Maybe that’s a good thing. Because maybe what gets sacrificed when suddenly adding all those zeroes to your bank account is something that no amount of money can buy.
I was driving back from Thanksgiving weekend with my brother on Sunday when money was brought up. We both agreed things are tight for us, but then he started lauding the idea of winning this huge Powerball.
I went along with his fantasy to see where it would take us. The way I see it, people are quick imagine the parties and toys they’ll have with their millions, but that’s as far as they go. My brother went a bit further to say he’d travel the world and described the relief it would be to not have to worry about bills or debt. I couldn’t argue with him there. That would be breath of fresh air.
But after the parties, toys, travel, and relief–then what? The idea of this is much more convenient than the reality of what life in this situation would actually be like.
So you’re visiting Paris or the Galapagos Islands; you get your fill of one destination, so move on to the next. Sooner or later, though, you’re going to start yearning for the things in life that were put on hold because of your big win, things that don’t change regardless of how much money you have. Such things maintained throughout will be your interests in family and of settling down. You’ll have the same desire to accomplish something with your life. One can only take from life so much–toys, travel–without a deep desire to invest yourself and give back through a career or a project or a business venture or raising a family. This realization may surprise you, even confuse you: “I’m filthy rich, but yet I yearn?” You’ll also still be the person with the same personality and positive and negative characteristics.
The truth is that in some ways everything’s different, but that in other ways nothing changes.
And the danger of winning the lottery is that your pursuit of personal and professional development–which to me are what make life, life–is potentially capsized by this wave of wealth. I can imagine the temptation for me to quit my work with schools and other projects because I can up and travel anywhere I want. I can imagine buying friends by treating people to meals all the time. I can imagine decorating myself with fancy clothes, belongings, cars, and big house.
But though extraordinarily nice these luxuries would be, what a deviation from my path!
I want to be rich, but I believe in its attainment as one earns it. And by drastically disrupting this balance of hard work and reward, I don’t know if I’d ever develop the discipline and character that I aim for. And it’s evident that few other lottery winners are able to develop them as well. Many lottery winners end up worse off than they were before. (But that’s never part of our jackpot fantasy.)
I think if you want to progress in life, you’ll avoid the trap of trying to get rich quick via lotteries and such and also avoid the trap thinking too much about how great life would be if you did win. Statistically, it’s simply a bad way to use your money, and life’s too short to spend it regularly wishing to hit the jackpot. It only keeps you from working toward the life you want.
I know it seems crazy to say what I’m about to say, but when you consider the derailment many lotto winners face, when you think past the short-lived highs of having a bunch of money: you can actually feel a level of pity toward the lottery winners. And this’ll probably really shock you, but I’m also under the belief that if handed a winning Powerball ticket, the best thing I could do with it is set it on fire.
Due to a quirk in the family schedule we decided to celebrate Thanksgiving over Saturday and Sunday this year. And with me needing my days off work to chip away at my book, this left Thanksgiving Thursday and Friday as days for me to hunker down and bust my fingertips on the keyboard.
Boy, was it lonely.
By being alone, this Thanksgiving was actually “perfect” for seeing just how vital relationships are to our wellbeing and happiness.
Sure, there’s phone and even video calling via Skype, but nothing replaced being in the physical presence of others. For that, I had no one around except Dusty, my brother’s cat, who I watched while he was with his inlaws in Dickinson, North Dakota. The lack of those around me and the isolation I felt was exaggerated because it was impossible for me to forget it was Thanksgiving–a day designed for something more important than work and productivity–a day to be around loved ones.
I work on a computer, not a typewriter. The Internet is a click away and so are the headlines and friend updates all about Thanksgiving. TV also so themed. Every time I took a break from writing, trying to “escape”, I was only reminded that was supposed to be around others.
Over the phone, I had a good friend coaxing me into joining his family for when he heard I’d be alone. I turned him down after his second round of coaxing Thanksgiving afternoon. I figured if I drove the hour to his place, spent time with his family, and then drove back, I’d be out a good 4-5 crucial hours of writing time. It also started to snow pretty good. I thought to myself proudly, “These will be the days I look back on and pat myself on the back for keeping my nose to the grindstone.”
