Whooshed west on Thursday, August 24 for the annual visit to the Minnesota State Fair. As I note every August in these pages, I have not missed the fair since the mid-1980s. The morning nonstop from Washington left later than in 2016, arrived late, then car-rental snafus, thus I did not get to the fairgrounds district until after one. It was opening day, and there were no parking places to be found. Five pals were waiting. I lucked out, spotting Mary on a bike at the corner of Simpson St. and Nebraska Ave.; she was waving a small round sign that read $20. Done. If I wasn’t already way late, I would have chatted with her, for in the first minute I learned she was from Harlowton, Montana, less than 10 miles from where my dad was born. It would have been a memorable T-t-S, I’m sure!
I walked as fast as my gimpy knees would allow, and was hugging pals in front of the Fine Arts Building about 1:40. Longtime friends Rick Dow, Bob Woehrle, and Steve Schlachter were there, as was Randy Essell, two-decade colleague from American Airlines making his first visit to the fair (his brother has lived in Minneapolis for years), and a new guy, Jim, a college pal of Steve’s. We chatted a bit, then headed into the juried show. For nearly 30 years, we’ve been buying art from the show. Before leaving, Linda issued strict instructions: no more landscapes. I concurred, because we’ve got plenty of lovely country scenes from all over Minnesota, from Lake Superior to wheat fields in the drier western reaches. Not three minutes inside, I spotted a wonderful pastel, titled “City Garden,” and sent Linda a pic from my iPhone. We walked the rest of the show, but there was none nicer than the pastel, and I bought it (patrons collect the art after the show; I typically pick it up from the artist, so I can meet him or her).
The fair itinerary has been fixed for many years. After the art show, we headed for the Creative Activities building to be dazzled by the broad spectrum of crafts, hobbies, and pastimes, everything from folk art to fine woodworking to needlepoint to dill pickles (we marveled at the many different categories: dill with garlic is in a different group than dill without garlic!). As always, we thought briefly about smashing the glass doors and sampling the cookies, pies, and cakes, especially the mixed berry and peach pies from a Duluth woman – blue ribbons for both. Avocations are alive and well in my homeland.
Stop three is the horticulture building, and in our zeal to slake our thirst at the stand of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild we missed the giant vegetables, crop art, and other charms. But the beer stop was a lot of fun, a chance to yak about our summer travels, a bit of politics (well, Rick and me), and more. Refreshed, we headed for the stands of two ultra-popular fair foods, deep-fried cheese curds and roasted sweet corn. Yum.
Last stop were the animal barns. Looking back, I wished we had slowed a bit, but Rick and I managed a nice T-t-S with Caroline, a fourth-generation Minnesota farmer, recently graduated from South Dakota State University with a degree in ag sciences, as well as shorter chats with several 4-H kids showing their rabbits, pigs, and cattle. I stroked a number of animal heads and faces, even a bristly Yorkshire hog, quietly whispering thanks to God and to them for the gift of domestic animals. And as I did the previous month with ranchers Ed and Bev, I thanked a woman hog farmer for what she did. She started to tear up. Not enough city people either understand or recognize their hard work.
The true last stop was one more beer and some more chatter on park benches, then a brisk walk with Randy back to my rental car. He needed a ride to dinner with a friend, and because we had some time, I drove him through familiar St. Paul neighborhoods, even past 1032 Goodrich, our very first house. Dropped him at an eatery near Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis, then zipped west to the home of Rick and Murph Dow in Edina, the suburb where I grew up. I had not seen Murph for two years, so it was good to catch up. We three had a good yak, some pizza, and off to sleep before ten.
Up way early, did some consulting work for an hour, had a cup of coffee and another yak, and hugged them at 7:35, motoring across familiar ground to the apartment of Marlys Chase, my fair buddy Steve’s mom, who I’ve known for more than 50 years. Mrs. C. kindly agreed to make us a full breakfast, plus more good chatting. She is 87 and still going strong, half Norwegian and half Swedish – the Scandinavians live a long time, whether in the old world or the new. Said goodbye at 9:30, motored north to the pleasant Linden Hills neighborhood for another cup of coffee, with friend-since-1967 Jim Grandbois. We had not seen each other in six years, and it was good to catch up. I think of Jim each morning when I sit down to work, because before getting into real estate, he and his brother were furniture makers, and the keyboard sits on a still gorgeous parquet walnut table made in 1979. Thanks, Jim!
At 11, I pointed the rented Prius toward “Up North,” as Minnesotans call it. Motored north on U.S. Highway 169, around the huge Mille Lacs Lake, and northwest to Crow Wing County and the cabin of another long (since 1963) friend, Tim McGlynn, on the north shore of Big Trout Lake. Tim and I immediately fell into the substantive yaks that I’ve enjoyed for years. He’s very well informed, and we share a world view about the market economy (good and bad), politics, and more. Just as I plopped down for a short nap I heard the wonderful cry of the loon, one of the definitive sounds of Up North. At five, we jumped into his boat and headed east and south through a chain of lakes to beer and dinner at Moonlite Bay. That part of Up North is filled with people from Edina, and we met a number of old pals there. Lots of fun. Headed back, read for a bit, and clocked out.
Woke in the middle of the night to light rain, which continued for the next 30 hours. Drove through the wet Saturday morning to breakfast in Crosslake with former Republic Airlines colleague George Rasmusson, one of the funniest people I know. As expected, by the end of the meal my stomach hurt from laughing. We got caught up, and reminisced about our times at Republic. I reprised one of the jokes he told me in January 1986 – that I could still tell it as he did 31 years earlier says a lot! The wet scrubbed plans for a long bike ride.
Spent late morning and all afternoon at the cabin, which had been custom built in 2016, a lovely place. Tim’s older son Patrick was there with his new wife Molly, and we had a nice visit. Took a nap, yakked some more with Tim about the current state of the world, and at five motored eight miles to the Norway Ridge Supper Club, a wonderful old place. Tucked into my second Up North meal of walleye, Minnesota’s famed fish (though nowadays restaurants typically source them from Canada), and more good chatter. Tim is a quality guy, and there’s never much silence. Best topic that night was the corrosive role of private equity firms.
Up at dawn Sunday morning, still raining, though lightly. Ambled down to the dock to listen to the loons, then back up to the cabin, hugs to Molly, Paddy, and Tim, then breakfast: leftover fish and potatoes from the night before, fulfilling my objective of three walleye meals in my homeland. Into the car for a zippy drive back to the Twin Cities. I was back in my hometown of Edina by 11:05. Motored west on 66th Street, across Richfield, retracing a route we took on bikes 50 years earlier, riding out to see the planes take off and land at MSP. Just before the airport, I stopped to pray thanks at the grave of my dear dad in Fort Snelling National Cemetery. I held the headstone tightly. It would be impossible to express enough gratitude for our freedom. Flew home. Such a joy to be in Minnesota.