Rachel’s family has been hit by what she referred to as “the death flu.” She won’t be using the tickets this year. “Just consider our house covered in a giant glowing plague symbol. The first kid just went down,” she wrote.
I felt terrible knowing her family was hit by an illness, but I was excited about this unexpected opportunity.
I’ve never attended the Maple Syrup Festival at Hartman Reserve Nature Center. It’s an annual fundraiser for the center, which supports natural resource management and environmental education. I’ve had no excuse, really, except it’s not easy to take my boys somewhere new if there are long lines, noise, and crowds. The festival offers syrup made from the sugar maple trees at Hartman, as well as pancakes and sausages.
I told Rachel I’d love to take the tickets. I thanked her for being generous. My husband’s out of town, and she had exactly the tickets I needed: one adult and three kids. I walked to her house, pulled the tickets out of her mail slot, walked home, and sanitized my hands.
Then I studied our weekend plans. Between Noah’s district jazz festival, Henry’s Wacky Winter Fest school carnival, Isaac’s respite time, and the weekly Saturday grocery trip, our options were limited. I knew I could go – I just didn’t know when or with whom.
I had thought about taking Isaac, but I was worried. I wanted to avoid a sticky situation. Waiting can be difficult for him. I didn’t want to be the only parent with three kids in the middle of the wilderness when he decided to abandon the long line and run to our van. What if he flipped out? I couldn’t prepare him for what would happen next because I’d never before been to the festival. It was important for me to go first to test the waters. Then if I thought it was something he could handle, we’d figure out how to best accommodate him and give it a try next year.
After thinking through various scenarios, I broke the news to Henry. “Saturday morning after I drop off your brothers at their activities, we’re going to the Maple Syrup Festival.”
He said he didn’t want to go. He said he didn’t like maple syrup. I told him that was too bad.
Due to parking constraints at Hartman, I parked the van at a nearby elementary school, and we took a shuttle to Hartman Reserve. A man riding the shuttle told us the syrup we’d be eating was made last year. This year’s Iowa winter has been too cold to harvest sap from the sugar maple trees. As the shuttle pulled into the reserve, three deer looked our way.
“They want pancakes, too,” an older lady said. “Who can blame them?”
Henry and I walked the trail and gasped when we saw the long line of hungry people waiting to get their jaws around pancakes and sausages. He never mentioned it, but I know he was tempted to turn around and go home. I admit I had the same idea.
“I’m not hungry,” Henry whispered to me.
“By the time you get your food, you might be,” I said.
The couple had remarked how patient Henry had been during the long wait. It was true – he did a fabulous job of standing outside while the line seemed to move at a snail’s pace. He didn’t complain or dig for the electronic device hidden in his coat pocket.
“I have three boys, and he’s by far the most patient when it comes to waiting,” I said. “One of my sons would have walked home by now. The other would have lost his mind.”
They smiled and laughed.
After one hour, we finally got inside. As we made our way towards the food, we saw fish, a snapping turtle, fossils, and a snake. We listened to a duo sing and play guitar. We talked to a staff person about the vision for their remodeling project. We looked at raffle items. We opened a door on a wooden “tree” and found a bottle of maple syrup inside. I thought it was hilarious, and I wasn’t the only one. (Maybe all the waiting had made us delirious?)
“So that’s how syrup is made. You get it from trees,” our new friend said. “That’s a little misleading.”
The event was catered by Chris Cakes, Inc. I learned he holds multiple world records for the most pancakes flipped in an hour and the highest pancake toss.
He literally tossed pancakes on our plates. If requested, he tossed them high in the air and guests tried to catch them. Because the place was packed when we were there, he was cooking and serving them as quickly as he could, without doing a lot of tricks.
“These pancakes are really good,” Henry said as he dug into his three pancakes. I agreed. They were delicious.
On our way out, I said to Henry, “I know your brothers would like to attend this festival. Now that we know how it works, we can go next year. I think it will work if we go as soon as the doors open at 7:00 a.m. I was told there’s not much of a line at that hour. I bet Isaac would laugh if he saw the pancakes being tossed in the air. We’d just have to prepare him ahead of time for the experience. Noah would enjoy it, too, because Hartman is one of his favorite places.”
Because Isaac and Noah weren’t there, I had two extra youth tickets I hadn’t used. I paid it forward and handed them to two different families who both were shocked and grateful for the surprise gift.
I knew how they felt – I had experienced the same thing when Rachel offered the tickets to me.
When the shuttle brought us to our van, I told Henry I thought he was the right person to accompany me to the Maple Syrup Festival. He agreed.
“It was really fun,” he said.
We are already making plans to return next year.