By Thanksgiving evening, though, I was regretting my decision. One day can be a long time to spend alone in the right–or wrong–circumstances. By the time it was dark outside, I was longing for friends and family, and I learned a lesson in counter-productivity: being lonely interferes with your ability to do your work. A new thought came to me, “What’s the point of writing my book, if I don’t have people to enjoy it with?” Sure, this thought was a bit dramatic, but the fact that it came up indicated an important lesson about the situation: I need my family and friends. I knew this already, but it was pronounced clearer than ever before when spending this day of family all alone.
The irony with all this is that I was alone on Thanksgiving writing my book about my year I spent in China. But while I was in China, I wasn’t nearly as lonely when Thanksgiving came around over there. They don’t celebrate it of course. I guess out of sight, out of mind.
(By the way, don’t go on Facebook to try and cure your loneliness. All the pictures of cooked turkey made my floppy ham sandwich look pathetic and all the well-wishing and gratitude expressed–though heartfelt and lovely–nonetheless made me wish I was anywhere other than reading Facebook!)
The nail in this coffin? I did something Thanksgiving night I thought I’d never do–and at the explicit objection to some of those very Facebook friends–I went to Walmart at 10pm to get a jump on Christmas shopping. I have this great idea for Grandma, and there were some dandy deals for this item. I guess if I wasn’t going to be with family on this holiday, I could think about them and plan for the next holiday. Plus, I’d get a break from my work, get to be around some people, and witness this slice of Americana: Black Friday madness that I’ve only ever read about or saw on television. (Look for this in my next article.)
So this Sunday when we go around the table and say what we are grateful for, it’ll be an easy one: I’m thankful for my family and friends. I saw how bleak life is without; and how a lack of this in one’s life means a deterioration of all other areas you hold near and dear. Relationships with others is a prerequisite for enjoying work, leisure, and life.
Happy Thanksgiving! I can’t wait until I get to be with family on Saturday and Sunday!
This is a piece about our connection to ancestors, their way of life in the Midwest, and these discoveries through one little old lady.
My Aunt OliveHendrickson was born in South Dakota and now lives in South Saint Paul. I’m 31; so guess what year she was born: 1970? Back to 1958?
How about way back in 1935?
How about before WWI.
June 9th, 1914. (I know. It was kind of a trick question. Aunt Olive is my great, great aunt. –I think that’s how it works out.)
I didn’t even know she existed until just three months ago. I got an out-of-the-blue email from a woman named Beverly Klein. I knew the name Klein, but not Beverly Klein. Saying she was my Grandpa’s cousin, she said she’d read a couple articles I wrote in her newspaper: the Bemidji Pioneer. She also added to that she sends the pieces down to her mother, Olive Hendrickson, who lives nearer to me in South Saint Paul.
Hmm, so this Olive is my grandpa’s cousin’s mother. Beverly then put it in another way, writing: she’s your great-grandfather’s 97-year-old sister. Wow. My great-grandpa Ferdig was alive when I was little, passing away when I was 6 or so. Then after my great-grandmother—his wife—died, I assumed that all that generation was gone and that my grandparents were now the eldest family alive. For me, it was as if this eldest generation came back from beyond to reclaim its place in my world, a time capsule digging in another twenty rings into the family tree. A couple weeks later, I arranged to visit my great-great aunt Olive.
It was a twenty minute drive from Minneapolis to South St. Paul. Her rockin’ digs are in a senior housing complex. Living alone, her apartment was the kind of place you’d expect: off-white walls, soft beige carpet, a TV a few models behind the times. Grandma Ollie, as her family call her, had the expected short curly hair, glasses, and loose-fitting button-up shirt and pants. She was short, too. When I stood next to her, I could have rested my arm atop hear head. Indeed, she’d later say she was but 4’11” even in her young-adult years.
Aunt Ollie and I
She was 97 but as mobile and communicative as someone 20 years younger.
So let’s go back to those young adult years. Actually, let’s go back to 1914. Olive Hendrickson told me her story…
She was born Olive Mae Ferdig in Trent, South Dakota on June 9th. Trent is a tiny, tiny town (pop. 232, 2010 census) near the border of Minnesota, a bit north of Sioux Falls, SD. Olive was the 8th of 11 children of William and Rose Ferdig, and with few modern conveniences in rural America in those days, you can pretty much picture “Little House on the Prairie”-type conditions. In fact, these lands weren’t geographically too far from the settings of those books.
