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Welcome to 'The 96th Annual Apple Valley Barn Dance'

By Jason Wright

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 17 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

"The Red Barn" (oil on canvas, 30 by 40 inches) is by Gary Ernest Smith.

Deseret News archive

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt of the prologue to The 96th Annual Apple Valley Barn Dance,” a novel coming this fall from Deseret News columnist Jason Wright.

Apple Valley, Va. — Fall, 2013

It’s time you know the story of the Apple Valley Barn Dance.

It’s a 95-year-old drama. It’s the tale of live music, games, barbecue chicken and pink cotton candy that sticks to the corners of your mouth. It is one last caramel apple on your way to the minivan at the end of the day when firework smoke lingers in the air like a grumpy toddler who isn’t quite ready to leave. It’s the creaky carnival rides that invite delighted squeals from young and old.

The Barn Dance is fat corn on the cob roasted right in the husk and bathed in real butter made by Cole Brothers Farm in Creekside, Va. It’s even fatter peanut-butter flavored rice crispy treats drizzled in homemade chocolate from neighboring Wood Grove’s only bakery — Kodi’s Konfections. People will line up for them when the grounds open at 8 a.m. and they’ll be gone by noon. Kodi will promise to bring more to sell at next year’s Barn Dance, but she won’t. Everyone knows that nothing brings her more pride than posting the “Sold Out!” sign on her vendor tent.

But much more than food and fun, the Barn Dance is about one day of harmony between two towns: Wood Grove and Creekside, Va.

The two small southern towns sit in the middle of Apple Valley — a region in northwestern Virginia nestled between two mountains and known for its hilly apple orchards. Creekside sits directly north of Wood Grove and the town limits are separated by nothing more than the 200-acre Funk family farm. For 364 days a year, Funk Farm is the buffer between two towns with a history of hate. Then, on July 3, no matter on what day of the week it falls, Funk Farm becomes a sort of southern Switzerland. It’s the site of the annual Apple Valley Barn Dance and, for 24 hours, the grounds are sacred to some.

A warning: The more you hear about the Barn Dance, the more you might be tempted to assume it’s the story of Miss Liberty Harris, a quirky 20-something who’s recently returned to her hometown of Wood Grove and who reluctantly took her mother’s place as co-chair of the planning committee.

You’d be incorrect.

Some will swear it’s the story of Maxwell Minor, the charming attorney from the rival town of Creekside. He’s the man with a heart as big as the valley and a music studio in his home.

Nope, not his story either.

Then it must be the tale of Guy Ryman. He’s the head football coach at Wood Grove High School. It’s his first year on the planning committee, he’s only doing it to appease his wife and he’s going to be stunned at who’s representing Creekside on their side of the table at the first committee meeting. Plus, Coach Ryman carries a secret whose only voice is buried in a wooden box. He’s the natural lead character for the drama about to unfold.

Except that he’s not.

What about Wood Grove Mayor Carolina Kamigaki? Liberty’s mother had been co-chair of the Apple Valley Barn Dance Planning Committee for 14 years — an all-time record. For the 96th annual edition, she was forced to step aside when a local judge enforced a little-known town statue almost as old as his courthouse. There is, quite simply, no living soul who knows more about the history of the Barn Dance than Carolina Kamigaki. So, it must be her story then, right?

Wrong.

What about the other two members of the six-person committee? Roger Tomsbrook and Linda Funk? Both are small-business owners from Creekside, each have several years under their belts on the committee and both desperately want Maxwell Minor to marry their daughters. Either one would make a compelling hero as the residents of Apple Valley make the yearlong trek to the 96th edition on July 3, 2014.

Go ahead and put your money on them. Unless, of course, you like to keep your cash.

No matter the year and regardless the personalities of the committee members, the real hero is the Barn Dance.

Never forget that the Barn Dance is the only actor who knows all the secrets, treats everyone equally and never complains about the July heat.

The Barn Dance knows every recipe, the tricks to beating every carnival game and where every hatchet is buried.

The Barn Dance has witnessed every fistfight, every slow dance and every single first kiss.

Sure, the people who gather on July 3 each year to make amends and get along have plenty of stories to tell and lessons to learn. But don’t be fooled — this is the story of the Apple Valley Barn Dance.

And the Barn Dance always tells the truth.

'The 96th Annual Apple Valley Barn Dance'

"The 96th Annual Apple Valley Barn Dance" is a work of fiction. Maxwell Minor (Kirby Heyborne) represents the town of Creekside on the planning committee for the 96th Annual Apple Valley Barn Dance. This is the first episode of his Video Diary.

Jason Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The 96th Annual Apple Valley Barn Dance," coming this fall. He can be reached at jwright@deseretnews.com or jasonfwright.com.

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