Summer Festivities

Last week we went to see the great Beatles tribute band, American English, at Romeofest. Romeofest is one of the many village festivals that happens in the Chicago area from May to August. We also saw American English at the Taste of Westmont this year, and we are looking forward to attending own village festival tonight even though I think American English are on their way to Liverpool. Most of these festivals include carnival rides and games, concerts, and booths sponsored by local businesses and restaurants.

In a way the festival season reminds me of the church picnic scene back home. Every weekend throughout the summer months there is at least one picnic sponsored by a Catholic parish in Louisville, KY. Most of the picnics run Friday evening and all day Saturday. They include booths with lay-down tables and spinning wheels and the “Three B’s” of Catholicism: beer, bratwurst, and bingo. Some offer a special sit down dinner in addition to the fried foods booth. A few even have carnival rides.

I have many fond memories of my parish’s summer picnic, always held the first weekend of June. My parents were co-captain’s of a booth for over twenty years. When I was little they had the stuffed animal booth, featuring Looney Toons characters. Later they were given “Dolls and Skateboards”. I would sit with my dad while he took the old permanent markers to refresh the numbers on the lay-downs my parents owned and stored in our garage; they were the only ones in the parish where you could lift the board to dump the change into a gutter after each spin of the wheel. At a very young age I learned that ten dimes equals a dollar by clearing out the gutters and refilling the paper cups used to make change for new customers. With inflation, the cost per chance went up to a quarter.

My dad and I usually would go to help set up the the booths themselves which were made of some sort of metal poles that fit together with tarps tied over the top. Then orange plastic fencing was rolled out and tied to the back-side of each line of booths. I would hold light bulbs while an adult spread and tied the socket wiring along the inside.

I think I was in third grade that one magical picnic season when the girl I wanted most in the world to be friends with treated me like an actual human being in front of another person for the first and only time. (Actually we got along fairly well Senior year of high school after a small altercation in History class taught her that I wasn’t going to put up with her crap anymore.) For that short period, though, I was in with the most popular girl in my class. I went to do make-overs with her. I even went to midnight mass with her family (the only other one besides Christmas eve) even though I had already been to the Vigil Mass that day (didn’t know that was a no-no at the time). Then school started back up in August and I was persona non grata again. (I should note that I wanted to be friends with her because we were often the only girls in all the advanced classes not just because she was popular.)

Since my parents co-captained a booth, I pretty much lived at the picnic. I would spend a little time working in the booth, running to get food for myself or other workers, and wandering around with friends from school who parents were also working. Usually my parents probably gave me about ten dollars a day to spend on games, and after about the age of eight I was allowed to roam around without them as long as I checked in regularly. I spent a lot of time watching the dunking booth until I was old enough to appreciate the Big 6 wheel where you could double or triple your money if you were lucky.

The last time I went to a parish picnic was a year or two before we moved up here. My husband, I think, did not get what the big deal was. To the outsider it seemed like a lot of people playing silly games for cheap prizes, young adults consuming mass quantities of beer, and pre-teen girls walking around dressed like prostitutes. But in the south end of Louisville, that basically constitutes a good time had by all. For someone growing up in it, though, the parish picnic always equaled two days of fun, of working with your parents and other adults side-by-side, and being apart of something bigger than yourself.

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