The best State Fair in our state!
The Gram With a Thousand Rules: “Subject: Memories of Heritage Square.
“Hey! No fair! When August rolls around, it’s time to start thinking about going to the State Fair. Sadly, this year, we have only the memories of our favorite places at The Great Minnesota Get-Together.
“Mine all emanate from Heritage Square, where our family manned a booth beginning in 1976. It was the Bicentennial year, and we decided it was the perfect venue to showcase our porcelain-doll business. It was supposed to be just a one-year venture, and the site we were assigned was located inside the big tin-roofed building on the east end.
“We were required to wear costumes appropriate to the era. (Note: Long dresses in an un-air-conditioned building in the heat of a Minnesota summer are definitely not a cool combination.) Our kids ranged in age from 8 to 22 that first year, and we had our photograph taken by the Antique Photographers to remember this one-year adventure. The kids all stifled their giggles and tried to hold still for the photo. It is a treasure and still sits on our mantel.
“The concept of Heritage Square turned out to be a smashing success with Fairgoers, and we found ourselves back there summer after summer. By the end of our 16-year run, five of our kids were married, and 13 of our grandchildren had been born, and I had some kids-in-law to rope in to help in our booth.
“In the beginning, our two older sons were a bit embarrassed to sit around in a booth sporting a large sign that said ‘Dolls By Marmi’ (gasp), but they were handy, capable helpers, especially on set-up and tear-down days. Even though that building could get ungodly hot and sticky on humid days, our college-age daughters enjoyed wearing the old-time costumes AND the 20 percent commission I paid them when they garnered a big sale, while our two youngest grade-schoolers just enjoyed the freedom to roam around inside our little village called Heritage Square. They checked back with us every half-hour or so, but there was so much to see: the Glass Cutter as he made magic with his tools, the Wood Carver, the Blacksmith, the Pioneer House and the Portrait Artists — but their favorite hangouts seemed to be the Used Bookstore and the Caboose of the Train.
“As the older kids became less available, the two youngest took over. They memorized the sales pitch and were old pros — urging me to take a break so they could rake in some commissions. I remember my youngest telling me one year as she ironed her costume in preparation for the Fair: ‘I’m glad we’re not like normal people, Mom. This is so much fun.’ I was at that moment feeling a wee bit guilty, since all six kids had spent the previous two months of their summer vacation working at our Pick Your Own Berry Farm.
“I digress. Back to State Fair memories:
“We opened at 9 a.m. and closed at 10 p.m., and our dreams every night were a blur of snow cones and bodies shuffling past our booth. I jotted down just a few of the memories that come to mind:
“* The lunging crush of eager visitors to Heritage Square straining behind the gate, looking more caged than the animals at the zoo, as they waited every morning for the gates to open.
“* Those dear ladies who came to see our dolls several times each Fair. They always wore old-fashioned high-necked dresses and elaborate hats created with a multitude of pastel petals. They would arrive, giggling with happiness, after breezing in from a morning at the Beer Garden. (We secretly called them the Baldwin Sisters, from ‘The Waltons’ television show.) They never bought a darn thing, but they were always a welcome sight.
“* The old gentleman in the Antique Booth next door to us who called Kid’s Day ‘Sticky Fingered Day’ and referred to Senior Citizen Day as ‘I Coulda Bought That For a Nickel Day.’
“* The elderly ladies who looked oh, so innocent after being caught pilfering a small item, saying ‘But aren’t they for free on Senior Day?’
“* The lady who sniffed with disdain after her friend admired my reproduction porcelain dolls, telling her: ‘Hummpph . . . they aren’t like my ANTIQUE dolls. These dolls are man-made.’
“* The lonely fellow who stopped by EACH day and told my beautiful daughter-in-law that she looked like she belonged in the ‘Little House on The Prairie’ television show and then proceeded to recite the script, word-for-word, from one of his favorite episodes.
