by Joyce McKay
Students spent a lot of time in Physical Education at Handley practicing dances for the Apple Blossom Festival pageant which was narrated by the principal and superintendent Garland R. Quarles. We also enjoyed getting out of some classes close to the Festival to practice for the pageant.
I was in the pageant for nine years. My parents kept me out when I was in the third grade so that I could watch the pageant. It was great to see the performances on the Handley steps as well as the grassy areas on each side of the steps and the hills next to the windows of the school. There were dancers on special platforms on top of the esplanade as well as the steps and the platforms at the top and bottom of the steps. The queen was escorted from the front entrance of the school down the steps to the platform at the bottom of the steps where she was crowned. I am so glad that I got to see the whole performance. There were settlers being pulled across the bottom of the steps in a covered wagon, Indians dancing, the coming of spring, and patriotic numbers.
First graders were not in the pageant at that time. When I was in the second grade, I was a dewdrop. Then I was in the elementary pink ballet for several years. I was an Indian, in the ball dance, a snowball, and queen of hearts from Alice in Wonderland, etc. By my senior year, I was in five different numbers and had to run from one to the other and change clothes each time. I was in the Glee Club. Most students who were not in the band were in Glee Club unless they could not or did not want to be in it. Near the end of the pageant, we had the red, white, and blue chorus. Filling the steps, one-third of us wore red robes, one-third white, and one third wore blue. We sang a patriotic song that honored the different military services as a huge flag was unfurled over the entrance to the school. A flag was also flown on the cupola. I was in the red, white, and blue chorus all four years of high school. Another of my favorites was the step dance. We wore long crepe paper green dresses with wooden frames taped or sewn inside for the dance. After the dance, we lifted our skirts to display a pink apple blossom that covered our face and whole body. There were huge apple blossoms all over the steps. There was a select pit chorus picked by the choral director that sang, and the school band played for the pageant. They were located on wooden platforms erected near the bottom of the steps. I remember the song “I’ll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time” and Sousa marches. For some of the numbers, we had to run down the steps without looking down. I don’t recall anyone ever falling. It was a feeling of pride looking at all of the people watching in the Handley bowl and the beautiful scenery.
Since I was a child, I have been to every Festival. My sister and I used to sit on the curb to watch the parade with our parents behind us until we got older. One of my sister’s highlights was when Hopalong Cassidy came to the parade with his horse. I missed some of the parade when I was in college because I rode a bus home, and it stopped at various places along the way. I remember watching the parade on Loudoun Street where the Old Town Mall is today. When I was young and in high school, I enjoyed going to the carnival. It used to be between Rouss City Hall and the old courthouse. The whole family always went to the fireworks display at Handley. Going downtown after the parade and going to the park has always been on my agenda.
I have been a volunteer for the Apple Blossom Festival for 26 years. I have enjoyed seeing celebrities, bands, and beautiful floats and attending dinners, luncheons, and dances. As you can tell, it is one of my favorite things.