To describe the village in which I grew up in as ‘sleepy’ would perhaps paint too lively a picture. Even a sleeping person rolls over or talks in their sleep on occasion.
In fact, technically even describing it as a village is a stretch. By the dictionary definition, Ben Lomond only qualifies for hamlet status.
Despite all of this, I love this peaceful little mountain escape, so I was pleasantly surprised when the local newsletter asked me to attend an upcoming event and write something about it.
That event: the grand opening of a new toilet block at the local memorial hall.
“How do you open a toilet?”
It’s not a question I ever thought I’d hear asked out loud, but that’s precisely what the members of the Memorial Hall Committee had to ask themselves upon completion of the $60,000 addition of new amenities at the Ben Lomond Memorial Hall.
People might drive through Ben Lomond and think that describing it as ‘sleepy’ might be an understatement, but some of my fondest memories of growing up in the area since 1995 have been these periodic gatherings that epitomise the very best about country living – cold beers, hearty food, a good yarn, and a sense of community and inclusion that can often be hard to find in larger centres.
It’s certainly a sense of community that is often hard to find when you’re on the road full time.
Christmas parties, weddings, fundraisers, and snow days have all turned Ben Lomond’s most recognisable landmark into a hive of activity and good cheer on occasion, so it stands to reason that the answer to the question:
How do you open a toilet?
Have a party!
While a Christmas party or a wedding comes with its own set of traditions and decorations, the grand opening of a new toilet block and entrance needed something special.
The hard work of the committee paid dividends, turning our humble hall into a cultural melting pot as Ben Lomond played host to close to 150 people. That’s quadruple the village’s usual population!
The most noticeable guests were the Tongan contingent, taking a break from their hard work at the Guyra tomato farm to entertain and delight with cultural dancing and delicious traditional foods.
It was a surreal moment to stand beneath the setting sun on a warm spring afternoon as more than a dozen Tongan men put on a show of dancing and singing. Who’d have thought they’d ever stand in Ben Lomond and hear such things while shoulder to shoulder with a foursome of Taiwanese kids watching on with wide-eyed enthusiasm?
Twirling home-made spears and chanting rhythmically, the men beguiled the crowd while the ladies shouted support from the crowd. In a village often remarked on for its quietness, it was something special to hear these triumphant yawps and see this fascinating display. A journey to the heart of the Pacific without ever having to leave the New England.
The performance done, the Tongans put on a traditional Tongan feast the likes of which the village had never seen. Thick cuts of pork and lamb donated by locals were served alongside such exotic flavours (at least to the average New England palate) as taro and tapioca, and all were followed by a Ben Lomond tradition of delicious, home-made desserts supplied by the local ladies.
It was a festive atmosphere both inside the hall and out, with tables full and spirits high. Like a mead hall out of medieval tales, the hall was transformed into a raucous place of warmth and gregariousness as old friendships were renewed and new ones were forged over beers and meat carved off the bone.
It was the kind of night that shows just why Ben Lomond is such a special place. After twenty countries and eight years on the road, it still feels like coming home whenever the car crests that last hill and the beautiful little village unfolds before me.
It’s that community and sense of closeness that, while not always on show, is readily apparent any time the community comes together in celebration or commiseration.
How do you open a toilet?
You do it the old-fashioned country way: you include everybody, make sure there’s plenty of meat, get the local women to prepare some scrumptious desserts, add beer, and let the rest take care of itself.
Do you ever take the time to experience the local culture when you’re taking a break from the road?
What traditions make your home town special?