Vernonia - For the past 30 years, people of all ages - from newborns to 90-year-olds - have gathered for the Vernonia Days celebration. The sleepy little logging town really comes to life.

The first evening, the annual softball tournament begins. Men's and women's teams from all over Northwest Oregon compete at a number of different levels. Though it rained the morning of the first day this year, the rest of the time it was sunny and warm, which is pretty typical.

It's gratifying to play softball, oftentimes with some of my former students. It makes me feel like a kid. But though the fields this year were pretty much debris-free and relatively flat, my 48-year-old reflexes may be getting too slow for third base. In one of the games I was feeling like a youngster when a well-built kid in his 20's smoked a one-hop liner off my right shin. The knot's still there.

At night most of the softball players camp around the track at Vernonia High School. Though I'm a relative newcomer to Vernonia Days, I've come to realize that many of the same teams come back year after year. The "campground" around the track is quite a social event.

Though my wife and I crawled into our tent around 10 p.m., free music continued to blare from truck stereos till the wee hours of the morning. You've got your choice of country.

On Saturday morning there's a car show on the lawn next to the school. Sunlight bounces off polished chrome. Rich glossy paint you'd expect to see on Grandma's best china. Squeaky-clean manifolds. Spotless original upholstery. The proud owners sit in lawn chairs next to their high octane labors of love.

ParadingA little later people line the sidewalks of the main drag for the parade:

Massive log truck tires roll by at eye level. Three and four-log loads like the old days. Wooonnng! The driver pulls the cord for the horn.

Kids along the sidewalk scramble for candy that parade participants throw into the crowd.

The aroma of cigarette smoke mingles with the smells of barbequed chicken and kettle corn.

Clip clop of horses' hooves echo off the pavement as cowgirls in Wranglers, Stetsons, and cowboy boots guide their prancing horses down the street.

The "Beater Town Band" sits atop an old burnt orange station wagon. One person pounds on an old Army surplus gas can. Another hammers on a 50-gallon oil drum with a crescent wrench. One of the other band members sits on the hood slapping a hubcap with the palm of her hand.

The Astoria Clowns make their way down the street. Rainbow-colored hair. Painted faces. They're peddling alongside their old ambulance. A set of horns stretches across the car's bow, from headlight to headlight.

The sidewalk we're sitting on begins to vibrate as 30-40 Harleys and other big bikes rumble down the street.

Booths and shops line the parade route. People selling grilled chicken. Burgers. They're selling jewelry and arts and crafts items. All kinds of things for sale, but what most people come here for is something money can't buy.

Mark Mizell is an English teacher at Seaside High School. His column runs the first Thursday of each month in The Daily Astorian.

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