Eric Bergeson: A big dollop of summer nostalgia
The county fair comes to town this week. With it, hundreds of suburban expatriates return to their small-town stomping grounds for a big dollop of summertime nostalgia.
The long rays of late-evening sunshine, the peak summer green in the fields, and the pleasant, temperate nights make it a prime time to come home and party around the clock with the old gang.
Holler when it’s over so I can crawl out from underneath the bed and resume a normal life.
Oh, I’ll probably end up in town for some of the celebrating. I have enough adolescent left in me that it’s difficult let a party pass for fear I might miss out on something crucial.
I still don’t know what that crucial something would be. I didn’t know when I was a kid, either. Back then, if you missed out on an event attended by everybody else, whether it was an official event in the gym or an unofficial event out in the sandhills, it was social death.
When people from the past return all at once, those long-repressed adolescent yearnings return, too. I want to be there so I don’t miss out. On what, I don’t know.
Maybe it is the vain worry that if I am not present, I might become the topic of conversation. If I am there, at least they’ll have to lower their voices when they ask, “Is he still around here? Did he ever do anything with his life?”
Or, maybe I have a deep need to compare myself to others my age and come out ahead. Ah, it is good to see that Paulsrud is using a walker. A lot of good those 1,285 yards rushing are doing him now!
So, out of the recliner I crawl, into the car, off to town, onto the midway to wander amidst an eerie mix of dimly familiar faces from 40 years past. In the neon light of the rides and side shows, the ghastly faces slowly develop names and evoke memories.
He smashed my teeth against the monkey bars on the playground. She played bassoon in band. In fact, we filled her bassoon with popcorn before the spring concert.
Whatever it is, the need to be there gets less with every passing year — but only after I’ve already been there.
The trick is to get there, sneak through real fast, say “you look great!” a dozen times, and squeeze out the back door before you get trapped in a corner justifying your existence by quoting from last year’s tax return.
It is like running through the sprinkler. You get a little splash of the old vibes, then you run out the other side, proud of your bravery, but glad it’s over.
Some people can stand under the cold sprinkler with a goofy grin on their face for ten minutes. They’re the ones who party with their classmates until four a.m. only to arrive at the first tee no worse for wear at 8 a.m. the next morning.
Sometimes, despite the best intentions, you get trapped. As you pass through, you get pulled over to visit. It is as if you are in the tractor pull and the sled drags you to a stop. Now you’re bogged down in awkward conversation with a group of people who aren’t quite sure how to politely escape each other’s presence.
The sad part is that other people are as bored with me as I am of them, and it is the fault of neither of us.
They have their lives, and I have mine. Unlike fifteen years ago when we were all out to conquer the world, we now really have nothing important to report.
The best possibility is if somebody starts telling stories from the past. The truth goes out the window. If it is a good group, nobody spoils the fun by pointing out discrepancies.
Oh, man, remember when we raced back from the drive-in movie at 110 mph, side-by-side, hanging out the windows? Lucky we survived!
Remember when we filled old Reynold’s Lincoln Continental with live pigeons?
Remember the icy day when we all shifted from one side of the bus to the other as we went around the corner causing old bus #7 (max. cap. 48) to slide sideways into the snowbank and confusing bus driver Cyrus to no end?
Remember choking down whiskey behind Concordia Church over noon hour?
Out comes everybody’s varied memories. Lies pile upon lies.
The stories improve with age, with retelling, and with questionable but very interesting new evidence provided by old classmates.
Only by dwelling on the legends we have in common rather than the legends we think we’ve become can a summer gathering be fun.