Here’s Olive as a baby with her siblings:
The Ferdig children when Olive (baby #8) came along. (Top) Mabel, Bessie, Albert–oldest boy in the middle, Clarence (middle left), Earl (right), Earvin (2nd youngest), Raymond (youngest), Baby Olive (middle). Leo, Harold, and Ruby were yet to come.
I asked many questions about her father William because it was such a treat to have this woman before me who could tell me first-hand what my great, great grandfather was like. Though he looked large in photos, he was better described as stocky:
William and Rose Ferdig
William was an unsettled man. A jumpy German who moved about continuously. With a load of children you wouldn’t think that would be an easy thing to do, but despite protestations from family and obvious logistical issues of moving in those days, his will found a way to bounce from Iowa to South Dakota to northern Minnesota back to Iowa back to northern Minnesota to north-eastern Minnesota and so forth.
William grew up in Sioux City, Iowa—almost straight south of Trent, as a matter of fact, and not too far from Sioux Falls. Here’s a map for ya:
Look at the very bottom right: Sioux City, Iowa is where William and Rose started. They headed up Interstate 29 (just kidding) -perhaps a dirt road back then in the 19-aughts all the way to Trent which is north of Sioux Falls and south of Brookings.
Rose Scofield also grew up in Sioux City, and this wasn’t the only pairing of these two sibling sets. There were three. William and two of his sisters married Rose and two of her Scofield brothers.
I have more questions than answers about the life of William and Rose, but what I gathered from Olive is that soon after marriage, they were off. And that her father’s restlessness was vivid. One time they left their home in such a hurry that they, “left a nice organ in the house”, she said. Later on, Olive was just one week shy of graduating the 8th grade, but her dad had the family up and leave anyway. Later at her new school that fall, she had to repeat the 8th grade all over again.
“When he got ready to move, he wouldn’t listen to nobody,” Olive said.
According to other relatives, there’s a story from my great-grandfather (Olive’s older brother), Clarence Ferdig, that their father came home late one night and had all the children hurriedly gather into their horse-drawn wagon. He ordered them to cover their heads under a blanket. Clarence said his father got into a fight at a saloon, injured a man, and was now wanted. Tough to hold down a job that way. To make a buck William did some logging and farm work.
This was America in the 1920’s. Men in cities during that era started to dabble in modern luxury—automobiles, electricity, indoor plumbing, phonographs. They went to work and wore a suit, had a routine, perhaps a small business. On the weekend they’d play golf, mingle with others, and have a cocktail.
And then there was my great-great-grandfather, William. What a clash!
He did do a nice job of cleaning up for this shot, though:
This is the cover of the Ferdig family tree.
Asked about their personal habits, Aunt Ollie said that neither of her parents smoked. William did like to get a bottle “when he could afford it”. They hardly went to church–perhaps because there were no churches around at times–though missionaries would visit. She said the family got along and that they “never fought or nothing”.
Naturally, Olive had even fewer answers about her parents’ parents. Her one story about interacting with her grandparents was when her family made one of their many moves back down to Sioux City to care for her father’s bed-ridden diabetic mother. (That’d be Olive’s Grandma Ferdig, or my great-grandfather’s Grandma Ferdig, or my own great-great-great Grandma Ferdig—whew!) Olive remembers her brothers shucking corn for area farmers down there in Iowa to make a couple bucks.
Interestingly, and sadly, she never even saw as much as a picture of her Grandpa and Grandma Scofield.
After caring for their grandma, they skedaddled out of Iowa (the week before her 8th grade graduation) and moved back up to northern Minnesota to a place called Quiring Township about 35 miles north of Bemidji. This place is so remote that I grew up 15 miles from there, and I hadn’t even heard of it until Olive mentioned it.
