Of Pools, Piglets and Penalty Kicks


Outside my window, the trees are finally budding and a restlessness is in the air.

Howard countians are sprucing up for spring, which means we're about to embark on all those traditions of the warmer months. It's about time. This is by far my favorite time of year.

Not that I'm neurotic, but so thorough was my conditioning as a child that to this day I won't go out of the house with less than three layers of clothing on until about March 30.

Maybe that's why I'm feeling so liberated now. Besides, Howard County offers plenty of reasons to venture out. The land of milk and honey is chock full of opportunities for young and old alike.

The Columbia Association crews will soon be out scrubbing up the swimming pools. Columbia, of course, is the capital of the neighborhood pool. Somewhere in the city's history, someone got that old political promise about a chicken in every pot mixed up, and today there's a pool around every corner. Two new ones -- in Kendall Ridge and the village of River Hill -- are set to open, and mark my word, come May 27 people will be packed in these places like sardines.

There's something about anything new in Columbia that draws a crowd, which always amazes me because while you have to arm wrestle for a lawn chair at a new pool, some older facilities are downright deserted. If you want to feel like you're vacationing at a private resort for the summer, find a pool in Columbia that's more than five years old.

And any parent with a child old enough to chase a ball knows that soccer season has begun. If Columbians love their pools, they're absolutely obsessed with soccer.

The Soccer Association of Columbia, which deserves a medal for something, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year with a May 27 party at Lake Kittamaqundi in downtown Columbia. That's the day the association also kicks off its annual tournament, which draws teams from across the region.

Kids all over Howard play soccer, and most are involved in the association. I have a theory that on Saturday mornings every car on the road in the county is headed to a soccer game. It's a field of dreams thing: If you schedule it, they will come.

Another event that brings them out in Columbia is the annual Lakefront Birthday Celebration, where we pay tribute to our fair city. This year's event -- at Lake Kittamaqundi, of course -- combines two traditions, the Festival of the Arts and the City Fair. The fair has long been sort of a cross between a quaint Main Street parade and a vulgar amusement park. Billed as a family affair, the City Fair had become a raucous three-day party for bored teen-agers. Parents held their toddlers' hands so tight the blood stopped flowing to their children's tiny fingers.

Thankfully, this year's event will be held sans circus rides and gambling booths. The fair is June 16-19. The Festival of the Arts runs through the rest of that week. There will still be booths, but this year's will feature community organizations, food and arts and crafts. And, of course, lots of entertainment.

I prefer this more wholesome approach, having long ago learned it really isn't cool to lose my cookies from a top the Ferris wheel.

They'll be lots of good entertainment -- including rides -- at the Howard County Fair this year. Held at the county fairgrounds in West Friendship from Aug. 12-19, this one draws them like hogs to a trough.

Speaking of hogs, I've heard an awful rumor that the fair won't be featuring the annual pig races. The thought that those critters won't be tearing around their dirt path to get hold of an old corn cob is depressing. I say bring them back and put 'em to work. On your mark, oinkers!

There's something so down-homey about the fair. The 4H competitions, the petting zoo and horse shows -- all remind us of a lifestyle fast disappearing from the county.

If you can't get enough of that old-fashioned flavor, try the annual Flea Market at the Columbia Mall, which runs every Sunday from April 23 through October.

Last year, I met an antique jewelry peddler there who could only be described as a sort of gypsy lady. She traveled the country, she said, carting her display cases and countless trinkets in the back of a trailer. You want to do something interesting this summer, try that.

Chances are most of us will stay put. We Howard countians are kind of rooted to our creature comforts. Besides, there's a lot to do here.

And if you tire of venturing out, there's always the O.J. trial.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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