Thursday, June 23, 2016

Bare Ruined Choirs

  Yesterday Teresa and I took her dad to a Swedish Midsummer festival held in an old Lutheran Church out in the country east of Kennedy. I usually weasel my way out of these events, but it was Teresa's birthday so I offered to go along. We picked up Einar at noon in Roseau and headed west.
It was cool, windy and rainy. Teresa was sipping coffee and halfway there said, "I suppose I'll have to use an outdoor outhouse." 
  We arrived about twenty minutes early. I noticed the church bell was sitting on the ground by the steps. Those things are heavy and it's good to take them down before they fall down. Inside the entry, a steady stream of water was pouring down from the steeple into a hole in the partially rotted floorboards.
"Do you have a bathroom?" Teresa asked the guy who appeared to be in charge.
"An outhouse?"
"What do you recommend?"
"You can use the church in Halma."
"Is that the church we passed?"
"I don't know."
"We came through Halma."
"Then that's it."
  We got Einar settled and drove the six miles to Halma. We got back to the church at 2:05.
"We haven't missed much," Teresa said. Indeed. For the next hour, we stood around and watched four people make two big wreaths out of daisies, yellow clover, peonies." These wreaths were to be hung on the maypole that would be erected outside, if the rain ever quit. The maypole is a symbol of the new growth of summer. To me it had phallic overtones, but Wiki said no. To Germanic peoples it's just a symbol of vegetative growth. It was other peoples that dragged in the phallic overtones.
  The festival was sponsored by the Agassiz Swedish Heritage Society, average age of its members: 82. I mingled with the festival goers. It was cold and damp in the church and I was tempted to sneak a cup of coffee from the kitchen, but was told the coffee was for lunch after the maypole was raised.
I knew a few of my fellow festival goers. There was old Eddie, wearing a Trump button. I let it go since Hill has Minn in the bag. The festival is held in a different location each year. The folks trying to preserve the church had offered their venue to collect the free-will offering to defray church related expenses.
  Finally the wreaths were done, but it was still raining. We all sat in the nave and sang songs in Swedish and gradually in English, accompanied by a mandolin. The church seemed basically sound, but age is creeping in at the edges. The society president announced that the rain had quit and called five young men to set up the maypole in front of the church. I, at age 69, was tapped to help. The maypole was basically a 20 foot mast with a crosstree with hooks at the ends for hanging the wreaths. We stood the pole up and the president slipped a Christmas tree stand under the base. On a perfectly calm day this setup might have worked, but the wind was gusting at 25 knots. A wreath blew off. We lowered the pole and rehung it. Someone ordered us to move the pole close to the church where he would tie it to the railing. He had a whole box of baler twine I noted. As we moved the pole, the other wreath fell of. These wreaths were well made, because they held their shape despite this rough handling. As we lowered and raised the pole I was relieved that no society members were bonked on the head.
  At last the pole was secured to the railing. Traditionally, you're supposed to dance around the pole while someone plays a fiddle or mandolin. This would have been awkward enough with the pole tied to the front steps of the church, even if we had been disposed to dance. No, we wanted our ration of coffee and traditional Swedish baked goods.
  In the dining room the hot coffee seemed to make everything jollier. On one wall hung one of those big, many-paged picture albums common in Lutheran churches. Unfortunately 90% of the pictures had been removed. However, there were newspaper clippings describing the 75th, 100th and 125th anniversaries of the church. I learned that the church had been built on 10 acres donated by the Great Northern Railroad in the 1800s. By 1964 the church had to close due to waning membership.  A handful of weddings and funerals were held into the seventies. Now, except for the wind, the old church stands silent from one season to the next. The people who have childhood memories of the place are now in their 60s so the church could linger on another twenty years or so. But one day the wind will take it, or fire, and that will be that.

                                   A rare bit of prairie that's never been plowed

                                                 There will be lunch. 

                                             Time consumes all things.


Joe said...

While the Norse are known for their ancient sagas, me thinks you are developing a new genre for the old, modern Swede: Minnesota äldresaga. Great story! I hope Teresa eventually found relief...

Chairman Joe said...

Teresa found relief in a sweet little church in Halma. On the way there she said, "If it wasn't raining, I'd be happy with a secluded ditch."