The Wide Angle: Keep your fair memories close

Published 6:36 pm Tuesday, August 8, 2023

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Over the years, I’ve noticed a lot of weird parallels between my early life in little ole Lake Wilson and here.

And no, I don’t mean me being the weirdest parallel. Honestly, I’m not even the weirdest person to come out of our little town of 240 people — or however big it is these days.

Still, the connections are there. First off, if you don’t know where Lake Wilson is, which as far as I know only a handful of people in Austin do know, it’s over by Worthingon. North actually, sandwiched between Pipestone and Slayton.

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I learned a long time ago that simply telling others where Lake Wilson was, was kind of a waste of time. Normally, I would get a blank stare or that nod we all know we’ve given when we don’t want someone to know we don’t know something just to move the conversation along.

However, that blank look disappears when I say, “Oh, I grew up north of Worthington, sandwiched between Pipestone and Slayton.”

I know they still don’t get where Lake Wilson is, but they at least know the area and that’s close enough.

The layout of the land is similar to the Austin area — vast swaths of flat, filled with crops of various sorts and the odd number of woody areas. We do have Buffalo Ridge that sits sprawled north to south west of town that I was told once was the second highest point in Minnesota.

You know, I’ve never actually looked into that.

Worthington, similar in size to Austin, also has a packing plant and everything in the area is well known so long as you know how Highway 30 and 91 layout – a lot like Highway 218 and 56 lay out here.

Then there is the county. Murray has six letters. Mower has five, but they both start with “M” so … yeah, I guess that conspiracy comes up a little short, but I still have space to fill.

Moving on.

Also, county fairs are a part of life there and here. Murray’s is situated in Slayton, but that was only nine miles aways so it’s still considered local, whereas Mower’s … well, you know where Mower’s is don’t you?

I usually went to the Murray County Fair at least once a week, maybe two in the later years when I could drive. Honestly, I don’t remember a whole lot about it, because it was a long time ago, but also because in my later years, when I was a wizened old man of 17 and 18, I just wasn’t much of a fair-type of guy.

However, I do have one vivid memory that I haven’t forgotten.

I was a wee lad of probably 10, maybe 11 and a friend said her dad was taking her over and asked if I wanted to go with. My parents agreed and gave me some money for rides, games and the like. I had my mind set on a sweet switchblade comb (which was stupid because ask any of my friends and I wasn’t much of a hair-comber), but there were certainly plenty of other things. 

Let me tell you. The sum of $20 stretches a lot more in the 80s than it does today. Rides were plentiful, food was plentiful and the games were wide open. During the gaming portion of our time, I won this cool double-barrel cork gun and promptly went about firing the corks, connected to the gun by strings, at anything I could.

Which wasn’t much, truth be told. It was pretty dead for a fair that night, made even deader as the night wore on, so my friend’s dad gave us one last ride on the Ferris wheel and it would be one to remember.

We handed our tickets to the operator, who was a little more outgoing than most carnival workers. He had wild hair and a jovial smile beneath a Tom Selleck-type mustache. The problem was that for some reason I couldn’t take my cork gun with me. Suspicious, I handed it over to him as if James Bond was suddenly relieved of his Walther PPK.

We sat there for a bit before he decided nobody else was coming. Being on a ride by yourself is very similar to being in a movie theater by yourself. It’s awesome. 

The Ferris wheel slowly came to life, rotating us high above the fair and giving us kids a commanding view of the midway and Slayton itself. After a couple turns, the operator smiled as we went by and shot me in the leg with my own cork gun. Somewhat surprised, I laughed and so each time we came around he would shoot me again and each time I laughed even more.

Then, after more than a few turns, he stopped us at the top, partially waiting for more riders, but I also think he did it on purpose because we were the only ones.

Eventually, we started going again and ultimately he pulled us to a stop. It was clear the fair was coming to an end, but as we were about ready to get off he asked if we wanted to go again. We looked at each other, but knew the night was over. No more tickets.

He just smiled, told us to sit back and started us around again and again, enjoying the longer than usual ride for a second go. Eventually, it had to come to an end, as did the fair and my youth, but of all my childhood memories this simple act of letting a couple kids continue on the Ferris wheel remains one of the easiest memories to recall.

Think about that when you go to the Mower County Fair this week, because you never know when your Ferris wheel moment will come.