Small town festivals show how people can make
their own entertainment
Tuesday, September 03, 2013 3:24 AM
"It is a juvenile notion that a society needs a lofty purpose and a shining vision to achieve much. Both in the marketplace and on the battlefield men who set their hearts on toys have often displayed unequal initiative and drive. And one must be ignorant of the creative process to look for a close correspondence between motive and achievement in the world of thought and imagination." - Eric Hoffer
Last Saturday I had the weekend rotation at the newspaper and covered a Polish festival in Ivanhoe and the Benton-Fremont Days in Hole-in-the-Mountain Park near Lake Benton, Minn.
The nice thing about the newspaper business for a reporter with a family is, when covering fairs, festivals, and events such as these I can take my children along. I'm a single father with a boy, 10, and a girl, 6. If I had any other job with an irregular schedule like this, I'd be in baby-sitter crisis mode almost constantly.
Covering Polish festivals in America is always kind of amusing for me. I almost always find I'm the only person who speaks Polish there, and I'm not Polish!
My children had fun, though, and caused some comment with their Polish first names. My son found some boys his own age displaying their collection of Bionicle kits and my daughter wore herself out on the inflatable bounce houses.
There was a street full of classic cars, trucks, restored small engines, and the usual tables of miscellanea for sale.
When we headed to Benton-Fremont for photos my little girl was asleep n the back seat and my boy ravenously hungry.
Fortunately there was a pioneer with a tent restaurant serving beer cheese soup in a bread bowl. Kids loved it, (my son was excited by the idea of his first beer) and now I have to get the recipe.
Not far away was a couple with a genuine restored chuck wagon making lemon meringue pie.
All along one side of the campsite were men and women demonstrating the ancient art of flint knapping, to the banging of Indian drums and black powder rifles.
I only regret I missed a Civil War recreation group meeting in Pipestone that weekend.
In summer, a reporter for a rural paper always covers a lot of these kinds of events. Historical recreation groups, local festivals, and lots of old technology restoration hobbyists.
Two weeks ago I covered an old-time threshing festival in Hanley Falls, featuring restored, fully-functional antique tractors and farm machinery. Before summer is over I'll cover at least a few more local festivals.
Some reporters might consider this kind of assignment part of the routine-but-unexciting part of the newspaper biz that fills in the time between accidents, scandals, and elections. But to me it speaks of America in ways nothing else does.
The reason I love taking my kids to these is, they see people making their own entertainment rather than sitting in their living room with the screen, waiting for the entertainment to come to them.
They see how history is preserved outside of museums and galleries by amateurs who have made themselves experts in one particular historical subject that fascinates them. They see people with otherwise unremarkable lives doing remarkable things. They are exposed to some of the incredible reservoir of talent in the people of this country.
And they experience the fun, the joy, the sheer exuberance of life in this country that shines through even in the worst of times.
Steve Browne is an award-winning reporter and columnist who entered journalism by accident while living and working in Eastern Europe from 1991 to 2004. He is the author of two books for English students: "Word Pictures: English as it is REALLY Used," published in Belgrade, Yugoslavia and Novosibirsk, Russia, and "English Linguistic Humor: Puns, Play on Words, Spoonerisms, and Shaggy Dog Stories." In 1997 he was elected an Honorary Member of the Yugoslav Movement for the Protection of Human Rights. He is currently living in his native Midwest, which he considers "the most interesting foreign country I have ever lived in."