“* The one that was a real show-stopper was the smartly dressed, haughty young woman who appeared at my booth on Day One of our 12-day Fair and exclaimed enthusiastically about my dolls as her two sullen-faced teenage daughters looked over their shoulders at the leering teenage boys they had spotted by the root-beer stand. She told me that she was home-schooling her daughters the coming year, and she was exposing them to new experiences. She announced imperiously that she would be coming by my home studio on ‘Tuesday, next, for a tour and a lecture.’ I told her that I would still be at the Fair on ‘Tuesday, next’ and ‘Sorry, but I don’t give tours or lectures.’
“Home studio? Ha. We poured the clay into molds and fired the greenware in my kiln in the basement by my laundry tub. I created doll clothes on my sewing machine in the dining room, and I painted the porcelain doll faces at my kitchen table — between meals. We were a cottage industry, as were the majority of the booth owners in Heritage Square. The State Fair was open for 12 long 13-hour days each year, and our fellow booth owners became lasting friends. The laughter and camaraderie we shared was more valuable than the income from the sales. Volumes of memories; no regrets.
“Many years after I had shut down my doll business, I was in a fabric store searching for blanket material for my 25th grandchild when I was startled to hear a woman shout from several aisles away,: Marmi! At last I’ve found you. I need you! I broke my head!'”
The Permanent Family Record
Not just coincidentally (she knew that her mom was Fair-reminiscing), we have also heard from The Daughter of The Gram With a Thousand Rules: “Subject: Fair Memories from a Heritage Square Rug-Rat.
“My brother and I were the tag-along kids who reveled in our parents’ endeavors into side businesses that would then involve and occupy their six children. The first was their pick-your-own strawberry farm that began when I was 3 and my brother was 4 and lasted until we both became parents ourselves. That is a whole other memory for sharing another time, though.
“The second was my mom’s antique porcelain-doll-making hobby, turned business, that took us to the Great Minnesota Get-Together every summer starting when I was 7 — a few days shy of 8. I loved having my birthday during the Fair each year, because my siblings and parents would all feel sorry for me and then take me for multiple turns on the giant slide and carousel.
“Imagine going from just visiting the Fair for only ONE day each summer with your family of eight, and having to hold on to the often sweaty hands of your older siblings like a chain gang going down the lanes, to then having your own home-base booth from which to explore the Fair for 13-plus hours a day for 12 glorious late-summer days! If you have ever watched the cartoon movie of ‘Charlotte’s Web,’ when Templeton the Rat is reveling in the smorgasbord of all the goodies a county fair has to offer, well, yeah, that was my brother and I, except we weren’t eating the leftover scraps at night! If you haven’t watched it and want to, it’s on YouTube, of course:
“Our first time having permission to walk around by ourselves (we held hands only until out of Mom’s sight), to explore, to purchase our own ‘food’ at the Fair, where the sweet sticky smell of cotton candy, Sno Cones and fudge permeate the air? Priceless! Of course, I was mighty small, and some of the food-stand workers couldn’t even see me down below their tall booth walls, but my brother and I would boost each other up to take a look and retrieve our orders from the counter. The Fairgrounds were immensely huge and filled with wonder for a kid barely over the height of a yardstick.
“My mom’s booth was in Heritage Square, and the first few years we were required to stay within that rectangle of 35 or so booths (sorry, State Fair board; it was a rectangle and not, in fact, a square). We would help my mom in the morning to bring in bags of materials needed for the day, the money box, a cooler of water, and sometimes pre-packed lunches in the early years. My dad would drop us off on the back side of the St. Paul campus, as close as possible to Commonwealth Avenue, on his way to work for the day. This way, we didn’t have to park a car, and we could walk much faster than the line waiting to get in the gates. There were days where the traffic would back up well before campus, so we would get dropped by the veterinary-science buildings and rush at nearly a jogging pace to get in the back way and beat the throngs of people pressing against the gates waiting to get in when the Square opened at 9 a.m. And did I mention my mom and I were wearing long dresses and bonnets and hats in the style of the 1800s, as required of all exhibitors? My brother would be in blue jeans, an old-fashioned long-sleeve shirt, apron, and hat. I’m sure we were a sight to see, bustling past the waiting cars and people.
