Comsog Fall Festival Celebrates Harvest Time on the Island

By ALEXIS TONTI

Sunday was a cold and blustery day, coming at the end of that kind of weekend, gray all around. Because of all that grayness, the bright sign stood out even more. Red lettering against a yellow background: COMSOG Fall Festival, 12-3, Free Soup.

Organizers knew what they were doing with that sign, the promise of warmth on a chilly afternoon. Though they bundled up to do so, in wool caps, fleece jackets and thick sweaters, people still came to the festival, held on the grounds of the Community Solar Greenhouse off New York avenue in Oak Bluffs.

Festival is almost the wrong word for the event. The afternoon more had the feel of a sprawling backyard block party. Good food, hot dogs and baked goods and, of course, the free pumpkin soup supplied by Linda Jean's. Good neighbors, everyone standing and talking in groups of three and four. Good fun, face painting for the kids and pony rides. The greenhouse, a white, tented structure, was open for people to walk inside and see what it was all about.

The benefit part seemed almost an aside. The member-manned tables were there, selling everything from homemade jelly to "trifles and treasures" to plants. And all proceeds will go to COMSOG. But as COMSOG president Thalia Scanlan admitted, the day isn't necessarily about profit.

"We'll make a little money, but that's not the main function," she said. "And who knows this year, with the day being like it is." She stood a few feet away from the soup table, with member Arlene Scotland. "We have a good time. It's a nice, neighborhood thing, with a down-home kind of feeling."

She explained about the organization. "We have more than 200 members, and we operate the greenhouse on a volunteer basis. We start seeds and propagate plants. People come in and dig and play, like an adult sandbox." Ms. Scotland nodded her agreement.

"It's nice in the winter," Ms. Scanlan continued, "when it's cold and rainy outside. We get the coffee pot going, people bring in brownies or something. It smells so good in there with the growing things. We garden together and we're learning together, but it's nice just to get together."

An older man in blue blazer approached, but Ms. Scanlan stopped him with a raised palm. "It's being reheated," she said. "Just a few minutes."

"I need to be reheated," the man said. He smiled and pulled his blue blazer tighter around him. He moved away and stopped to listen to the brass musicians playing nearby.

As they waited for the soup (everyone, it seemed, was waiting for the soup, put off momentarily by Ms. Scanlan and Ms. Scotland), Bill and Lupe Legge wandered about. They stopped at one display and peered into a water-filled jar in which a tiny frog swam about.

"We live on the mainland and came over for the weekend," Mr. Legge said. "My mom's a member. We figured we'd come over, walk around, see what's available."

Mrs. Legge tugged at his arm and nodded her head in the direction of the soup table, where a line of nearly 20 people had materialized. "The soup's back," she said. And off they went.

Volunteer Joan Fresher stood behind the membership table. Between bites of hot dog, she helped others with apples and hot cider. "This is the most public thing we do," she said, considering the day. "We like to show people how we do things. This is a community garden, and we need community support. We need this day to acquaint people with what goes on here."

A few feet away from the membership table, Oak Bluffs residents Carl and Anne Parsons stood with Jim Davis. "We come every year," Mrs. Parsons said. "We have friends who are members. It's fun, and we like to support the cause. We did some baking, contributed that to them to sell."

"This is just a nice little, friendly group," Mr. Parsons said, sweeping his arm in a gesture to indicate the entire affair. "It's too bad about the weather. Other years, there have been maybe double the amount of people." He stuffed his hands back into his jacket pockets.

Robert Potter had come with his wife, Deborah, and their two children. "We're having a good time," he said. "We came for the horses for the kids, and to make some donations.

"Yeah, they got two rides this year," he added, half-addressing his twin girls, Charlotte and Samantha, who smiled up at him. "Since you were so good, you got a second ride."

They excused themselves and made their way over to the COMSOG Fall Festival fun photo set-up, with its bales of hay and dried cornstalks. Mrs. Potter and the children put their faces through cardboard cut-out holes, their faces becoming those of smiling pumpkins.