After productive time in the Georgetown classroom, it was back to leisure and tradition: the annual trip to the Minnesota State Fair. As regular readers know, I’ve been to the fair every year for most of my life, and have not missed a year since the mid-1980s. I gotta go! So it was up before dawn on Sunday, back to National Airport and onto the Silver Bird. Climbing west over the Shenandoah Mountains, I cued “Minnesota music,” a couple of songs from the celestial St. Olaf Choir (from Linda’s alma mater), mandolin music from the great Peter Ostroushko, and, several fight songs from the University of Minnesota marching band. Those “rah rahs” triggered some happy thoughts and memories, not the least of which was the path from that great public institution to the classroom at Georgetown where I was lecturing the day before. I simply would not have been invited to there without my Minnesota education. It’s something I’ve never taken for granted. We landed Chicago early, and I ambled over to the next concourse for the short flight to Minneapolis-St. Paul.
My pal-since-1963 Steve Schlachter picked me up at the airport in his mom’s Buick. We felt like teenagers, borrowing Marlys’ big Park Avenue to head to the fair. Regular readers know my fair routine – first stop, the juried art show, where we’ve bought almost 20 paintings since 1986. We met up with two more longtime buddies, Bob Woehrle (also since 1963) and Rick Dow (since ’86). I normally get to the art show on the first or second day, and this was day 4, which meant the really good stuff (nice, and not too pricey) was already sold. There were a couple that caught my eye, but after emailing a couple of pictures to Linda we decided to take a year off. That weighty business concluded, it was time for beer (welcome in the mid-90s heat). Four sorta-old-guys had plenty to talk about.
We then ambled across the street to stop two, the Creative Activities building, repository to al manner of traditional arts and crafts, from quilts to woodworking to cooking. Rick had not seen the array, and even we regulars were again dazzled by the skill and time committed. Way cool. We then walked across the fairgrounds to Mancini’s, a longtime St. Paul steakhouse thatrcently opened an eatery at the fair. Steve’s mom had clipped out a “best new stuff to eat” article from the paper, and we vectored to Mancini’s for “pork wings” – when pigs fly and all that. These were lean shanks sliced perpendicular to the bone, cooked in a way that rendered them tender, and seasoned with traditional Italian spices. Oh my! Best of show!
From there, stop three, or actually a series of stops in the animal barns, where each year I renew my regard and thanks for animal domestication in all its diversity. Rabbits, then sheep and goats, then briskly through the vast cattle barn, finally to see the hogs, including two stars, the big boar, at 1,045 pounds, and a sow with eight week-old piglets. Check and done. Rick peeled off, and Steve, Bob, and I paused for more beer. It was after five when we ambled back to the car, dropped Bob at his nearby house, and motored back to Edina, the suburb where Steve and I grew up, and the house his mom has lived in since 1958.
Showered, paused a bit, and at 7:15 headed to 50th and France, a 1930s-era shopping area that was just a couple of blocks where I spent most of my childhood. Met Steve’s sister Annie for dinner and a good yak, then home for a final chat with Steve’s mom. Marlys Chase, well north of 80, is an inspiration, mostly because she’s risen above a lot of life’s challenges, and carries on with a sunny demeanor, a social conscience, and full engagement with life. I want to be like her in 20 years!
We slept in a bit on Monday morning, drank some coffee on the back deck, ate some Danish (no bakeries makes pastry like they do in Minnesota, thanks to the Germans and Scandinavians), and yakked some more. At nine, my nephew Evan picked me up, and we motored back to 50th and France for a caloric breakfast and good catch-up. I hadn’t seen him in a year, and in the interim he graduated from the University of Minnesota and is moving forward with a filmmaking career (it’s a tough business, but he’s determined, and is making incremental progress). Evan dropped me at the airport at 11. Steve and I were on the same flight to Chicago, where we grabbed a quick last beer at the Admirals Club before peeling off for St. Louis and Washington. A great, short trip to keep tradition and ritual alive.