CHINA — You have to pay attention to the list.

Every year at the scavenger hunt that caps off China Community Days, teams line up at noon at the China Baptist Church on Causeway Road to pick up the list of 100 items they have to collect and bring back within in the next two hours.

How hard could that be?

Allen wrench, yellow razor, orange toothbrush, graduation cap tassel, a Canadian nickel, a wooden spoon, the front page of the Kennebec Journal, cordless drill — not too hard to find, right? Green nail polish, a hard hat, a pencil sharpener, a Christmas decoration, school photo. Check, check, check, check and check.

All of that and more was laid out in the bed of Jennifer Willette’s pickup as she and her son Caspar Hooper waited for a judge to check their stash against the official list.

“Our house is a little disheveled. That’s what happens,” Willette said.

For 16 years, China Community Days, hosted by China’s Economic and Community Development Committee, brings area residents together for the scavenger hunt, a kids’ fishing derby, a pie eating contest, lawn games, a barbecue dinner, a cardboard boat regatta and fireworks and more over three days.

What will be on the list is a deep, dark secret. In fact, only two people know what’s on it before it’s handed out: volunteers Kelly Grotton and Russ Reigle.

For the last three years, Reigle has come up with the list; before that, Grotton did for five or six years after inheriting it from someone else on the committee.

“The rule has always been it either has to be something we have or we have had in our home,” Grotton said. “Green army men have been on the list. That’s something my kids have had. I had a feather boa because I went to the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” live.”

And you have to pay attention. The list included a photo of George Washington, not on a dollar bill. Someone brought a quarter, but that was rejected because technically it’s an engraving. Someone else brought a photo of a quarter, and that was accepted.

Willette had brought a novelty spoon, wooden spoon on one end and drumstick on the other end, and that passed muster. Someone else brought a chicken drumstick, and that was also accepted.

Only one item shows up on the list every year and it’s a photo of the search team taken on the day of the search.

Willette and Hooper thought they had about 75 of the items listed, although Willette said some might be a stretch.

They were hopeful they would score well enough to be among the first to choose from the prizes piled up by the judges’ tent at the other end of the parking lot.

They couldn’t find a necktie with an animal. And neither they, nor the teenage girls next door, had a feather boa.

“Everyone just cleaned up for yard sale stuff,” Willette said. “There were about five things that we were like, we had that last month.”

They didn’t have a farm animal Beanie Baby or a baseball card featuring any Red Sox player. They did have a brick, a camera that uses film, a Disney children’s book, car wax and a stick of chalk and a chainsaw chain. And they were crushed to realize they left both the sleeping bag and movie poster at home.

The Hothams, parents Heath and Taryn and daughter Serena, weren’t able to lay their hands on a boa, either.

“We were done pretty quick,” Heath Hotham said. They arrived back at the church with their haul at about 1:20 p.m. In other years, they’ve squeaked back under the wire.

Most things they found at home. Taryn Hotham marked everything on the list she was certain they had with a star, and made a copy of the list, but in the end they worked off the original.

“There were a lot of things from the garage this year,” Heath Hotham said.

They didn’t have a fishing license from a particular year, a playbill from the Waterville Opera House. But they were able to secure an orange toothbrush from Heath’s mother along with a few other items. And what they couldn’t find, like a can of Moxie, they stopped off at a story to see if they could pick up.

“We only spent maybe $5,” Taryn Hotham.

“This is our fourth or fifth year, and we usually are in the top five,” Heath Hotham said.

By 2:35 p.m., all the results had been tallied, and it was time hand out awards.

The most items collected was 87, and that team chose their prize first: a custom-made game table.

The Hothams did pretty well with 7o items. Serena Hotham had her eye on a game night package with a family game and snacks in a basket.

“That worked out,” Heath Hotham said.

“Here’s where we got into a really weird tie,” Grotton said, as she announced results. “We had three teams with 65 items.”

To break the tie, the judges conferred and ranked them in order of who missed an item earliest on the list.

Willette and Hooper were in that three-way tie, and that’s when the forgotten sleeping bag and poster stung the most. Even so, their score was good enough to score Hooper a croquet set, not the prize he hoped for, which was a beach set and a $50 gift card to Hannaford, claimed by the team they tied with.

“We’re going to go home and play (croquet),” Willette said. “We’ll get the neighbors who helped us with prizes come over and play. Everyone who helped us can play.”

Now, all the teams can do is wait for the 17th annual China Community Days to test their mettle and their junk drawers, garages, barns and vehicle cup holders.

The experienced Hothams have this advice: Don’t throw anything away and don’t have a yard sale.

“That popcorn popper was supposed to be a yard sale,” Taryn Hotham.

 

 

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