“Once my mom would get in and get the booth set up for the morning, she would let my brother and me out to explore. Often the first place we would run to was the old train caboose at the far side of the ‘square.’ The train was meant to be explored starting with the engine, then the middle cars and on to the back. But in the morning before the Square gates opened, we could enter just at the caboose. We would climb up the thin iron railings to the small, hard, wood bench seats along the tiny upper windows and survey our little kingdom. We could see across to the Midway and the rides, but that was off-limits, and frankly we were a little scared of the area anyway, as dire warnings had been issued about the goings-on that happened there. On the other side of the windows, we could see the parking area and the other booth owners hustling in to the Square and setting up. It was a village feel, with everyone pulling off tarps and sheets from displays, arranging goods, and getting their booths ready for the day. We were instructed not to bother people setting up, so the caboose was our favorite place to be — pretending it was our house, and that we were the Boxcar Children while planning our fun for the day. Sometimes during the midday, we would sneak back into the caboose and try to sit as still as mannequins as people passed through the train cars. I’m sure we did startle a few Fairgoers when we would eventually move, because dressed in our costumes, we might have seemed to be part of the display!
“We considered the area by the bandshell and the train to be the far side of the village, because our mom’s doll booth was on the opposite end, inside the metal-roofed anchor building directly off the front gates to Heritage Square. Around the train and caboose was the Pioneer House, made of logs and filled with a real family that would live, work, and sleep in the buildings during the 12 days of the Fair. The pioneer mom would put on quilting displays, candle- and soap-making demonstrations, and one time she hosted a tea party for all the lady exhibitors. Behind the house was a blacksmith shop manned by a blacksmith who would stoke a furnace, pour iron, and pound out horseshoes for the crowds. For a girl who loved reading ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and ‘Little Women,’ it was heaven on earth. Other booths we frequented were the penny arcade, a shooting gallery, an old-time photo place, a used-book store (see previous sentence for why I loved that place the most), a formal dress shop, a fur trader with his taxidermy of squirrels, chipmunks and ferrets and real coonskin caps and leather goods, a few wood carvers, and soap makers. The Renaissance Festival was not yet an event when we began our years at the Fair, but that would also become one of my favorite events in later years.
“Talk about food-booth choices, I am sure BB readers have a list of their own, but ours were all found in the Square. Peters Wieners was our favorite and the best value. (I believe it was a quarter for a long hot dog with a soda.) My brother and I would split one order and save the other quarter my mom gave us for the penny arcade (sorry, Mom). Other delights were whole Turkey Drumsticks, warm Apple Dumplings with copious amounts of sweet whipped cream, steaming crab plates with a side of au gratin potatoes, Old Fashioned Lemonade and Sarsaparilla from a stand shaped like a root-beer barrel, Fried Pickles on a Stick, Giant Pretzel Sticks, Old Fashioned popcorn, and caramel corn. If it was a food item and it could be called ‘Old Fashioned,’ it was allowed in the Square. Right near the gates was a candy store that sold, you guessed it, old-fashioned stick candy in every color of the rainbow and flavor imaginable. You would think that getting to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the Fair, we would have gotten tired of it and rolled out at the end of the day like Templeton the Rat, but we never did.”
Sixty Nanoseconds of Fame
The Big Eek of Southeast Minneapolis writes: “I was planning on sending in an entry to the State Fair, but now that it’s been canceled, here is what I was going to send in. I call it CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE BOXING KIND.
“Mr. C. was giving my dad a tour of the exhibition grounds on the waterfront in Toronto. I tagged along. Mr. C. called out ‘Hey, Jess,’ and a big man lumbered over. We were introduced to Jess Willard, former world heavyweight boxing champion. He won the title by knocking out Jack Johnson in Havana, Cuba, in 1915. He lost the title to Jack Dempsey, who in turn lost it to Gene Tunney. I watched as my dad got to shake hands with the great Jess Willard.
