Hanging with friends by the bonfire

A Virginia Tradition-Field Parties

The following little story is a teenager’s confession of guilt.  It comes forty-years after the infractions were committed and safely after any statutes of limitations or the possibility of  being grounded at home for a month.

If you had the extreme pleasure of growing into adulthood while living in the rural areas of Virginia, the odds are very good that you’re familiar with the term ‘field party’.  Some more familiar than others.  For any un-knowledgeable urbanites, here’s the definition of field party according to the online Urban Dictionary.

“A party held in the middle of a field or farm crop so to avoid parents and police. Usually held by under age partiers and accompanied by a keg purchased by an older sibling.”

In Shenandoah County during the 1970’s, the total population of the entire county wavered around 25,000 people.  That’s approximately 48 people per square mile, a good chunk of whom lived-in or near the half-dozen small towns dotting the middle of the valley.  Some of those small communities had a nighttime police force of one or none.  The legal drinking age was eighteen-years-old, so a high school senior could buy their own keg of beer.  There were miles and miles of open fields and rolling farmlands.

The conditions were ideal for a field party.

The field party checklist:

  1.  A field, preferably owned by someone you know.
  2.  A source of electricity for music. (Car battery, gas generator, extension cords,etc.)
  3.  Bonfire, larger the better.
  4.  Beer
  5.  Bathrooms available naturally near the fence line.  No rinse cycle.  Drip dry only.

We were invited to a big field party by somebody that had heard about it from someone who knew the directions to somebody’s farm where the big party was held every year.  My girlfriend and a few other friends of ours were heading up to the party before me; I’d catch up after I got off work at 9PM .

There was no Interstate highway in those days, so the fifteen mile drive to a field party seemed a bit extreme, but apparently well worth the drive from what we were told. There was no also GPS at the time, but the directions that I was given seemed easy enough for a country boy to follow.

“Go south on Rt. 11 for about 10 or 12 miles.  Before you get to Mt. Jackson, right past Hawkinstown, take a right on Hawkins Road.  Drive for a little bit, you’ll go over the railroad tracks, then you’ll pass the radio station.  Keep going.  You should see the bonfire from the road.  There’ll be a few cows facing West on one side of the road.  The dirt road on the other side will take you right up the hill to the party.  Just listen for the band.  You’ll find it no problem.”

I had completed the first 4/5ths of the directions when I first saw the glow of the bonfire at the crest of the hilly field.  As I got closer, the silhouettes of dozens of party-goers could be seen against the towering flames.  It looked like the movie trailer for “Quest for Fire”, but with my girlfriend as Rae Dawn Chong and Led Zeppelin providing the soundtrack.  As the reins were pulled on my slowing Ford Pinto, my eyes frantic glances alternated between the road and its ditch-line, searching for that elusive dirt road, or at least the landmark of cows.

Then suddenly the road veered sharply and the Pinto went straight down a muddied ditch.  The car wasn’t traveling fast and hit nothing solid, but after it came to a stop, I looked like Neil Armstrong strapped into a capsule simulator, facing downwards after a G-Force training session.

The wheels only spun in the wet mud, the car was going nowhere.  So, I did the only reasonable teenaged thing and started walking up the hill to join the party.  The car wasn’t going anywhere.

Friends gave me a ride back down the hill after the party.  As we neared My Ditch, another car could be seen along the road, several young men inspecting the resting Pinto.  We pulled up alongside.

“Hey, what’s happening fellas?”

“Somebody ran their car down this ditch!”

“Yea, I know.  It’s mine.  Guess I’ll need a tow-truck”

“Nah, hell no.  We can push you out!  Get in and start her up!”

After Neil Armstrong managed his way back into his Apollo rocket ship, the Good Samaritans pushed the car back onto the dirt road.  Along with my heartfelt thank-yous, I handed the guys the luke-warm six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer from the back seat of the car (of which them seemed oddly very appreciative) then followed my friends back into town for a late-night feast of 7-11 chili dogs.

Pity those who have not enjoyed the rural life.  Great times with great friends spent fireside on a chilly night.  In the middle of a big open field.


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