Her school was a one-room schoolhouse; all the roads were dirt; and a trip to the bathroom meant going outside. They were always poor. “We didn’t have nothing”, Olive asserted, recalling a lack of a bicycle or ice-skates for the kids. They’d keep their milk cool by putting in a bucket and lowering it into a well and heat their modest home via a wood-burning furnace. They needed it, too. Because back then winters were winters, and you didn’t get to escape the conditions at will. On those frigid February nights, Aunt Ollie told me she remembers waking up in the morning and seeing ice on the dish next to her bed.
Reminiscing in the comforts of her present-day home, she said, “I often wonder how we got by.”
As a token of remembrance, though, Ollie recently purchased a model replica of the same kind of stove used by her mother:
Ollie would be free of that fleeing-family living when she met Roy Hendrickson. Roy’s little brother, Louie, who was Olive’s age, handed her a Valentine’s Day card (guess that tradition goes back a while) when they were teenagers in school. He played Cupid, though, not Casanova and signed it with his brother’s name. “He was full of heck, that Louie,” Olive said with an adoring laugh. Louie’s alive today–across the border in Wisconsin, racing Olive to 100.
Unfortunately, Roy isn’t. But little did Louie know, that 80+ years ago, he was helping set up a marriage that would last almost 70. Today, Olive’s husband, Roy, has been gone only 10 years. And him being 6 years Olive’s senior means he was 94 himself when he passed. She was 18; he was 24 when they married, and they shared 69 years in marriage.
Roy and Olive’s life began up in northern Minnesota and took a turn for the west out to North Dakota where Roy’s two brothers had farms. Later, in Grand Forks, Roy got a job at a meat-packing plant, and later yet–the 1950′s–they moved to South St Paul where he worked meat-packing until his company closed. After a day of digging out kidneys, he’d come home and have to soak his hands, Olive said.
South Saint Paul would be their home up until the end.
Here’s a bit of video of our interview:
We met for only an hour and a half, but spanned a lifetime. And her life isn’t done yet. In fact, in celebration of it, a mini-reunion of distant relatives all came together three weeks later for her 98th birthday on June 9th.
The community room at her living facility was the place for this event. Walking in, I saw the usual cake and gifts and snack trays along with tables with people sitting around.
The center of it all of course was the birthday princess:
Interesting was how spread out the relation was between all the attendees. I knew less than half of the people there—such a branching out can occur in four generations. Actually five now. Olive has two great, great grandchildren.
Also there were a few people that I knew were related, but I never bothered figuring out how. Beverly Klein’s (the women who originally wrote me the email) grandson, Tim, was there. Also growing up in Blackduck, I always thought of Tim as friend of my younger brother, not a relative. (It seems a sort of either/or thing: family or friends.) Yet, there were Tim and I, tied together by William and Rose Ferdig and Olive Hendrickson, his great grandma and my great, great aunt.
Another young fella, Kyle, and I took our branching to paper and diagrammed our tree of life:
My tree on the right; his on the left. Ollie and Clarence are our sibling great-grandparents. We each share 1/16th of William Ferdig. What does that make us?
What would you guess by looking?
What I do know is that in a paternalistic society, I tend to put more weight into the ancestors who share my name. But my mom’s mother’s mother’s father has the same amount of genetic similarity as do William and I. (Well, the fraction is the same, but maybe there’s significance to Y chromosome down through the generations? Any geneticist or biologist out there?)
How about some musicians?:
Ollie’s B-day got a soundtrack! I believe these middle-age strummers are Ollie’s grandkids.
After some cake and commingling, we stepped outside. It was a gorgeous afternoon and one of Ollie’s children brought the old car that her and Roy bought back in the 50′s.
This was no jalopy, either. She was cherry. Car show ready, it was, reflecting those sunbeams like it was the source of the glow. Ollie stepped into the driver’s seat like the clock was turned back 50 years and waved like a beauty pageant like the clock was turned back 80:
When seeing a shot like this, with all the family in the background, I always wonder if an elderly person like Olive ever thinks about all the beautiful life they are responsible for.
This shot puts some perspective on this as well:
Generations 1, 2 and 5.
And here’s a bit of footage for ya from the party: )
Reflecting on her life, Olive said back in her apartment, “I don’t know how we lived.” It’s incredible how different things are today than how they were when she was a girl. All the inventions (she said of my digital camera’s screen image, “If that ain’t something!”), all the luxuries and comforts.
