"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Monday, August 22, 2016

We're in a blessed time of summer

The period between the fair and the start of school is the most underrated part of summer. The weather has settled down. The coolness in the evening air is refreshing. We hear crickets at night.
The Threshing Bee is another end-of-summer sign. Sorry, but I haven't been there in years. I remember feeling thrilled as I won a liter of Pepsi in a ring-toss. I remember Donnelly personalities who have since gone to their reward. I had to tell Darlene Awsumb one year my coffee wasn't hot enough. She remedied that. I remember the Upper Mississippi Bluegrass Band at the Threshing Bee. I remember Mr. Sax dancing with his daughter, the queen, at the start of the dance at the Donnelly Town Hall. That hall is an old WPA project. Thank you, FDR.
The harvest will clean out the air further. The characteristics of fall have always given me a feeling of euphoria. Is that typical? As a kid I'd see promos for "NBC Week" on TV. That was the much-anticipated week when NBC would unveil its new fall TV shows. The shows were hyped so endlessly. They all seemed so intriguing and inviting. But of course they could became stale quickly, falling under the ax of cancellation.
Those were the days of the "Big 3" TV networks. For a long time in my youth, NBC was all we got. Therefore I watched Huntley and Brinkley and not Walter Cronkite. Cronkite gave that famous message about how it was about time we just got out of Viet Nam. If we had the media landscape of today, that conclusion would have been obvious much sooner. It should have been obvious anyway.
Brinkley endeared himself to us all when he broke up laughing, unable to recover, after his partner read a story about the Maraschino cherry crop. It defies understanding that a show like "Star Trek," destined for such permanent treatment as a classic, got canceled because of ratings struggles. The writing was on the wall for Star Trek's last season. Some of the investment in this show was pulled, leading to artistic shortcomings, but the last year ensured that enough total episodes of the show would be in the vault for syndication. And, what a story this show became in syndication, showing up on the likes of WTCN TV in the Twin Cities.
We sure hear a lot of the "back to school" theme this time of year. This was a downer for my generation. We were the generation that got whipped and abused as the U.S. felt determined to outdo the Russians in the Cold War. Our nation's leaders felt we had to excel to high heights in science and math. It was misguided, in my view. Let me clarify: It was certainly fine to try to cultivate an elite of young people who could be geniuses in science and math. The folly was clearly in suggesting that all kids be elevated to that level.
School was grim. The atmosphere was almost prison-like. We'd hear "the bell" and then move from one classroom to another. Heaven help us if we simply got caught in the hallway at an improper time. You'd have to have a "pass." The atmosphere can't be so draconian today, can it?
I took classes in the 1914 building, now razed of course. I was a student during "split shifts," that desperate time when the teeming number of the boomers became a pain - make that challenge. I was a student for the "buddy system" where rural kids were forced to stay in town when bad winter weather was upon us. Problem was, the buddy system could also get used when the forecast merely was bad.
I believe those were the days when public schools were desperate to the point of endangering kids' lives, to get in school days, so to get state aid money. I think the Chokio-Alberta school bus incident was attributable to that. I believe the state relaxed guidelines subsequently. Kids could be allowed to spend a few extra days at home, even if this would lessen the odds of becoming a science/math genius.
Those science/math goals may have ruined my whole outlook on life. I struggled, but worse than that, I learned to be calculating and devious, devising "end runs" to simply get past my school requirements. Surely that made me cynical. I was self-motivated to read. I always digested the TV news with great interest, going all the way back to pre-school and the Eisenhower administration! I developed a savant-like skill in writing that probably made teachers think I was smarter than I was. I did have an inquiring mind. Teachers probably lowered the hurdles for me a little, sensing that surely I had the intelligence to progress. Did I? Good question. I literally could not do algebra.
So, this is the time of year, with the county fair behind us, when kids start pondering the new education year ahead of them. Labor Day weekend is our last big fling. Labor Day: strange holiday. What is its purpose? Is it to honor organized labor or working people in general?
Labor unions have been on the ropes. I don't think we will ever again see people demonstrating with picket signs on the borders of our U of M-Morris. It was an incredible turn-off the last time it happened. I don't think the community could stomach it again. Many UMM donors will decide to direct their money elsewhere. We had to wonder: How did the work of all those strikers get done during the duration of a long strike? Didn't they have valuable, essential work to do?
Certain people in this town will gnash their teeth as they read my comments about this. Most people assuredly agree with me.
A long-time Donnelly resident tells me this year's Threshing Bee could be the last. I have to assume it has become more of a struggle, just based on how all the tiny rural towns have lost viability.
We surely miss those old days when the towns were more vibrant and had so many interesting personalities. Remember Del Holdgrafer, the artist from Donnelly? Donnelly seemed to have more than its share of interesting personalities. Donnelly once supported its own school. Cyrus had its own high school sports teams. Chokio-Alberta had a long colorful history of prep sports. My, I covered those Spartans at the Metrodome, twice! So much of all that is gone with the wind. We're not the same.
What about our county fair? My family went out there innocently enough this year. The fair announced it would start on Tuesday this year. We went out on Wednesday. I was too thick-headed, evidently, to sort out what was really happening. Wednesday was not really Day 2 of the fair. It wasn't even Day 1. The true Day 1 of the fair, as always, was Thursday. If I had known that, we would have behaved accordingly. The fair isn't "on" if the 4-H foodstand isn't open. It isn't "on" if you can't get a brownie sundae from the 4-H foodstand.
We approached the place where we normally park - that big open space north of the ethanol plant - and discovered "private parking" signs. We learned that Superior had put up stakes. Naturally I was offended. Our Stevens County Fair is supposed to be completely open to the public - that's the whole idea, isn't it? What makes Superior so important that they can take over a big chunk of it, telling the public sorry, you'll have to park by the Lee Center. The Lee Center parking is a long distance from many of the most popular fair attractions. Why not make the Superior people park there, while the rest of us in the general public can park in our old favorite spot?
Maybe we should ask the question of whether anything corrupt is going on, in terms of the relationship of the fair board and Superior.
This wrinkle of the fair completely surprised us. I went out there hoping to just follow our usual routine. We were chased off, in effect, and we were in no mood to return to the fair, not even to have those brownie sundaes.
Were those "private parking" signs legally enforceable? Remember, that notorious police tent is located right next to the parking lot in question. Our police have a reputation of being unforgiving. Maybe this is because of all the international students at UMM. Law enforcement promises UMM interests that its law enforcement efforts will be vigorous. Vigorous they are. If I were spotted parking in the Superior space, and if we departed from our car for the fairgrounds, would we be at risk of getting some sort of trespassing citation from the police? Who wants to take a chance?
I have suggested that it would be better for Superior to sponsor a fair event, but the event would still be a fair event. I have been told that one reason for the community supper being held on Tuesday - most unusual - was that the Superior people should have a chance to attend it. Otherwise they'd be hung up at their own, private event.
Bottom line: I'm sick of even hearing all these references to Superior in discussions about our fair. They need to retreat and leave the rest of us alone.
Labor Day weekend meant a lot to me when I worked at the paper. Like Memorial Day, we'd put out a "bulldog edition" on Friday and then get a three-day weekend (but we'd have to knock ourselves out first). One year I attended a Catholic church service in St. Louis Park on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. The priest talked about the significance of work in a Biblical context. I soaked it all in, being such a committed "working person" at that time. Today? Ahem.
Everyone please enjoy the upcoming fall months. Just try to watch less football.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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