By John Rice
Forest Parkers are always looking for an excuse to party. Pepperfest is one of those excuses. It's a unique event, started in 2008 by Chris Everett's husband, Mike Frantonius. Mike had planted way too many peppers that spring. He suggested they invite neighbors over to hang out, consume cocktails and take home peppers. Chris reported that many brain cells died that night but not a single pepper lost its life.
They decided to make it an annual event and Pepperfest grew into a huge happening. Three years ago, it coincided with what became Garage Galleries. Chris had live music in their backyard and she sang to a sea of people. She saw that Pepperfest had outgrown basements and yards. It was time to take it to the next level
Pepperfest made the quantum leap to become an alley party between Monroe and Adams. There was a large tent set up in the middle of the alley for live music. There was a food garage, beverage garage and dessert garage. Between the garages, there was a full bar manned by Sam Gamboney.
Mike acted as my tour guide, explaining the history behind the houses, coach houses and garages. I had long heard that garages were converted into homes for workers at the Amertorp torpedo plant. Now I was looking at two of them.
Mike also showed me the quirky decorations in their yard. A porcelain bedpan bore some inspirational words, "Aim higher! You hit what you aim for." There was also a pink elephant, "Why wait to hallucinate???"
I felt like I was hallucinating when I encountered neighbors I hadn't seen in decades. I also saw grade-school classmates and other familiar faces. Being a roving reporter, I sat down with strangers to learn their connection to Pepperfest. I was surprised that so many came from outside Forest Park. I suspected they were crashers until I learned they were part of Chris' far-flung network of friends.
I also spoke with neighbors who live in this quiet enclave, a section of dead-end streets bounded by railroad tracks. They were buzzing about a train coming through for the first time in years. They hoped it wouldn't become a regular thing.
One woman I interviewed had relocated from Park Forest. Can you imagine moving from a planned community to a completely unplanned community? I talked with some women who thought one guest looked like Brad Pitt and that I looked more like Mr. Rogers. I was living the Pepperfest dream: good conversations with good people.
Meanwhile, Mick Archer played and sang at the keyboard. Chris, who had been a professional singer for years, crooned "Moondance." It was the perfect song, with a full moon shining down. She also sang "A Natural Woman" in tribute to Carole King but it had echoes of Aretha.
Chris said it was first time she got to really enjoy Pepperfest. She was able to sit down with a full plate of food and have uninterrupted conversations. At one point, there were 75 people sitting down to eat, while kids frolicked in the freedom of the blocked-off alley.
Though it was family-friendly, the Pepperfest Most Drunk Award was on display, listing the winners over the years. Their names are emblazoned on a mangled folding chair that was designed to support one drunk person but not two.
No harm came to a pepper, though, as no one took any home. One party-goer actually gave a bag of peppers to Chris. I guess she didn't know the First Rule of Pepperfest: No peppers.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com