She must think to herself, “Wait, did all this really happen right here in Minnesota in one lifetime?” The 20th century was an exciting era to experience. Now 12.5 years in, the 21st is treating her pretty good, too.
Last week I wrote about two conversations I had with each of my Granddads. Both men live vivid and classic lives exemplifying American/Minnesotan culture. It was awesome how telling their lives are for the “American” in all of us.
It revealed to me the importance of culture as I related to these two old guys and saw how a connection to the past—to those who came before us—can be a deep and meaningful insight. But it also reminded me of the importance with speaking to the elders among in general.
Whether they share your culture or not, I’ve found to be true what we’ve always been taught to be true: that the older folks in our societies can teach us much.
But first, I’ll give you examples. Then we’ll flesh it out.
I dated a girl in high school whose grandmother lived with her and older brother. Even for a grandma this woman was old. She must have been 80: colorless hair, loose skin, and a small, frail frame. She shook a bit—in her movements and in her speech.
I suppose it would have been difficult to live with her as a teenager. I can remember my girlfriend and her older brother tiring of having to yell for their grandmother to hear.
“We’re going to the movies. We’ll be back at eleven!”, they’d announce six feet from their grandma’s face.
Yet she’d respond, “What?”
They’d shake their head and walk away, and she’d just kind of shrug her shoulders in a “what can I do?” defeated kind of way and turn around going back to what she was doing.
I know this was hard for her, and I remember this being one of the first examples of me empathizing with the elders among us.
She’d sit there on the couch and watch television. I’d sit in the living room with her while I waited for my girlfriend to get ready. It actually wasn’t too awkward. I liked Grandma, and she liked me. She would open up to me some, but her expression usually only ever amounted to a self-deprecating, though good-natured, “Oh, I’m just an old woman”.
I remember once looking at the six faces of my girlfriend’s siblings ascending along the stairwell. I wondered if it ever occurred to Grandma that all this life was possible because of her. I thought she should be proud of this, and always wanted to say that to her.
But I didn’t. Eventually I moved away for college, and she died some years later.
And now looking back, I wish I would have spoken to her more.
Thankfully, today, I have my grandmas. And the examples in my past of establishing an appreciation for the elders in our lives have helped open the door for me to see the benefits they offer.
My father’s mother lives alone and like most Grandmas is loved by her family, yet is also easily taken for granted. I grew up living just two miles from her, and as so often happens, we sometimes fail to adequately appreciate that which is so available. (Similarly, I spoke with my older brother more when I was in China than prior when I lived 45 minutes away!)
When I go up to Blackduck I stop by to see Grandma and have realized the power and meaning behind the walking history and wisdom of our elders. I began asking her questions about her past. As a result, I learned things about her and our family my Dad didn’t know!
She’d tell me about her siblings—some of which I know, most I don’t. She told me about her raising my father and his sisters; and those characters—Uncle Paul, Aunt Rhonda—that you grow up thinking are static, you find out aren’t static at all. When you realize this element of humanity from someone you grew up knowing, it adds a dimension to life I find helpful.
Because we go through life facing our problems, and many of us fly blind. But while it’s true we’ll never know the future, we can acknowledge the past of others we know and are related to. For me, hearing about how a relative dealt with something tragic helps me face my struggles. More ordinary, hearing how my grandma related to her many siblings helps me to see how I relate to mine.
These are the kinds of reasons why you speak with the elders in your life. It can be awkward and intimidating, but go into the conversation seeking something deeper. I’m not about to talk to Grandpa about the latest HTC handset coming out, or even about my friends and job. (That’s probably why we avoid talking with older folks—nothing to talk about, we think.)
Forget tech talk and gossip, and get down to what really sinks in: the elderly are dispensaries of the knowledge of the world, our culture, and each and every individual—particularly you.
Listen to the ways they used to live. America has changed ridiculously fast, and getting a taste for the nature of change and the fluidity of life is a conversation away.
My Grandma Ferdig still lives where she grew up. Thus, a living history of where I was raised, northern Minnesota, is right before my eyes. She told me of the days when they’d catch bullheads out of the Jetties on Blackduck Lake. She said her mother would make clothes out of the patterned fabric of flour sacks. She, herself, is an identical twin and can remember waking at 5:00am Easter morning so them two sisters could walk to church for the sunrise service.
