Jerry Nelson: Arts festivals
Summer arts festivals have been the bane of my existence for more than four decades.
Don’t get me wrong — I enjoy art as much as the next guy, especially if the next guy’s definition of “art” includes the masterwork that’s often paired with the words “Kilroy was here.”
I didn’t have much use for art as a kid growing up on our small South Dakota dairy farm. Mom and my teachers tried to interest me in the world of fine art, but I had poor eye-hand coordination and could never color inside the lines.
Three-dimensional artistic expression was more my speed, but even there I was an abject failure. No one will ever recall nor fully appreciate the artistry behind the way I would sculpt a majestic peak whenever I packed a five-gallon bucketful of silage. Silage that was then fed to our insipidly unappreciative Holsteins.
The universe of art, I decided, was not for me. That decision held until I acquired a girlfriend the summer when I was nineteen.
The girlfriend adored all the arts, including plays, sculptures and paintings. But she also had some redeeming qualities, so I stuck with her.
The girlfriend lived on a farm with her mother, her irascible stepfather, and siblings. Her stepfather, a former Air Force colonel, didn’t seem to like me.
For example, one day he was working his tractor as I hung around and watched. Annoyed by my snoopervision, he barked in a commanding officer-like tone, “This tractor’s fan blades are filthy! Go to the storage shed and get me a can of prop wash!”
Eager to impress the stepfather, I immediately trotted to the shed. I conducted an exhaustive search but could not locate any containers labeled “prop wash.”
When I reported this to the stepfather, he growled, “Never mind! What I need is a lefthanded Crescent wrench. Think you can handle that?”
I returned from a subsequent search of his shop with more sad news.
“I couldn’t find a lefthanded Crescent wrench,” I reported. “All you have is this righthanded one.”
“That will have to do!” the stepfather snarled. “Dismissed!”
I saw the slightest glimmer of a grin as he flipped the wrench over and put it in his left hand.
That evening as I supped with the girlfriend and her large family, her stepfather said, “This genius here spent half an hour looking for prop wash!” The room erupted in laughter. It dawned on me that I’d been had by a professional leg-pulling artist.
The girlfriend mentioned that she would like to attend a local arts festival the next day. I was about to say, “Count me out!” and share my low opinion about art when the stepfather looked at me in a way that said, “If you don’t do this for my stepdaughter, I’ll tell everyone about the Crescent wrench!”
I meekly agreed to take the girlfriend to the arts festival.
The Brookings Summer Arts Festival is always held in Pioneer Park on the second weekend of July. The second weekend in July always has the sort of summertime heat that can cause your heinie crack to turn into a miniature swamp.
The girlfriend and I moseyed into Pioneer Park. There were perhaps twenty booths set up in a small section of the park. Were it not for a stop at the lemonade stand, I could have experienced the entire arts festival in mere minutes. I was seriously underwhelmed.
But the girlfriend found some pals to chat with, so I perused the festival again. I watched, enraptured, as a blacksmith hammered out knickknacks on his anvil. I eventually purchased a ring that he had forged from a horseshoe nail. Later that day, I gave the ring to the girlfriend. The ring might have represented the circle of our relationship, but it actually represented cheapest thing I could find.
Flash forward a decade. The girlfriend and her intimidating stepfather have long since faded from the scene. I’m married and my wife and I have two young sons.
On the second weekend in July, my wife mentions that we should attend the arts festival. I agree, thinking that it would be lame.
I was wrong. The arts festival had grown into an event that was approximately the size of Woodstock. I enjoyed the live music, the food and the strawberry smoothies. There was also a bunch of artsy stuff.
Now that the pandemic is fading the rearview mirror, I’m ready to attend the Summer Arts Festival again. This, despite the very real risk that my heinie crack might be officially listed as a navigable waterway.
If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at Workman.com and at booksellers everywhere.