by Mary Ellen Raneri
And, there we were – standing in a booth right on the Diamond in October! A place that was “buzzing” on Fort Ligonier Days! During those three or four autumn days, Brenda Haberlen and I led the students in the biggest happening of the school year. Yes, it was an annual event that topped the social calendar of Ligonier. It was the night before Christmas, the Kentucky Derby for horsemen, and the birthday party with Barney: it was the AFS annual fudge sale at Fort Ligonier Days.
Over the years, American Field Service Club was usually one of the best attended clubs at the Ligonier Valley High School, especially during the 1980s. In January, students participated in Winter Weekend, several days when Ligonier students hosted foreign exchange students. A pot luck dinner for the event was held at the high school followed by the Talent Show, an occasion where AFS students from the surrounding schools would show off their flair and abilities on stage. While this night proved to be a great fundraiser, the best moneymaker for the little club was the annual Fudge sale.
Several days before Fort Ligonier Days, my fellow teacher/AFS advisor/fudge aficionado and I would distribute the Ten Commandments of Fudge Making to all of our eager high school disciples.
1. Though shalt make at least one pan of fudge
2. Thou shalt use a recipe that has been tried and true.
3. Thou shalt write your name on masking tape on the side of the fudge pan.
4. Thou shalt–never, ever, under any circumstances and with fear of great rebuke – cut the fudge thyself. All pieces had to be uniform.
5. Thou shalt deliver the fudge to the basement of the United Methodist Church on the Diamond on Wednesday before Fort Days for the sacred ceremony – Fudge Cutting.
6. Thou shalt sign up to work at the fudge booth
7. Thou shalt not give away any free fudge
8. Thou shalt wait for the next fudge worker before thy departure from said booth.
9. Thou shall sign up to help tear down the fudge booth.
10. Thou shalt pick up the fudge pan on Monday in Mrs. Haberlen’s room.
All of these commandments insured for a successful and blessed fudge event. It was a duty. It was a tithing paid to belong to AFS for a seat in the club for a year. After all, ma-king one pan of edible fudge was the least a member could do!
The booth, itself was a square little wooden hut with counters on all sides. Usually we set up in front of the old Five and Ten, near the old Mellon Bank on the Diamond. The small cubicle was a dentist’s nightmare as we peddled peanut butter fudge, chocolate fudge, nut fudge, marshmallow fudge, sometimes-grainy fudge, slightly-melted fudge, and well, just plain fudge. Clearly, we were multifarious fudge vendors. You could buy it in packs of three for a dollar or by the pound, all dressed up in rectangular white boxes we special ordered from a local candy store.
Of course, along with the October Fudge Fest, came the October Bee Fest. Bees from all walks of life and from far and wide arrived to sample the delicious candy. Bees arrived from Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and other cities to rub elbows with the locals and sample the fudge, catch a buzz, and well, just let their stingers down and enjoy their lives as bumble bees.
Autumn bees that smell candy are pretty relentless. They buzzed mercilessly around the packages of fudge and soaked up the confections and the warmth there at the little booth. Some of the boxes of the sweets melted quickly in the warm light of the afternoon October sun. Dripping plastic wrap exchanged hands as we sold the stuff. Nevertheless, satisfied customers chomped on their newly acquired sweet treasures and swatted renegade insects away with a swoop of their sticky fingers.
Garbage cans particularly served as giant bee resorts, attracting many of the energetic insects. Dining on all-you-can-eat buffets of half-eaten funnel cakes and chunks of left-over apple dumplings, the bees kicked off their stingers and sat a spell at the overflowing lounges made of sticky wax paper, smeared paper plates, used napkins, and crumpled paper cartons. Feeling parched from the afternoon fall sunshine, the tiny visitors sipped cocktails from half-drunk cups of sweet tea and the nectar of unfinished Pepsi.
I can still remember sipping a can of soda as the bee hovered right above the entrance to my can, almost begging me for a sip from my straw. The buzzing creatures didn’t limit their territory to fudge or pop either; the whirring little critters were, well, nondenominational. For instance, they hummed around the snacks at the Italian hot sausage booth, at the sauerkraut and hot dog booth, at the pizza booth, and cruised the kettle corn compound. Sometimes boldly plunging right into your snack or confection, the dive-bombers let you know their bibs were on, and they were ready to devour anything at the festival. What was yours was theirs. I guess we just accepted the bees’ presence on the warm October days as if they were part of the family, like annoying relatives who dropped in for their once-a- year-visit, and for whom we couldn’t prepare enough tasty delights.
It’s just about a month until October and Fort Days; soon, I suppose we will soon make our yearly excursion to the festival in Ligonier. Strolling about the town and perusing the crafts is always fun. Then, too, I want to sample the various foodstuffs and maybe buy some fudge from one of the local students’ booths. Peanut butter has always been my favorite flavor, and I’m sure that I will enjoy every mouthwatering, sugary morsel of my purchase.
I’m also fairly positive that some group of bees, all dressed up in their autumn best yellow and black jackets, will drop in for a bite! Maybe instead of feeling annoyed, I’ll just purchase them their own piece of candy, position it on some out-of-the-way piece of pavement on Memory Lane and treat them to a taste of the festival. Hey! The little guys deserve it. After all, they’re part of the Ligonier Fort Days fall tradition!