On my mother’s side, I recently found out my grandmother’s grandmother came from Ukraine (who knew I had history in Eastern Europe?!). I also learned my great uncle, Wallace, died from alcoholism in the 70’s.
Most people are too focused on—dare I say distracted by—the issues in their lives. Glossing over the present with worry and daydream, we miss the depth of truth of who we are. Our elders hold the key to the doors of this depth. And the awesome part is that I’ve found them to love sharing about it.
Once I responded to an ad from someone who was giving away some filing cabinets. I drove out to an address in St. Paul to find an old man. Somehow we got to talking about his life—-pictures on the wall, perhaps. He was a vet from WWII. In fact, he worked on planes and knew one of the pilots who flew and dropped one of the two atomic bombs over Japan. I looked over at the mantle and saw pictures of his grandkids and wondered if they knew this about their granddad.
I certainly didn’t have to pry. On the contrary, my interest was at least matched by his willingness to share. And it makes sense: his inability to contribute labor and other services to humanity makes him want to feel valued as a dispenser of experience.
Another time, I worked catering at a Bar Mitzvah celebration. I approached one table where an elderly lady caught my eye. I took orders from the guests and she gave hers in an accent. I asked about it, and she responded, “it’s a Chinese accent”. Haha. Then she got serious and said it was Austrian.
“When did you come to America?”, I asked.
She arrived in the late thirties. When she was but a young woman of 16. Her father and her came together to California, but parted ways upon their arrival.
All alone at 16 in a foreign country—-in the 30’s. Who knows if she knew English—probably not. What an early challenge to one’s life! And I didn’t read this in a book or other secondhand media. This was the flesh and blood—live, breathing proof of the life she lived.
But then came the bombshell. She fled Austria because she was Jewish, and as a young woman in Vienna can remember the Nazis coming into town and seeing Adolf Hitler himself from her window overlooking the street.
By telling us about their stories, we learn that heartache and challenges are something everyone has to face and that anyone can overcome.
By telling us their experiences, we learn how much humanity has changed over the years: technologically, economically, developmentally, socially. And my how we’ve changed over the years! That building across the street wasn’t always there and will one day be gone.
The elders among us can relate in the most powerful, direct way that change is imminent, that challenges are part of life.
With this wisdom we tread a lighter, more inspired path.
Here’s a good question to ask your grandparents this Thanksgiving to get the ball rolling: “Grandma? What was your grandma’s maiden name?”
Happy Thanksgiving, readers! Let me know if you hear any good nuggets of wisdom over the holiday.
If you’d asked me before about the culture of northern Minnesota, or America even, I’d have suggested it better described as a lack of culture. Growing up, we never had our version of a pow wow or exotic clothing—nothing drawing back to the days of ancient ancestors.
Removed from lederhosen and the German language (though not entirely from polka) my family didn’t identify with the “old country” in any traditional sense. And actually, I saw our lack of strong, cultural identity as an asset.
Fewer divisions between people existed, and with all the ethnic conflicts around the world, attachment to the activities of others in one’s group, I saw the whole idea of “culture” as over-rated. Hence, I was grateful that America gave humanity a chance to “reset”, individuals less defined being in a group.
(I’ve since, however, realized the strength gained from such attachment–the depth and tradition of a practicing Jew, the community of the Chinese, the spirituality of the Native Americans.)
And I neglected something else by not looking right before my eyes: that just because the bright colors of indigenous-wear and exotic moves of cultural dances all over the world makes their history bright and obvious, this doesn’t remove the fact that culture is made everyday, everywhere. It may not be as “romantic” or “other-worldly” as 3,000 year old ceremonies, but movies on a Friday night, the X-box 360, and your church up the road are examples of culture just the same.
My nephew, Robert, already developing his ushering skills at church.
My brother's church
What’s more, some of the cultural events of northern Minnesota are unique and as expressive as an Indian’s ornate head-dress. I experienced them when visiting my old stomping groups of Beltrami County, and they exclaimed the social vibe, the emotional release, and the identity with its participants that good culture offers anywhere in the world.
