeks earlier. I somehow persuaded my grandmother or aunt to buy a Dr Pepper and a PayDay candy bar for me to eat and drink. There were hundreds of people downtown and we were lucky to get that spot under the tree. In my memory the parade went on and on for what seems like hours–I’m sure it wasn’t quite that long. But, I do remember being enthralled by the fire trucks, ambulance, police cars, horses…and the band! Yes, back then the band even marched in the Salt Festival Parade. They played the fight song as they passed by.
The best part of that day, though, was going into the Salt Palace after the parade
was over. It was a much smaller building back then and I don’t remember who “manned” it when it was open, but it was someone my grandmother and aunt knew. We went inside and I couldn’t believe that I was standing in a building made of salt. We looked around for a minute or two while they chatted with the lady at the counter and then before we left she gave me and my sister each a small salt rock to take with us. You would have thought it was gold! I kept that little rock for years after that. It sat on my chest of drawers among Star Wars figures and whatever else I’d picked up in my travels as a nine year old. As we left the Salt Palace I did what I’m sure thousands others had done and still do today–I licked the side of the building just to see if it was really salt. I’d never do that today, but wasn’t it great to be a carefree kid?!
A few years later things got really exciting when a big country music star made his way to the Salt Festival stage. John Anderson’s “Swingin'” was a huge hit on radio stations that summer and he was headlining the street dance. That must have been 1983 or 1984. We were living on Main Street at the time and I walked Downtown with a couple of friends to eat lunch under the big tent and participate in the kid’s games. I don’t remember whether he had played the night before and stayed over or whether he had arrived in town early, but either way, John Anderson sat down about two seats down from me at the table and ate lunch with a whole passel of curious townsfolk. The poor guy could barely get a bite down between the people coming by to shake his hand or get an autograph or just jaw at him for a minute. This, of course, was long before smartphones were around, so every time someone who had a camera wanted a picture, he would have to stand up and wait while the photographer focused and frame the perfect shot. He was a good sport about it, though.
That night my mom took me and my sister to the street dance. Just like they do now, the stage had been set up on Frank Street right in front of City Hall. The street was blocked off to traffic and folks brought lawn chairs and set them up in the street. My mom and her friend Linda and Linda’s family set their lawn chairs up on the sidewalk in front of what is now Ray’s Barber Shop. I don’t remember what was in that building back in those days. My sister and I found our friends and, if I remember right, did a whole lot of running around and playing instead of listening to the music. The street in front of the stage had been spread with rock salt for people to dance on and I can remember watching Murray and Delores Means two-step just about every song until the concert was over. There were hundreds of people there that night listening to the music, talking, laughing, singing, dancing, and just having a good time with their friends and neighbors. It was typical Grand Saline, and in some ways, typical America.
The street dance and parade weren’t the only thing fun about the Salt Festival, though. There were always so many people in town. Vendors were there selling just about anything you can possibly think of, there were talent shows, Gospel singin’s (that’s different from singing with a ‘g’ believe it or not!), pet shows, cooking competitions, horse shoe and domino tournaments–it was just a really good time. Of course, no Salt Festival would be complete without the Salt Queen Pageant. High school aged girls represented all of the various organizations and charities in town, dressed in formal gowns, and always put on a hell of a show! There was singing, dancing, acting, and who can forget the dads of the duchesses always bringing the house down with their special dance. At the end the new Salt Queen was crowned to reign over the festival.
Back in those days, the rodeo was on the same weekend as the Salt Festival and was a big part of the fun. People would put on their finest western wear and head out to the rodeo grounds to watch the calf ropers, barrel racers, and bull riders compete for the top prize. Naturally there was a calf scramble for the little kids. I remember competing in that once. Just before I jumped over the railing and into the arena, my mom told me not to try very hard because we didn’t have anywhere to put a calf even if I did win. If memory serves, I made it about 20 feet in that thick red dirt wearing my cowboy boots before I face planted in front of 1,000 people! I wasn’t too embarrassed though because there were about a half-dozen other kids who did the same thing. The rodeo
was always a fun night watching talented cowboys and cowgirls performing.
As I grew older I didn’t attend as many Salt Festivals. During my high school years, they almost always happened on the same weekend as the State Solo & Ensemble competition in Austin, and I was there competing every year. Then my family moved away from Grand Saline for a number of years and I just never seemed to be in the right place. For a few years the Salt Festival lost a little bit of its luster. As the town transitioned, people seemed to lose interest in it. But, now there is an awesome group of people who have worked hard to bring it back to life and this year’s festival looks to be pretty incredible! Country superstar Mark Chesnutt will be headlining the street dance on Saturday night, there are going to be tons of vendors, games, competitions, and a lot more. You can find more information about this year’s festival by checking out their Facebook page.
The Salt Festival is such an important part of the history of Grand Saline. I’m glad that there is a group of folks in place who recognize that and who have worked as hard as they have to put it back in the spotlight. I’m going to try to make it this year. I think with all of the craziness in the world these days it’s good to find a way back to happier times, at least for a little while. No, it won’t fix anything and it probably won’t even change anything, but at least it will reinforce the idea that some pieces of our history are worth holding on to.
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