It was the first day of the third annual Pork, Peanut and Pine Festival here and the Pork Queen was late.
Her white metal lawn chair on its raised platform of Astroturf under the green awning of the Colonial Funeral Home was empty. "Maybe she's one of those independent queens who lets it all go to her head," said a worried Ann Hartman, whose brother is a pork farmer. "Now my daughter was Miss Huntsville. She could have been Miss Cotton but we lived in town. She was always on time for events. But she sang. I don't know if this girl sings."
Hartman and the Virginia Porkettes tried to make the best of it. They had a chart that not only asked he question "What is a porkette?" but answered it. "A pockette is a woman whose livelihood is derived from pork products and who belongs to the local Porkette Association. As a porkette, you make a difference."
They sold red and white porkette hats, and Pigmania - "a original game of chance using pigs as dice." They sold necklaces with pigs on them and they sold pig earrings and charm bracelets. They sold piggy banks. They waited for the Pork Queen.
Across the great lawns and formal gardens of Chippokes Plantation the rest of the festival swirled on in the moist summer heat. Begun as Surry County's contribution to the Bicentennial two years ago, the two-day affair now attracts nearly 30,000 visitors who come to eat 18 hogs barbecued by the Surry County Volunteer Rescue Squad, pounds of crackling cornbread, and mountains of peanuts - plain peanuts, peanut butter and ham sandwiches, peanut soup, peanut pies, peanuts spiced and sugared as well as other less goober-oriented foods.
At one 1:30, the Pork Queen arrived. "Robin, where on earth have you been* Get right on over here, honey," cried the Porkettes as a blonde, blue-eyed girl in a sundress and a rhinestone diadem walked toward the makeshift throne.
It had been, it turned out, a mistake. Robin Ahrend did not think she was to preside until 1 o'clock. An animal science major at Blue Ridge Community College, and a part-time waitress at the local Stuckey's Robin said she decided to run for Pork Queen because "If you're from around Harrisonburg, you want to get out."
Having triumphed over the one girl who was her sole competition. ("We have trouble getting contestants" acknowledged one of the porkettes) Robin will go to Indianapolis next March for the National Pork Queen competition. She said she had been reading up on her competition in the National Hog Farmer. "It looks rough," she said.
All of the pork and peanut delicacies offered here were sold in row upon row of hand-made booths by a variety of volunteer, church, and social orgaizations. None was more popular than the booth run by the Runnymead Hunt Club, which sold barbecue pork and spare ribs from a booth adorned with four deer heads. The customers lined up three deep all afternoon as Pernell Newby and his uncle Wilton tried hard to keep up with the demand out of two overworked skillets and a small refrigerator.
Pernell Newby works in the shipyards at Newport News and on a small farm in Surry and he understands why the Pork, Peanut and Pine festival is important to a place that keeps so close to the land.
"For those that live around here," he said, "when you work the land, you're working all the time. You seldom have a chance to talk to anybody except maybe when you're down at the hardware store buying feed. You come here, you walk around, you might meet a man who's had a problem you've had and might know the way out. "And then, said Newby, wiping sweat from his brow onto a much abused apron, "for some, this kind of thing is way out of the ordinary. They've never seen a field of anything growing, they're never seen a whole pig. I've got these cousins in New Jersey, all they know about growing they've read in a book, they don't know nothing."
Not all of the vendors did as well as Newby. "Never mind," said one member of the Carsley Methodist Church to another. "You're selling for the work of the Lord, not for profit." "I know," said the woman, looking at the bright flash of her handmade quilts as hope faded with the afternoon. "But the Lord would have liked the profits too."
Later, as Robin sat on the throne, smiling for the cameras, a little girl approached her. "Why are you the Pork Queen?" she asked. "I like pigs," Robin said.
The afternoon shimmered on. The heat melted the chocolate icing on the cupcakes sold by the Rocky Hock Methodist Church. It melted the eyeshadow off the tanned women in their tennis dresses. It almost melted the T-shirts off the backs of the young men, but it did not dare disturb the silverhaired women of soft accent ane delicate trees and submitted photographs of their grandchildren for the inspection of their peers.
Nearby, the old men sat and fanned themhelves, talking of age, illness, and the weather. "I hope it rains, said 71-year-old Eugene Laine. "We need a good rain. But we don't need it all come in a hurry, you understand. Just a nice, gentle rain, when the festival's over."