So let’s get to know my old neighborhood by seeing them at their best.
Before I stepped foot back on American soil, my father said I had to drive up to Blackduck the weekend of the 14th of August to see my brother-in-law, Kevin, compete in the contemporary rural version of the gladiators—the demolition derby. I did; and it was cool. And I’ll describe it shortly.
First, I’ll say that it was just one of many events at the annual gathering known as the county fair. Like gatherings worldwide, these fairs are about having fun and camaraderie–some drinking, music, a lot of socializing, and games.
County fairs are great cultural markers because they demonstrate two traits of America–its agriculture and competitive spirit.
Farmers from around the region bring their best crops, livestock, and rodeo skills. That’s right, rows of pigs, poultry, cattle, horses, and more are lined up for the judges to determine the best of the bunch. Cooking Cassanovas and Baking Bigshots also bring their A-game to compete in contests of cuisine: the best pickles, pie, or pumpkin bread.
I reflected on this activity and how uniquely American it is. The idea of a Chinese person taking pride in how well their pig or carrots stand up to others brought a smile to my face as it seemed so out-of-place. Hmm, so America does have a unique culture, after all.
Here's two older gals hearkening the culture of a generation or two ago as they sing classic country music at the fair.
If there’s one fashion ideal of the American that sticks in foreigners’ minds, it’s the image of the cowboy:
Indeed, this is a fashion and lifestyle belonging to America and stretches across all it’s fine, fifty states. (except maybe Hawaii)
I spoke with this women for awhile about her life on the farm:
She was preparing to compete in the horse-riding competition.
For many of these folks, it’s a family operation they maintain for hobby. It’s fun to farm.
In the evenings, the fair goes from animals and food to games and rides. Moonlight replaces daylight, and is accompanied by thousands of small light-bulbs that stimulate the rides. My family and I enjoyed some time there, especially my other nephew, Garret:
Him and Dad (Kevin, the demolition derby driver) buying tickets for the games and rides.
Now go play and win a prize, Garret!
Garret is eager as the carnie looks on.
And here I’ll mention that America’s distant past does have old-school culture living on through the Native Americans. There are many who live in northern Minnesota, and as their ancestry in these lands goes back countless generations, some retain pieces of their old ways.
Here’s one family at the fair:
And here’s me and my little brother, Anthony:
The following day was the big event that Dad told me to come for: the demolition derby. For those of you who don’t know, here’s what it is: take an old car and drive it around other people driving old cars. Crash into each other until the last car is moving.
Well these people thought so:
getting ready for some smash action
You get a nice crowd at these things:
C'mon, man, just kiss her. You know you want to.
He's a good listener.
Alright, enough jibber-jabber. Time to crunch, smash, destroy, destroy!! Ahhh!!! (sorry, had to get that out of my system.)
Okay here come the cars:
pink car looks okay now...
For my readers in China, Americans like to customize their cars to be louder, more powerful, and look cool. This demolition derby is no different.
green car looks okay now...
And they’re off!
Finally one vehicle remained, and the proud owner came out of the wreckage to claim his prize.
This is pretty American--a 15 year old driver: ) Here's being interviewed these as he took 2nd. Atta boy.
After the cars beat themselves silly, it was time for the trucks (themselves an American icon). So this was some super-saturated American culture here!
And they’re off.
My brother-in-law, Kevin, there in the middle.
uh oh #2. The firemen had to come at one point in the contest.
When the trucks wound down, Kevin’s displaced driveshaft put him in 5th place. He won a few bucks.
Afterwards, it off to Kevin’s parent’s place to eat, drink, and be merry. Cousins and friends from all over the rural land came to have a good time. Good ‘ole northern Minnesotan fun.
(I’ll also add that in the western part of Minnesota, my friend, Kelsey, tells me that they blend the theme of agriculture the idea of demolition derbies by having combine-tractor demolition derbies!)
A “reset” button was pushed when all the Europeans came to America. It provided a chance to start fresh with some separation from the old ways. There is still a culture, though, and seeing it right after being in China for a year allowed a good look.
I hope you had a good look and can appreciate the culture that you live in and that you create each day: )