“My sister and some friends and I saw the ‘Harlem in Havana’ sideshow at the provincial fair. At the end of the performance, the emcee directed the spotlight to the back row and said: ‘Stand up and take a bow, Champ,’ To my amazement, my boyhood idol, Joe Louis, stood up and mitted the crowd. That night our group went to the Marigold Cafe, the only place open late on a Saturday night. As we passed through to the young people’s hangout in back, I noticed Joe and his young daughter in a booth by the windows. I stopped and stared. He nodded to me, and I waved back. Joe won the heavyweight title from Jim Braddock in 1937. His last fight was against Rocky Marciano in 1952.
“My mother met Johnny Dundee at the fair. He was world featherweight champion in 1923. Johnny presided over the Penny Arcade for Royal American Shows. He gave my mother a set of 32 green exhibit cards of famous boxers for me. The next night, he signed his name under his picture in my hardcover book about the history of boxing. Johnny’s last memorable fight was against world lightweight champion Tony Canzoneri in 1927.
“Some friends and I were standing on a street corner in Atlantic City, deciding where to go to eat. I noticed a sign for Lew Tendler’s restaurant, so we went there. I asked the chap on the cash register if Lew was in. He said his dad would be in later. Lew was a southpaw boxer and once was regarded as the greatest southpaw of all time and the greatest fighter never to have won a world championship. After our meal, Lew pulled up a chair beside me and told us about his two fights with lightweight champion Benny Leonard, among other stories. Lew beat Johnny Dundee three times. He gave each of us a picture of himself in a boxing pose. What a great host! What a great guy!”
Now & Then
And: The Permanent Grandmotherly/Granddaughterly Record (responsorial)
Writes otvo: “My cousin DebK of Rosemount recently submitted an article on catalogs and magazines of years gone by, and it prompted me to dig out my Fall and Winter 1943-1944 Sears, Roebuck catalog and take a look-see.
“Oh my! How times have changed. The catalog was definitely your place to go for anything you needed from Building Supplies to a Farmer’s Best Friend to Gardening to Clothing. Dresses were from $2 to $12, a full-length fur coat for the cold Minnesota winters priced at $100. You get the idea, and paging through it was a journey back in time.
“We acquired the catalog many years ago, when we and another couple purchased a tax-forfeited acreage in Northern Minnesota. Purpose for the purchase was for deer hunting and snowmobiling. An elderly couple had owned the land, and the time came for them to take residency at the nursing home, so they left the house just as it was. They had no heirs, so it ended up in county ownership. I am assuming they were Finnish, because there was a sauna which we very much enjoyed. Our fellas took on the job of cleaning out the house, and their stuff ended up in a bonfire. Much to the dismay of us wives, I hate to think of what treasures went up in smoke. I likely would have saved more, but am thankful to have rescued my Sears, Roebuck treasure.
“Well, that is how it goes. A blast from the past.”
Now & Then
LeoJEOSP sent this:
The little treasures
Mounds View Swede: “Amongst the old family photos passed on to me was this of my Uncle Carl and what I assume was his first car. Carl was the oldest of three boys from my Grandpa Charles and Grandma Anna. Under the photo, it says it is a Chev runabout.
“I presume this was my Uncle Lawrence’s first car, but I don’t know what it is.”
Dept. of Neat Stuff
Jeni in Bville: “3M transferred us to Brownwood, Texas, in August 1965. There we saw a parade with several children on their bikes wearing red pinnies similar to those I used to wear in college gym class to designate teams. The parents were riding with the kids and wearing similar red pinnies. Upon asking, I was told they were the Smith family — and to us they became known as the ‘Bike Smiths.’ We became friends.
“The dad, Albert Smith, was a salesman of ‘Friendship Advertising.’ His customers were businesses wanting THEIR customers to have lasting good impressions. Brown & Bigelow and Gregory J. used the term ‘Remembrance Advertising’ when he described his memorabilia.
“Albert showed off his collection of sample gifts. My eyes lit up when I spotted a sturdy wood-and-stainless spatula serving tool.
“Albert promptly gave it to me. I have used it every week since that day. This gift was indeed ‘Friendship Advertising’ from the Bike Smiths of Brownwood, Texas, to me!”
