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Summer Celebrations

This time of year, you can find small-town celebrations every weekend. County fairs. All-school reunions. One-hundred-twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations.

Prairie Chicken days. Turkey days. Pheasant festivals. Water carnivals. Walleye weekends. Muskrat madness. Beard contests. Tike pageants. Style shows.

Every town worth its salt comes up with an excuse to throw a once-in-a-lifetime summer celebration every three-to-five years.

For every 100 people who live in a small town today, five hundred have left it over the past seventy years to go live in Edina or Seattle, and it is good to create an excuse for them all to come back and reminisce.

Up go the circus tents, the dunking stands, the flea markets, and the folding chairs. Out come the flatbed stages and the huge fifty-gallon drum barbeque machines.

The conversations sound the same everywhere you go: "Well, if it isn't Skooter Nelson! Good grief, it's been years!"

After that, the conversation sometimes takes off as old friends catch up. More often, talk fizzles into generalities of the "do you ever hear from Patch Olson?" type.

When people really having nothing in common, they resort to talking about which hotel in Fargo they are staying at, or how many miles-per-gallon they get on their RV.

The worst-case scenario is getting stuck with some youthful Grandma who is convinced that her grandkids are as newsworthy as the Olympics, fully deserving of round-the-clock coverage.

Listening to her carry on is like being subjected to a live version of a Christmas letter -- except you can't throw proud Grandma's live version in the wicker basket and read it sometime in the distant future. She's got you by the throat.

Several types of people attend summer small town functions. The proudest are those who have driven from Vera Cruz, CA where they live in the very best retirement community in the nation, home to retired Generals, Cabinet officials, presidents and foreign leaders.

After much deliberation, the West Coasters consented to descend upon their old home town in their monster RV -- although the humidity is unbearable here, the mosquitoes a pain and the winters an open sore worth bringing up every five minutes even though it is eighty-five degrees out today.

Some proud Grandmas manage to snag a grandkid or two to come along for show-and-tell, although when you actually meet the young Rhodes scholar computer genius, who is bored out of his mind -- dying, just dying to get back to civilization -- it becomes apparent the proud Grandma has been embellishing a bit. The kid will not bring us world peace.

As for locals who attend summer celebrations, there are many types.

Most importantly, there are the community activists who came up with the whole idea and have to see it through to the end. Na?ve and idealistic, they jump into planning the celebration with gusto, assuming their participation will bring them eventual approval and gratitude.

It does not. Their reward is in heaven. Once realize that, they never do it again.

Celebrations wouldn't be celebrations without the professional attenders, those who drive across the prairie from neighboring towns, hair slicked back, perms fluffed up to the size of a basketball, top button buttoned -- people who in the off-season attend every co-op annual meeting, every free dinner, every open house within a seventy mile radius.

The professional attenders know each other, visit with each other about the thunderstorm at last weekend's celebration down the road -- and fill the chairs to make even the biggest flop of a celebration look like a success.

Then there are the locals who scamper in for a quick meal and get out of there as fast as possible. Sometimes they get snagged for a quick conversation, emphasis on quick.

If they're smart, they will wear a dirty apron, carry a hammer and walk fast enough so Proud Grandma from Tacoma can't corner them at the food stand with her picture book.

There are the fly-by-night promoters and profiteers, the people who try to make a killing on t-shirts, raffles tickets, nutritional supplements or deep fried foods.

And finally, there are invisible folks, the locals who disappear, or cook up a reason to be gone, or who hide in their shop, waiting for things to return to normal.

As the bass guitar pounds at the dance downtown, they sleep soundly, dreaming of Monday morning.