Berwyn Houby Fest lingers on
First a little background. When I was growing up in Berwyn, a small suburb immediately outside of Chicago, families around us all pretty much fit the same profile. Eastern and Western European immigrants and first generation decendants. Dads works at the local businesses, factories and offices. Moms stayed home and raised children.
Back in the day, kids had play clothes and school clothes, nuns were allowed to nto only teach but also hit students and being Italian, Polish, German or Czech was as common as water. Most households contained at least three generations and often at least a couple of the oldest members spoke another language. Sometimes in place of English.
While the community was quite the melting pot, it was also a selective melting pot. As we grew up, chidlren who grew up on spaghetti ate pork and dumplings at their friends' homes. Corned beef and beef resided with cabbage. At that time soul food, Mexican, Arabic or Thai had no place. If it wasn't in Europe, chances were we couldn't find it on a map.
We celebrated St. Patrick's Day, March 17 - well, our Irish families did; but also celebrated St. Joseph Day, March 19. But perhaps one of the msot important ethnic festivals we enjoyed was centered around the first Sunday in October.
It was Houby Day. Houby is the Czech word for mushroom. And through my lifetime I have had a number of arguements about the truthfulness of this so take a minute now to google the word. I'll wait.
Ok, now moving on, Czechs and Bohemians, both cultures from countries which no longer exist, celebrated their mushroom. It started a week prior to the actual Houby Day.
Girls were nominated for Houby Queen, vendors applied for booth space up and down Cermak Road, a major thoroughfair which featured everything from food stalls, dried mushrooms rounded up by expert mushroom hunters; crafts, jewelry and clothess.
For several nights prior to the parade, which was held that first Sunday October, over a hundred local high school girls competed at the local community college - Morton Junior College in Cicero, for the title fo Houby Queen. Fancy dresses, talent competition, essays and poise were all taken into consideration. Each girl had to be sponsored by a local organization or business. Most undertook a portion of the girl's cost as well paying for dresses, shoes and other items.
Years ago, my eldest daughter was aproached by a local politician we knew to run, but respectfully declined.
On the Saturday night prior to the parade, a Houby Queen and Court are announced and celebrated (I swear I am not making this up) at the Houby Ball at the college.
The following day in my youth the parade started three or four miles from the end, and went on for blocks. Marching bands, businesses, social organizations, political groups, you-name-it, they had a float in it.
I walked the parade route a few times over the years, part of a group that was involved annually. I also covered the parade more years as a reporter for the local paper, The Berwyn-Cicero Life and even before that as a reporter for the college newspaper, The Collegian.
When I was a kid, too young to work in the parade, I can recall sitting on a curb, watching it go by, smelling great things from the carts, vendors and restaurants along the route.
But like all things, the Houby Parade has changed. There is no longer a four mile parade route. Now it is less than half that, vendors no longer line the routes and European immigrants have been replaced by Mexicans. I don't know what the spanish word is for mushroom. But Houby isn't it.
And while Houby was a significant part of the Czech diet, apparently it holds little sway in Mexican cooking.
A new parade and fest to celebrate cultural diversity is held each summer using the same route that Houby used to walk.
My husband, a police officer, attended the more recent Houby Parade for work. The Houby Queen, a student at the college, was Hispanic. A beer garden replaces the carnival. Week-long celebrations and a special section in the local newspaper are now things of the past.
Each year rumors swirl that the this year's fest will be the last. Yet each yet, someone finds a way to do it all over again.
But all of us know that at some time in the very near future, like most things that happen in the fall, the festival will withe up and blow away in the wind.