Joy of Juxtaposition
Our Official Attorney, the apparently speed-reading Mr. Tulkinghorn, reports: “I was reading a comic crime novel yesterday, and the protagonist detective revealed that his birthdate was August 24. Finished that book and started another last night. Just now, on page 171, the protagonist ‘reached Los Angeles on August 24 and checked into a hotel.’ My wife’s and my 35th anniversary will be August 24th! Weird.”
BULLETIN BOARD MUSES: Not really so weird. Lots of marriages last 35 years.
The vision thing
Semi-Legend reports: “Subject: Never mind.
“My wife had an Emily Litella Moment this morning that I promised her I would not relay. (It involved Scrabble slur words.)
“But I had my own moment just moments later. I read in Tim Harlow’s ‘The Drive’ column in the other paper: ‘A few Drive readers have spotted brown feces being installed at two interchanges along Hwy. 10 in the north metro.’
“Well, I thought, they got the color right. But is this the best use of tax money?
“Then I read the second sentence: ‘They have also noticed the fences are well off the road and don’t appear to be a barrier to stop or slow vehicles.’
“And a belated re-glance at the print-edition headline: ‘Hwy. 10 fences will help reduce snowdrifts.’
Today’s helpful hint
It comes from Kathy S. of St. Paul: “Subject: A thought for mates of DIY enthusiasts:
“Conversation today turned to home building projects that, though well done, took forever to be completed — because some DIYers are so very careful of details. And folks stuck at home can’t ignore all the time such things take.
“To one such spouse, I suggested that she think of it as entertainment for her husband, rather than a project without end.
“Sometimes, Attitude is Everything.”
Life as we know it
From Grandma Pat, “formerly of rural Roberts, Wisconsin”: “Subject: Random reflections on turning 90 in the time of COVID.
“I am now counting the days until my 90th birthday. I am among the very fortunate. Along the way I have lost my brown-eyed daughter, my husband, and almost all of the relatives and friends my age or older. Blessings abound, though. The remaining kids, grandkids, great-grands, nieces and nephews, and friends give me joy.
“As my sister/roommate and I reminisce, we have new insights. One of these is that a century is not very long at all. We recognize how quickly the years pass. Also, we now question the validity of history. Although we grew up in the same household and lived through the same events, our recollections often differ greatly.
“Right now we cannot go out anyplace. We miss graduations and other significant events. Even here in our senior apartment, many activities are curtailed. Isolation is a challenge, but in our lifetimes we have been through quarantines for measles and mumps, through WWII rationing and blackouts , the polio years etc. We can do this.
“We are able to live in a safe and beautiful place. Every day, we walk through astonishingly gorgeous gardens. We harvest tomatoes, basil, and parsley from our own rooftop garden. Our bird feeders are well used.
“We finally see hope for social change, and trust that the young ones who follow will achieve more than we have been able to. It’s all good.”
Could be verse!
Tim Torkildson: “‘Behold, the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth: much more the wicked and the sinner.’ — Proverbs 11:31
“The recompense that may be mine
“I leave to Holy God divine.
“His loving kindness tips the scales
“because his mercy never fails.”
Words to live by
The Retired Pedagogue of Arden Hills: “Subject: Words of wisdom.
“For my birthday party (masked and social-distanced), my wife posted a number of ‘THOUGHTS TO LIVE BY’ in the garage. Here are two of my favorites:
“‘IF YOU CAN’T BE KIND, AT LEAST HAVE THE DECENCY TO BE VAGUE.’
“‘WE COULD LEARN A LOT FROM CRAYONS. SOME ARE SHARP, SOME ARE PRETTY AND SOME ARE DULL. SOME HAVE WEIRD NAMES AND ALL ARE DIFFERENT COLORS, BUT THEY ALL HAVE TO LIVE IN THE SAME BOX.’”
Band Name of the Day: Not Like Normal People — or: The Emily Litella Moments
Website of the Day: When the Sears Catalog Sold Everything from Houses to Hubcaps