Sep 6, 2008

September 6, 2008- Woxall, PA

Oyster picnic Saturday in Woxall

,WOXALL — Drive to this tiny town in Upper Salford on Saturday
afternoon and you'll no doubt find the Rev. Bill Gaydos at his usual
post, shucking oysters under one of the picnic pavilions at the Old
Goshenhoppen Reformed United Church of Christ.

He and his crack team of shuckers will be shelling out 2,000 raw
oysters (and serving up an additional 8,000 of the popular fried and
stewed varieties) to locals and out-of-towners as part of the church's
annual oyster picnic fundraiser — a tasty, time-honored tradition for
the past 131 years.

An estimated 1,200 people converged here last year to enjoy the food,
live music and festivities. Gaydos expects as many, if not more, this
Saturday (or Sunday, should the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Hanna
force a rain date).

"Every year we order more oysters — and every year, we seem to run out
before the picnic ends," Gaydos said, chuckling.

Oysters are just a part of what's drawn so many people to this church event.

There's a special old-timey, relaxed and welcoming feel to the picnic
that you don't often find at public events these days.

The picnic is straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting:

People of all ages set their lawn chairs around the stage and chat
throughout the day, eating oysters, hot dogs, powdered funnel cakes
and other picnic favorites while listening to bluegrass gospel and
swing bands.

Couples spontaneously stand and dance to toe-tapping tunes like Glenn
Miller's "In the Mood."

Neighbors meet and chat amiably as they wait in lines for their turn
to enjoy the oyster feed.

And all the while, you can hear children's laughter as they run and
play in the background.

It's a genuine slice of Americana — one that is near and dear to the
hearts of many local residents, said LouAnn Pullen of Salforville, one
of the event's organizers and the church's secretary.

"I literally grew up with this picnic," explained Pullen, 55. "There
are so many stories I could tell you."

She remembers the time her father, 81-year-old Harold Oelschlager of
Salfordville (who's never missed a picnic), learned that one of his
daughters actually scheduled her marriage for the same day as the
oyster feed.

Not to be denied his annual portion of Goshenhoppen's famous stew, he
somehow figured out a way to give away the bride and stop by the
church for a quick bite.

Gaydos has his share of stories, too.

An elderly church member once told him that, in the 1920s, an airplane
began circling the picnic and landed in a nearby field, much to the
amazement of the crowd, which descended on the pilot as if he were a
celebrity and treated him to a royal feast of oysters.

While most picnickers arrive by car these days, trains and horse-drawn
wagons once brought people by the hundreds and thousands from around
the greater Philadelphia area to this event, Pullen said.

Traces of bygone picnics remain to this day.

If you look closely enough, you can still find oyster shells from
years past all over the picnic grounds, she added.

"This is one of the oldest community events around," Pullen said.


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