Joe Talbot turned an impaled marshmallow over a smoldering chunk of red oak with expert dexterity.
“This is what separates the laymen from the experts,” he said. “Just kiss the flame. Then turn it.”
Talbot, along with a few other Scotia Rotary members, built a handful of fires in portable pits along Mohawk Avenue on Sunday afternoon for the village’s annual Holiday on the Avenue celebration. The road was blocked off from Sacandaga to North Ballston Avenue, allowing locals to wander freely from pony rides, to Alan Payette’s rock band playing on the corner, to chili at the Scotia Diner, and s’mores at Talbot’s fire.
“You want it just golden brown,” he said, passing along his art to a group of boys also gathered by the fire. “Here. Remember this marshmallow. You’ll tell your grandchildren about this marshmallow.”
One of the kids took it off the stick.
“Thanks,” he said, blinking smoke from his eyes.
As president of the Scotia Rotary, Talbot has been part of the Holiday on the Avenue since its inception 16 years ago. He stuck around a few years ago when gale-force winds came ripping through and officials canceled the event early. The only year he didn’t pitch in was 2011, when the whole thing was canceled.
At the time, the Scotia Business Improvement District was running things. They decided interest was too low to justify blocking off the road, which raised a loud hue and cry from locals.
“It’s a big deal here,” he said. “Everyone wanted it back.”
East of Talbot a few blocks, 7-year-old Emma Reigel drew colorful letters on a Christmas card. She and a dozen other Girl Scouts worked away on low tables set up in The King’s Dancers dance studio, still bundled despite the heated space.
“I like purple the best,” she said, explaining the red and green also illuminating her card were seasonal necessities.
Emma’s mother Jaime Reigel looked on, holding a massive balloon octopus.
“We’re sending these to the troops that were just deployed from Latham,” she said. “A lot of those guys were from here.”
Reigel is on the committee that planned Sunday’s event. She said the cards-for-troops table is new this year, a supplement to the usual high school choir concert, gingerbread competition and such. When her committee took over from the Scotia Business Improvement District, she said the event changed slightly.
“It used to be a lot later,” she said. “We moved it into the afternoon. It’s better for the kids.”
Some things have not changed. Scotia Cinema booked its usual performance by an Elvis impersonator.
“I wouldn’t define myself as a big fan,” said Chris Keegan as he stood at the back of the theater, staring wide-eyed as Donald Romines, dressed in a white bejeweled jumpsuit, did the Elvis hip thrust under a blue spotlight.
“But you have to respect the guy,” he said, “really going after his craft.”
Keegan came with his girlfriend, Shannon Callahan, from Chicago where they go to college. Sunday was his first experience with the Holiday on the Avenue, but Callahan grew up in Scotia.
“I grew up coming here,” she said. “I remember it differently.”
She described a festival of burning barrels coughing sparks into the night sky, lighting up the faces of gathered friends. She described a street jammed with people and vendors.
“There was all kinds of food,” she said. “There were tents everywhere.”
In those days, she said it was still family-friendly, but not designed so much with young families in mind. It was an evening event, and a few hours made all the difference.
Sunday, there were long lines for the balloon artist — kids anxious to get a poodle or an octopus — but Talbot said the street was not quite as crowded as in past years.
“I think if it was just a little later,” he said. “It’s 4 and it’s over. It’s not even dark yet.”