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summer signifiers

A couple of weeks ago, I started thinking that the Sturgis Rally was coming up, and that the Box Butte County Fair would be next on the agenda. Mom had told me about some friends stopping in on their way up to Chadron for Fur Trade Days, and that made me think that in terms of a school year, summer’s past its peak and getting ready to wind down.

When I was a little kid, the County Fair (Box Butte) was the high-point of excitement for the summer…and the bittersweet harbinger of the forthcoming schoolyear. Shortly after the Fair, we’d be dragged into a tedious weekend of back-to-school shopping where countless pair of ugly and uncomfortable jeans would be tried on until the least offensive could be chosen. Boring shirts, sweaters, and skirts would be selected. New socks and underpants. Blah, pencils, blah, notebooks, blah, erasers. Fresh crayons, colored pencils, and glue helped reconcile me to my back-to-school fate.

But before the foot-dragging “can we just be done” rounds of back-to-school shopping cast a pall on my childhood summers, there were all of the earlier-summer rituals. Swimming-lessons began in mid-June (at which I sucked) and led to afternoons of horsing around in the Hemingford public pool. The dam would be let out in early July for irrigation, and then you can go tubing down the Niobrara. After the river started to get too low for good tubing, the local festivals would begin. Fur Trade Days in Chadron, Heritage Days in Alliance. Then, Highway 385 would flow with rumbling motorcycles as bikers from all over the country poured into Sturgis, SD, temporarily making it the largest city in South Dakota.

From summer-to-summer all of my friends who were in 4-H worked on their projects for the next Fair. In the spring, when lambing and calving took place, they’d get their “4-H project” lamb or calf. Kids whose families didn’t keep livestock might show a dog or a chicken, or participate in the various arts and crafts competitions. Photography, baking, woodworking, and sewing were all well represented. My longtime friend Amy was an ace seamstress even as a young girl and she’s always have something really fabulous in the sewing competition. I remember when we were Juniors, she’d made this plaid bomber jacket trimmed with Ultrasuede for the Make It With Wool category. Bomber jackets made of many materials were quite the thing that year; I had a similar one from Woolrich, but certainly couldn’t claim the cool-points from having made it.

When I was little, I thought the carnival was the main point of going to the fair. Scarred merry-go-rounds, tilt-a-whirls, a Ferris Wheel, and the Hammer (which I never went on) along with other attractions (Gravitron, Scrambler, centrifugal swings, enormous bounce castle), basically all the trimmings! Plus there were all sorts of exciting events and shows. Demolition derby! Square Dancing! Concerts! And that’s besides the main events, the stock-shows, the rodeo events, and the various judging competitions. It was best to go toward the end of the week, so that most entries would have been judged and you could see how well everyone had done. Scrupulously groomed sheep, sleek goats, and cattle with the ends of their tails frizzled into a cannon-ball-sized pompon were arranged in stalls so you could admire their finer points.

As I got older, not only were checking out the displays a big draw, there was the hope of catching up with school friends and other kids I knew and finding out what they’d been up to, and if any fun could be expected. I’d see girlfriends I had hardly seen all summer, and we’d dish about what was liable to be cool and popular for the upcoming school year (2 different color converse, and you have to wear 2 scrunchies that co-ordinate!)

Mom and Dad would catch up with friends they saw infrequently, too, and Dad would get wound up BS-ing with someone or another while Audrey and I bounced around like impatient superballs, champing at the bit in the direction of the rides.

Down here, a harbinger of summer’s end is the Air Show. I saw a billboard for it just recently and realized that very soon my little world is going to be very noisy for about a week as all of the stunt planes, the Blue Angels, and vintage aircraft of all description start to descend upon the old Downtown airport and then start showing off hotdog maneuvers above the West Bottoms.

Going back to the nostalgia kick from above, I was so fascinated by planes when I was a little kid. I think a lot of that stemmed from the beautiful red-and-white 1950 Navion that my grandpa owned and flew back then. Grandpa’s plane was much like the one <a href="http://www.trade-a-plane.com/clsfdspecs/820245"<in this link. My grandparents flew out from California to Alliance several times in my childhood and once flew my mom, sister, and me to Baltimore to visit Grandma’s brother, my great-uncle Mike. When jets flew high overhead, or cropdusters buzzed so low it didn’t seem possible, I was riveted! Much later on, as a highschool girl, I found myself courted heavily by Air-Force recruiters after the results of my ASVABs rolled in. As a gearhead and a reasonably good student, I appeared to be a good candidate for becoming an aviation mechanic. Sometimes, I regret not having gone for it. Sure my crappy eyesight would probably have kept me from actually getting to fly, but the money sure would have been good, and I expect I’d have largely been working with a lot of pretty interesting characters.

5 Responses to “summer signifiers”

  1. Fissile says:

    Interesting. Sometimes I think you are the female version of me — that’s why I read your blog. I also took the ASVAB, and I also did very well, and I was also pursued by an AF recruiter who wanted to put me in avionics school. I was also disappointed in not being qualified for flight training because of congenital nearsightedness. I also turned it down.

    Don’t feel bad, you didn’t miss out on anything. I live in the NYC area near 3 major airports and 2 minor airports. I can tell you for a fact that all the glamor, and money, has gone out of airline careers. Mechanics get treated like crap. I know auto mechanics around these parts who make more money. Pilots get treated only slightly better.

  2. Cat says:

    Hey, it suddenly occurred to me today that you might not have heard so I came looking for your blog. Ranj died in June of natural causes. If you have any questions or anything like that, please feel free to drop me a line at my email address: classics dot cat at gmail dot com will get me.

    If you hadn’t heard, I’m really sorry to tell you like this.


  3. meetzorp says:

    Thank you, Cat. I had heard from Billy and several other friends of Ranj’s. I’d been trying to find your e-mail address, in fact, as I wanted to pass along condolences to you.

    I know nothing I could ever say or write could make you miss him less, but I do want you to know how much I valued his enthusiasms, photography, and friendship. It just doesn’t seem right to not see that recumbent zipping around Strawberry Hill anymore.

  4. meetzorp says:

    How wild is that?!?!

    Back in my highschool days, I think the main thing that swayed me away from joining up with the Air Force was that I just had a real strong and ingrained mistrust/dislike for all things military. Even though it sounded like a pretty good gig, the fact that the basic reason for the armed services boils down to killing people.

    I expect the lifestyle of pilots is akin to the lifestyle of railroad engineers – demanding schedule, not much private time. I don’t know any pilots, but I’ve known a lot of railroaders and for the guys out on the train, their personal life is dictated by their number on the board.

  5. Cat says:

    Thank you, very much.

    I too feel his absence.

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