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  • It's funny, the memories a picture will inspire. As soon as I looked at the picture in the seed story to this one, by Qainat Khan, of the guy running down the street with a big fish in his arms, I thought of the Shad Derby Festival in Windsor, Connecticut. One of the very last things I did when I lived in Windsor, before I left to join the Navy, was take Katie Collins to the Shad Derby Ball. Katie was one of the contestants to be 1973's Shad Derby Queen! She was a Shad Derby Princess!

    I'm stretching my memory quite a bit to try to remember the details of this event. Just what exactly is a Shad Derby, you ask? It started as a fishing contest - shad are fish that swim upstream to spawn, kind of like salmon only they're a member of the herring family, I believe. Everyone in Windsor fished for them. I had even fished for them. In an effort to promote cleaning up the Connecticut River, this Shad Derby grew to be a full-fledged festival in the mid-60's, complete with a parade, a grand ball, and yes, the crowning of a Shad Derby Queen. All over a fish! Only in Windsor, I swear!

    For weeks leading up to the event, Shad Derby Festival fever swept the town. The anticipation was palpable. I was finishing up my first year of college, and couldn't have cared less. However, I inadvertently got swept up in the Shad Derby excitement. Katie was Martha's little sister. I had long since moved on from Martha - to the point that I had accepted that that ship had sailed, and wasn't coming back. I'd had my wild romance with Amy, which ended suddenly when we both met other people on a Pilgrim Fellowship Winter Retreat in Raymond, New Hampshire. That romance ended as crazily as it began.

    I'd fallen head over heels for this little Greek beauty who lived in Raymond, Leona, who would later dump me cold after I'd hitchhiked all the way up there, through a driving blizzard, just to see her. So, I was cooling my heels from the romantic scene for awhile, focusing on getting through my first year of college, and finding a job. Women had kind of worn me out at that point, and I just needed a break from them. I'd been given the word from Dad that I would need to find a job and a place to stay before the family moved to New Jersey. He'd gotten a transfer to the Philadelphia office, and they'd be moving the next month, in June.

    Then, Martha asked me if I'd take her little sister to the Shad Derby Ball. Are you kidding me? I'm the guy who didn't do Proms, before I got talked into going with a complete stranger to the senior prom, and wound up tripping my brains out just to get through that experience. But, it was Martha asking, and even though I knew I wasn't going to win her back then, I still had some long range hopes in the back of my heart, so I said, "Sure, I'll take her. What the hell." I had no idea what I was in for. I saw it as an investment.

    The first thing I had to invest in was a tuxedo. Oh, yeah, Martha had also mentioned that Katie was a contestant to be the Shad Derby Queen. She would be one of the Queen's Court. Then there was Katie - she got so excited that I was taking her, I quickly realized she must be seriously crushing on me. Oh, brother! She was a very pretty girl - in terms of sheer beauty and vivaciousness, she probably had it all over Martha, but she did not posess Martha's maturity, nor display her intelligence. I was quickly regretting this decision, but it was way too late to back out, now.

    I had to get a job to afford the tux and the ball tickets, so I talked my way onto a construction crew working down the street from our house, building new houses. I became a framer. I drove nails into studs all day, trying my best to avoid hitting my fingers with the hammer. This was before they had nail guns. It took awhile for me to get my swing down. I had very sore fingers for a couple weeks. The foreman of the crew gave everyone nicknames, and I quickly was dubbed "Hollywood". I was never sure why - maybe because I was doing such a good job acting like a framer that I wasn't! It was hard work, but I came to enjoy it. It was kind of like playing football.

    I wound up having a great time at the Shad Derby Ball, but I'm afraid poor Katie didn't. It seemed that nothing I did to try to make it a good time for her was good enough, and I quickly surrendered that effort. I wrote her off as a spoiled little brat, which was what she was behaving like. I couldn't believe how different she was from her sister. I'm sure that was part of her problem - I didn't treat her the same way I treated her sister. They were as different as night and day.

    At any rate, she proceeded to have a few drinks, and it didn't take her long to get pretty looped, and before I knew it, she was in the bag. I wound up spending most of the evening talking and dancing with her Mom, who I'd not gotten to know very well previously, but who I found to be most graceful and a delightful conversationalist. She really seemed to sympathize with my plight,and seemed determined to bail me out. I guess this wasn't the first time Katie had acted out like this. Mrs. Collins and I wound up having a wonderful evening at the ball, while Katie just moped in the corner, all the air let out of her balloon of however she thought the evening's festivities would turn out. Needless to say, she was not crowned Queen of the Ball. I heard all about it on the drive taking her home.

    The following week, I surrendered the college experience, realized the framing gig would not be sustainable, so I joined the Navy, leaving Windsor and the annual Shad Derby behind, forever. But, whenever I see a picture of a guy running down a New England street with a big old fish in his hands, I will remember Katie and that Shad Derby Ball that I took her to! (This picture triggered what was probably the first time I remembered that event in 20 some years!)
    Dr. Wu - by Fagen/Becker, Steely Dan from Katy Lied

    Katie tried, I was halfway crucified, I was on the other side of no tomorrow,
    You walked in and my life began again, just when I'd spent the last piaster I could borrow..
    All night long we would sing that stupid song, and every word we sang I knew was true...
    Katie lies, you can see it in her eyes, but imagine my surprise when I saw you

    Photo from the Windsor Shad Derby Festival Archives
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