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Down on the Farm: Fair Food

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The local county fair closed last night. Although my plan was to hide under the bed for the duration, I did the opposite.

The big draw is the food. How can you sit at home when there are forty food options in town, options that won't be there next week? Who cares if those options are almost all deep-fried, don't we owe it to ourselves to expand our culinary palette when we have the opportunity?

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At the Polk County Fair, one very popular option is the Concordia Food Stand where since the Great Depression, the big local Lutheran church has served hearty, home-style meals to help pay the minister.

The Concordia stand was my first stop. They had meatballs the size of baseballs, as many as you wanted up to five, and a dollop of mashed potatoes the size of a softball, all of it covered by a river of gravy.

Then come the add-ons down the line such as fruit cups for those who want to retain the appearance of good health. For the rest of us, a selection of homemade pies awaited.

However, you don't just go to the fair to eat, as I had intended to. You have to get in and out of the fair, and that involves visiting.

People like to talk. As it turns out, so do I. Getting caught up usually means exchanging stories. Every story they tell suggests one I need to tell, and this ping-pong game can go into extra innings before somebody or something interrupts, at which time the person who got in the last story is apparently declared the winner and you move on to the quarterfinals of the visiting competition, which will start over by the merry-go-round in three minutes.

The real winner of this year's visiting competition, I decided, was an underclassman who went on to be a minister far away.

Minister, indeed! The good reverend had the gift of drawing out your life issues in the first minute, solving them in the next, and it wasn't until he left that a bunch of us discussed the matter and realized that all of us had bared our souls to the class nerd in the past hour.

Nerd no more! He has our secrets!

Back to the Concordia food stand, where I happened to sit next to Emil Nelson who introduced me to his wife Elaine. They live in Maple Grove, but were born up here. Emil is brother to Ellis Nelson, who used to have the blacksmith shop. His wife was a Stephenson. They were raised out on the Peterson farm, where the Olsons now live. Sad that they had to tear down that old barn, so many memories.

Anyway, Emil knew my grandpa through Farm Bureau and Elaine roomed with my aunt at the Lutheran Bible Institute in Seattle. Oh, they had so much fun, especially that pillow fight when feathers filled the hall.

To top it all off, their son Lynn works with Orville and Marie Bjorndahl's boy Larry down at Conglomerated Materials in Bloomington.

The story gets even more incredible: Believe it or not, Larry's lake place is in Brainerd and it took he and his wife Jean two full years to realize that their next door neighbors were related to the Omar Finkendoodles from north of town through marriage. If you remember, Marilyn Finkendoodle was originally a Stephenson who was raised out on the Peterson farm.

Well now their daughter, I forget her name, has gotten married to Mervin Overstad's boy Neil, who is coaching down in Golden Prairie. Believe it or not, the guard on his basketball team last year, which got third in the state in Class AAAA or AAA, they've got so many divisions now you can't keep it straight, is the grandson of Gene and Becky Fingletwerp who you remember got married out at Salem, that church over towards the lake that just left the ELCA.

Got it? It really is a small world! Time to get home.

But right outside the stand stood old Howard Felstad who was going to call me but never got around to it but anyway, he had been on a cruise in Alaska and got to know this nice couple from Missoula that it turns out had gone to college with my Aunt Mavis before Mavis got married to Alden, who then took a job with Boeing out in Seattle.

It was three hours before I made it to my car. That's the price of a meatball dinner at the county fair!

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Eric Bergeson

Eric Bergeson is the third generation owner of Bergeson Nursery in Fertile, Minn., a business started by his grandfather in 1937. He also writes a weekly column for several newspapers in northwestern Minnesota. He has published four books, including most recently Pirates on the Prairie, which the Minneapolis Tribune called "a Minnesota cultural and historical treasure." You can read more from Eric at his website, The Country Scribe

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