Thursday, October 27, 2011

Northwoods Autumn Festival


My home town is Bessemer MI. I’ve never lived there but my maternal family roots go back 120 years in the place, it was there that as a child I first saw the Northern Lights from the back window of my Uncle John’s house and the Gogebic Range is where I’ve felt most at home. So I claim it with no less authority than if I were born there and dare anyone to say I can’t.

Along the way I’ll tell you the story of Bessemer, which is complex. But not today. On the weekend of October 1st the sun shone bright upon the Range and Pumpkin Fest went off with nary a hitch…though the helicopter guy never showed so the helicopter rides didn’t either.



I suppose Pumpkin Fest is Bessemer’s celebration of both harvest and Halloween, the latter held a month early. That’d be because Monday’s forecast calls for 45°. Folk will be wearing gloves, which means you can’t lick your fingers and that makes it tough to enjoy your sno cones, which (apparently) go all the way back to the Roman stinkin’ Empire. I read it on the Internet so it must be true.

Among the delights at Pumpkin Fest was a horseshoe tournament held down by the VFW, an antique tractor pull and a pie social. Abelman’s Department Store, where they’ve been selling quality goods since 1887 with attendant service you’ll never find at the Wal-Mart, held a sale. A pumpkin seed spitting contest was met and won. And of course there was food. Taken together, the sort of day many are familiar with only from old movies, if at all. The sort of day our corporate media delivery machine would treat as quaint while obliquely snickering at the rubes. Cynicism being the order of our day, as it helps keep the rubes in line.

When I arrived downtown, ventriloquist Dave Parker and Skippy already held a crowd of costumed children rapt. I first thought to show you pictures of these kid’s faces because they’re a treasure, but the Internet is no small town newspaper and I’ve no business plastering kid’s faces across it so Mr. Dave and Skippy will have to do:



I went over to the pie social at City Hall. Admission was cash on the barrelhead if you intended to eat pie, free to merely socialize. The table of pie stretched 40 feet or more, the auditorium was packed and the place bristled with anticipation. I was just in time to capture this:



I must be allergic to pie because my eyes misted over, so I went back out into the sun to clear them. In the grand American tradition, two members of the local Tea Party had a table set out on the street, taking their personal politics to the public square. Business was scant, beaten to Hell by sno cones.

Though popular movements on both extremes of our political spectrum currently dominate the news, that table served as reminder that our retail politics have shifted from the street to the Internet and social media, where we gnash the dry kernels of our myriad grievances 24/7. We need never face our neighbor in disagreement, need never consider dissenting opinion. That means too many of us now try to remake our community in our own proprietary image, taking little account of our neighbors.

We ought treat this newfound digital liberty with better care, as each of us sitting alone venting our miseries into the ether means we’re free to neglect what it means to be a neighbor.  And regardless of intention, in such isolation we end up working against our community’s greater health.

No matter what you choose to believe, that’s no way to teach those children on that stage how to be either a good neighbor or a good citizen.

Anyway, some days are just to celebrate who we are and at least at Pumpkin Fest, most folk paid politics and its attendant grievance no mind. The autumn sun was brilliant. Kids laughed and skipped and sang. Adults proudly embraced their community, while Dave Parker with his goofy songs and invariably creepy sidekick Skippy held children of all ages in happy thrall.

Though I never did learn why the helicopter guy didn’t show, and me having set ten bucks aside for to purchase a bird’s eye view…

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