Once upon a time, there was a little boy who loved the Rice Festival more than any person I have ever known before or since. Each July, the week before Festival time, he made it his sole mission in life to report to others on the progress being made Uptown where the carnival rides were being unloaded from large, red semi-trailers by sweaty, sun-tanned men with large muscles who must have looked upon this well-scrubbed, well-loved child as something of an oddity. In those days, if they’d given the kid a wrench, he probably would have gotten right down to business and joined the crew.
Because, when you are a small boy, it is hard to wait for amazing to happen. He is a graying executive now with a lovely wife and three kids of his own who spends the bulk of his time in the air, having traded the Ferris Wheels in his life for different types of tilting and whirling.
I was missing him last weekend when most of our family gathered for the Rice Festival. There was a time when I thought that you had to actually BE from Deer River to appreciate the Festival since what it is, more than anything, is a great big family reunion. But then we all had children who, even as adults, wait for the first weekend in July and all that the Rice Festival offers. This year, they and their cousins and college friends ate their way from one end of the midway to the other, consuming copious amounts of hamburgers and fry bread tacos, playing card after card of Bingo, and rocking out to The Dweebs until the wee hours of Sunday morning. They’ve gone from begging their parents for one more ride, one more Sno-cone, one more of everything to pitchers of beer they buy themselves.
When I walk through town, I run into old classmates and neighbors and spend a few minutes catching up. I see another generation of men who look like their dads and women who look like their mothers doing the heavy lifting that keeps a summertime tradition alive in a small town.
It is good. This being from a small town thing.
I’m glad that little boy of long ago and I and all our relations were born in this one.
2 Replies to “A Gathering”
Boy, you are SO right about growing up in a small town. But, here’s a weird one – I live within fifteen minutes of Rice Lake – right here in Southern Ontario (and it’s a truly magical place: )
Hahaha! The festival’s full name is “The World’s Largest Wild Rice Festival” and it has been held for the past 65 years in Deer River. It used to be held closer to the time that wild rice is harvested here in northern Minnesota but for some reason (probably related to tourism) it was changed to earlier in the summer a couple of decades ago. Growing up in a small town was great. Everyone knew you, but….everyone KNEW you so there was this feeling of safety that is lacking in the bigger metro areas, to be sure. Thanks for your comments! I’ve been away at culture camp with my two big kids for the past week and am just now catching up.