Dick Herfindahl: How did we survive those hot summers years ago?

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, July 15, 2017

Woods & Water by Dick Herfindahl

The hot weather that we have been experiencing lately brings to mind the hot days that I enjoyed as a youth. We had no air conditioning and one small fan to share with our whole family. My bedroom was upstairs and on those hot, muggy summer nights it could be pretty toasty in that little story and a half house of ours. There were many nights when I would sleep on a sheet on the living room floor with all of the windows open wishing for a faint whisper of breeze. In those days you longed for a bigger and newer fan and air conditioning wasn’t even a thought.

As the hot summer days move us closer to the Freeborn County Fair, I pause to look back at the carefree days of my youth when Pat Smith, a childhood friend of mine, and I would go to the fairgrounds a few days before it started just to check on any improvements and to give our personal stamp of approval. We would look at all of the buildings and imagine what it was going to be like once the fair was going full tilt.

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Patrick lived on the east side of U.S. Highway 65, just a little north of the State Highway Shop. Most of the time he would ride his bike over to my place and then we would bike together to the fairgrounds. On other occasions he would ride his Welsh Pony named “Scout” to my house and we would ride double to the fairgrounds. After we had done that a time or two I became very skeptical of the whole riding double thing. It didn’t take me long to figure out that old Scout didn’t really take a liking to riding double. That horse was very strong-willed and any little thing could set him off, which in turn would usually send me flying off onto the ground.

I must not have been the brightest kid on the block because I kept letting Pat talk me into riding double on that horse on more than one occasion. Whenever he said he was bringing his four-legged friend I would get nervous, which I am sure the horse could sense and I really think that animal actually took pleasure in putting me on the ground.

The day before the fair we would be there watching to see if there were any new rides and would even hope to do a few odd jobs for one of the carneys in return for a free ride or two. One thing that I learned the hard way was there were really no “free” games. I was helping one of the guys set up his game stand and would fetch water for him when he needed a cold drink.

On this particular day I felt pretty lucky to have found a nice fellow to work for. Once he was open for business he gave me some free plays at his ring toss stand but for some reason I just couldn’t quite win a prize. That guy eventually talked me into spending my own money saying that he was sure my luck would change at any moment. I should have checked the rings that he was using because I don’t believe you could have fit them over the bottle top with a hammer. Well, gullible me, I thought it would be impossible to lose forever and with this “nice” man encouraging me I had spent almost all of the lawn mowing and paper route money that I had saved for the fair on the first day.

I headed home later that day with my tail between my legs and just a little change left in my pocket. That night, as I lie in bed listening to the sound of the fair and visualizing all of the folks having fun, I knew that this year the fair wasn’t going to be much fun for this kid. That experience left me feeling devastated for a while because my folks didn’t have any extra money to spare. The fair was pretty much the culmination of summer vacation to me and by losing all of my hard earned money on the first day I wasn’t even going to be able to enjoy it. Wah! Wah!

This is what I now consider a “life lesson” and it did teach me that not everyone is trustworthy and putting all of your eggs in one basket usually doesn’t end well.

There were also many good memories of those days, like hanging out in the livestock barns and the food, the strawberry-pineapple swirl cones were always at the top of my list when it came to a treat. Candied apples, corn dogs, foot longs and flavored chipped ice were also favorites of mine. Each year at the fair they would give away a pony and a car. As time went on the pony was replaced by a bike and finally it went to cash drawings replacing both. In looking back; I don’t believe that a pony was a practical prize for most kids but there they were all the same lined up by the stage with eyes open wide hoping to be the lucky one.

Until next time: There is still plenty of summer left so get out and enjoy it!

Please take some time to honor those that have sacrificed so much for the freedoms that we enjoy today, also take a little extra time to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, those who served and those troops that are serving today.