Pastor Walter Mitty met Bernie Rolvaag the Wednesday before Labor Day. Mitty was walking home, intending to stop in at the Retro to say hello to Zaphne, when he saw that a new business had moved in next door. The sign on the awning said History/Herstory.
Intrigued, Pastor Walter passed by Zaphne’s door and walked into what turned out to be a book store to meet the newest entrepreneur in Poplar Park. The two men hit it off immediately. Bernie, whose divorce had been made final three months ago, had decided to move his business and residence to Poplar Park from Bucktown to start a fresh chapter in his life. Three years older than the pastor of Poplar Park Community Church, he was single and looking for new friends.
Mitty had been a history major in college and saw that Bernie had historical novels as well as straight history. Pastor Walt’s favorite author was Michner. The two men joked about the freedom of bachelorhood, found out they both had opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning and enjoyed escaping to Wisconsin every chance they could get.
“Say, Walt,” said Bernie. “This is last minute, but I’m going up to Edgerton Sunday afternoon to what’s known as the Rock River Thresheree. They have restored farm steam engines and a ton of antique tractors. You want to drive up with me after church?”
“That sounds great,” Mitty replied. “I was up to see Herman and his family last week for the county fair and really had no plans for Labor Day Weekend.”
The two new friends arrived at the thresheree grounds around 1 p.m., and to Mitty’s amazement, there must have been 2,000 cars parked in the newly mown alfalfa fields a couple miles outside of Edgerton. Wagons pulled by John Deere tractors shuttled visitors from their cars to the thresheree. As soon as the two men walked on to the thresheree grounds, Mitty felt like he was back on his uncle’s farm half way between Manitowoc and Valders.
Old time steam engines were driving the long belts that powered the antique threshing machines being fed pitchforks full of wheat by three men in bib overalls. A little further down a dirt road, a saw mill powered by another steam engine was making lumber. And there were hundreds of 50 and 60-year-old tractors-red Farmalls and green John Deeres and orange Allis Chalmers and yellow Minneapolis Molines.
“The parade is going to start in 10 minutes,” Bernie said with a grin. “Let’s get over to the bowl.”
Walt and Bernie rose with the rest of the crowd as VFW members marched in the colors, and the crowd joined in saying the pledge of allegiance. Men took off their Green Bay Packer baseball caps and women put their right hands over their hearts. Children stopped playing and copied their parents’ behavior.
These were the same kind of people Pastor Walt had grown up with. They were conservative without being rednecks. They believed in family values but listened with interest to the liberal ideas their college age children were trying on for size. Many of the cars in the parking lot had bumper stickers declaring “We support our troops.” These were good people, thought Mitty, who judged each other by the content of their character.
Walt and Bernie sipped lemonade made from scratch as they and 800 other people watched the crowning of the thresheree queen, 70-year-old Mabel Korfmacher, followed by a steady stream of steam engines and old time tractors.
Bernie was driving, so on the way home Mitty had time to think. And to his surprise, he found his contentment turning to anger. At first the intensity of his emotion surprised and puzzled him.
As they passed the Belvidere rest stop, he finally understood the cause of his anger. “Carl Rove and Dick Cheney make me so mad,” he thought. “They deceived these good people and others like them all around this country. They used their fears, their trust, their respect for authority and their patriotism to get them to support something they now regret.”