Lulu and I are going on vacay together, to the exotic locale of Hudson, Wisconsin, just outside the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, a.k.a., my homeland and the ever-present subject of my nostalgic fantasies.
It started when I was thinking of booking a spur-of-the-moment trip home because I missed my parents so much and I longed for the wide open skies and sparkling water of the St. Croix River valley, where they live. Airfares were suddenly on sale and my plan to save both my money and vacation days for a forthcoming trip with Lily to Las Vegas and with my mom to London was crumbling.
Lulu is super-busy at work and is in “don’t talk to me, man” mode when I call her. I am very familiar with this season at her office, having worked there for a couple years. It’s best just to back off, which I have done. The other day we were out with another pal for manicures at a salon that was having Madonna night—they paint your nails and bring you martinis while they play Madonna. (Oh sorry, is this a salon in Toronto? I thought it was heaven.)
Lulu was all, I think I need to book myself into a B&B and just go veg by myself for a few days. I was all for it and tried to encourage her. Not making the connection, I was all, yeah, I’m also feeling the sudden urge for a holiday and am thinking of going to see my parents, despite my protests that I wasn’t going to do that this summer.
“Maybe I can come with you,” said Lulu.
Well, of course that sealed the deal.
We booked it and then I got all excited because the visit will coincide with the Minnesota State Fair, which I say without boasting is the largest state fair in the U.S. You can eat any kind of food you can imagine deep-fried on a stick and you can look at cows raised by 4-H kids and you can visit the “modern living centre” to see the latest newfangled vacuum cleaner and you can go to the DFL booth and schmooze with the latest Democratic candidate for the state senate (or you can go to the IR booth and jeer the latest candidate for the state senate) and you can go on creaky rides run from the back of trucks operated by men with leather for skin. The highlight of the Fair for me was always the double Ferris Wheel. It’s hard to explain except to say that it’s exactly what it sounds like—two Ferris Wheels in one. Each wheel goes around on its own but both wheels also rotate around each other, like a binary star. It’s scary because it goes fast but it’s gentle because it’s a Ferris Wheel.
A few years ago I was reading a book called Leaving Home by Garrison Keillor, the writer and radio guy, who is pretty much my number one and enduring hero in life, and he had this to say about a trip to the Fair when he was young and forced to man the Christian Brethren booth and encouraged to avoid the temptations of the midway.
I went up in the Ferris Wheel for a last ride before being thrown into seventh grade. It went up into the stars and fell back to Earth and rose again, and I had a magnificent vision, or I think I did, though it’s hard to remember if that was the year with the chocolate cake or the next one with the pigs getting loose. The Ferris Wheel is the same year after year. It’s like all one ride to me: we go up and I think of the people I knew who are dead and I smell fall in the air, manure, corn dogs, and we drop down into blazing light and blaring music. Every summer I’m a little bigger, but riding the Ferris Wheel, I feel the same as ever, I feel eternal. The combination of cotton candy, corn dogs, diesel smoke, and sawdust, in a hot dark summer night, it never changes, not an inch. The wheel carries us up high, high, high, and stops, and we sit swaying, creaking, in the dark, on the verge of death. You can see death from here. The wind blows from the northwest, from the farm school in St. Anthony Park, a chilly wind with traces of pigs and sheep in it. This is my vision: little kids holding on to their daddy’s hand, and he is me. He looks down on them with love and buys them another corn dog. They are worried they will lose him, they hang on to his leg with one hand, eat with the other. This vision is unbearably wonderful. Then the wheel brings us down to the ground. We get off and other people get on. Thank you, dear God, for this good life, and forgive us if we do not love it enough.
Later, when he came to town to do a reading and book signing (for a much newer book) I stood in line and opened my book to page 115 and asked him to sign over the passage about the Ferris Wheel, which he did, but only after warning me about getting too nostalgic and romantically homesick for Minnesota and telling me to stay in Toronto.
So you can imagine my excitement over this little field trip with Lulu to my homeland. (Lily, hailing from Iowa and having lived for many years in Minnesota, gets all the shorthand). This was the context for a recent all-one-run-on-sentence-phone message from Lulu:
Hi. I’m bored. We’re going to go for a walk. Sean says I can’t go with you unless there’s enough relaxation factored into the whole trip and I said, I already told you that, and he said, well, you know what she’s like, she gets all excited, and I said, we’re going to relax and go for cappuccinos in the little village every morning and I’m going to sing along the way and it’s going to be like the Sound of Music so I’ve got to make my costume I’ve got to go, bye.