Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mike Rustad: County Fair Memories

Ah, the perceptions of youth!  In this reminiscence, Mike Rustad takes us back to the Kittson County Fair of a generation ago.  If you're like me, it will resonate strongly with your own memories of that time and place...

I looked forward to the the Kittson County Fair each summer. I enjoyed the rides as well as the carnival. My brother Tony and I collected pop bottles to save for the Fair. We would frequently have 4-H exhibits at the Fair. I remember once we were on a Tilt-a-Whirl (or similar ride) and Tony got sick on the ride. The operator of the ride was a crude man with a number of tattoos including something like "Born Loser." In any case, he would not let us leave until we cleaned up the ride. Since Tony was in no condition to help, it was left up to me. As farm boys, we were somewhat intimidated by the carnival workers. It was quite common for the carnival games to be rigged. I think that we would lose only a $1 or so on these games but they were cheap tuition. I think that the Fair illustrated the seedy side of society as well as the best.

The Fair was like the Tale of Two Cities: the best of times and the worst of times. One of the worst moments was experienced by my Mother. In an essay she wrote for the Scribe Tribe1, she recounted how she placed her glasses case dutifully beside the hole.The case was cylinder shape and began rolling toward the hole because apparently the toilet was not level. In her haste to grab it, the clasp came open. Her glasses and keys went down the the dark smelly abyss. She was embarrassed but decided to take action. She found the Fair Manager and asked him for a flashlight and a shovel. The Manager asked her what she wanted them for. She was stopped numerous times by friends asking what she was doing with the shovel and flashlight. She dragged the odorous privy for a long time without success. For years after the episode, she was asked about how she got home without her glasses and car keys. For my Mother, this was the worst of times. 
The Fair was also the best of times. The lights of the rides were beautiful. For many years the Fair was not complete without a tremendous thunder storm and sometimes funnel clouds in the area. Later, a tornado destroyed the Fair Grandstand only a short time after it was filled to capacity. The severe weather conditions and the lights brought an indescribable excitement to the Fair. The 4-H exhibit hall was a favorite place. I always took time to look at every exhibit. I always wondered how I could never get beyond a red ribbon for my vegetables and insect collection. There were a number of local merchants who had exhibits. One of the highlights of the Fair was when the car dealer would give away a car and also bicycles. I never won but the anticipation of winning such a prize was greater than Publisher's Clearing House. 
My favorite place to eat at the fair was the Larson Family Stand which made the best hamburgers and generally had the best food at the Fair. Joyce Baldwin from Humboldt was a Larson and so many of the Baldwin kids helped out at the "Larson" food stand. Each of the 4-H clubs had special exhibits which depicted our activities for the year. I belonged to the "Stick-To-It" Club which was one of the oldest Kittson County Clubs. We had very good adult supervision. The Gatheridges, Baldwins, Bahrs, Wieses, Diamonds, Clows and many other families were active in the club. I remember that the older kids in the club were very helpful to the younger ones in exhibiting their products. Dennis Diamond was one of those older kids who was always helpful to Scott Clow and I who also showed sheep. Another memory I have is a 4-H parade through Hallock. A very pretty young lady asked me to help control her very large and unruly 4-H calf. I managed to keep the calf from stampeding through the streets of Hallock, but still received only a white ribbon. I can still remember the smell of those hamburgers at the Larson family stand. I hope that other former Kittson County residents will contribute their memories of the Fair and of their "Wonder Years." 
1 - The Scribe Tribe began as a continuing education course in 1966.  The writing class morphed into a club with meetings in homes. These were more than social events - everyone in the club felt a great social pressure to produce writing. It was Dotty Boatz who first suggested that a writing course taught at Humboldt-St. Vincent High School continue on as a club and she was one of the most active members. The Scribe Tribe proved to be a huge success, and Gloria Swanson and Virginia Ott ended up writing a very interesting book on Fred Jones, who was an innovative handyman and inventor who lived in Hallock for many years. The title of the book was Man With a Million Ideas: Fred Jones, Genius/Inventor.