Carol Hall reminisces about summertime fun in a Minnesota small town

Stearns County Fair, Sauk Centre Township, Minnesota / Myron Hall / Stearns History Museum

When I was a kid being reared in a rural Minnesota town during the 1940s and ‘50s, I lived for summer vacation from school.

The glorious feeling of freedom at not having to be in a classroom all day for three whole months was mine to savor. And our weather was blessedly warm.

There were so many fun things to do outdoors during the warm weather. Tree climbing topped my list.

Although not particularly athletic (I was, embarrassingly, one of the last chosen for a recess softball team), I loved to climb trees. I had a certain dexterity that loaned itself to grasping branches and digging my feet into grooves and boosting myself higher and higher.

Once I’d settled into a reasonably comfortable position, legs dangling from a branch, I’d think to myself, “it’s just little me, sittin’ in a tree, contemplating thee,” as I scanned the rooftops of my neighbors’ houses.

An avid reader, I’d sometimes manage to slip a library book in my dungaree pocket. Reading from my lofty perch, I’d be swept into “Deep Valley,” the town where Betsy and Tacy of the Maude Hart Lovelace girl’s stories lived, and pretend to live out one of their adventures.

Two very special events also occurred during summer vacation: my birthday party and the annual County Fair.

It was always exceptionally hot on my birthday, July 26th, so we held the party in our shady tree-filled back yard. I’d invite my best girlfriends and close cousins. We’d play silly games, like blind man’s bluff and pin the tail on the donkey. I would open their gifts of a handkerchief or stick cologne or fancy stationery. My mother always created one of her famous extra-tall angel food cakes and decorated it with candles for all of us to enjoy with ice cream. And, “a good time was had by all,” was reported the social column of our local newspaper the next week.

When the County Fair opened in late August, it was equally hot and humid. Nevertheless, the fair always drew large crowds for its three-day run.  I’d save all my baby-sitting money so I could go every day. There was nothing else like it ever in our small quiet community. Excitement reigned with the movement and sounds of noisy carnival games and rides backgrounded by Merry-Go-Round calliope music.

Joie Chitwood’s Auto Daredevils put on their thrilling stunt show in the grandstand. The Chitwood Ford sedans zoomed around the race track, performing their famous “death defying” tricks.  Gypsies followed the carnival workers and set up camp on the fairgrounds, which lent an air of the exotic. And at night, sparkly colored lights flickered overhead, bringing more magic.

Looking back, all of this seems like one great big idyllic Norman Rockwell experience. Even the time I fell out of a tree, which abruptly ended my tree-climbing, might qualify as Rockwellian.

I sometimes wonder: did it all really happen?

Carol Hall lives in Woodbury. She’s a longtime freelance writer, a University of Minnesota graduate and a former Northwest Airlines stewardess.