I spent the last two New Year’s Eves on Chincoteague Island, a place familiar to many because of the beloved classic children’s book, Misty of Chincoteague. The first trip, a spur-of-the-moment one, was prompted by the fact that my then 11-year old granddaughter was reading Misty—but was made all the more enticing by our discovery, when we checked the website, that there would be a midnight Horseshoe Drop at a park on Main Street next to the town library. A Horseshoe Drop! It sounded like the kind of small-town community event that would be too good to miss. And so on the afternoon of December 31, a friend, a dog, my granddaughter, her brother, and I threw a few things into the car and set off on the two-hour journey across Chesapeake Bay and up the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
The sun had set by the time we checked into our lodgings. Chincoteague is an even smaller town in the winter than in the summer, with only a few shops and restaurants open for business, and so I asked for a recommendation about where to eat dinner prior to the Horseshoe Drop. The young woman at the desk suggested Bill’s Seafood. Would we need reservations? Oh, no, she said. Not even on New Year’s Eve? I pressed. No, not even then. She was local and emphatic, and so I believed her. She also suggested that we try one of the coffee shops the next morning where we might glimpse Marguerite Henry, author of the Misty books, having breakfast.
Though I am sure she meant to be helpful, it turns out that the young woman wasn’t much on accuracy. Marguerite Henry died in 1997. And if one wants to eat at Bill’s Seafood on Chincoteague Island on New Year’s Eve, one needs to have made a reservation well in advance.
But the Horseshoe Drop itself—preceded by a costume promenade and accompanied by holiday lights and hot chocolate—was so much fun that we returned this past December 31 for a second year, a sort of a do-over, this time with dinner reservations at Bill’s. (Worth the year’s wait.) After dinner, there were again the lights, the costumes, and the hot chocolate. And again, just before midnight, expectant eyes turned to the large lighted horseshoe glowing with promise at the top of the flagpole. Ten! It moved down an inch. Nine! It stopped. Eight! It bounced up a little. Seven! Another inch or two down. Six! It was clearly stuck. Five! It jiggled again, this time rather more vigorously, and then Four! — A gasp went up from the crowd as the golden horseshoe not only stayed stuck but also went dark. Oh, no! Three! Two! One! Time had moved on, and even unaccompanied by the lighted horseshoe, 2015 had arrived.
I don’t know how it was where you were just then, but on Chincoteague Island, my merry little band of travelers shared with one of Virginia’s all-time great small towns a moment that was merry and magical, filled with laughter and grace and hope, and with cheering and hugging and applause. Then came the icing on the cake. At 12:03 a.m. (my 10-year old grandson noted the precise time), as the crowd milled about, exchanging good wishes and blowing party horns, the still-dark horseshoe finally dropped. It tumbled down the flagpole so fast it seemed to be trying to make up for lost time. Affable revelers whooped and clapped, perhaps even more delighted by the dark, delayed drop than they would have been a timely, well-lighted descent.
If there is a point to this story, it is a gentle one having to do with the goodness of small communities celebrating together. Or perhaps it suggests something about staying open to possibility rather than obsessing over arrangements. Or maybe it has to do with remembering that whether or not I have reservations, whether or not the horseshoe drops as planned, grace abounds. In any event, my hope is to live into the rest of 2015 the way I was spent New Year’s Eve on Chincoteague Island—open to playfulness, grateful for serendipity, and filled with joy.
Meanwhile, a billboard we passed on the way home got my same merry little crew of travelers thinking about next New Year’s Eve. We just may check out the Crab Pot Drop at Cape Charles, another of Virginia’s wonderful small towns. Anyone want to join us?