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Church basement open house

May 24, 2009

Cold clafoutis is almost as good for breakfast as it is warm for dessert. Got up relatively early this morning and drove with the family out to central ND for a cousin’s graduation. He had about 40 kids in his graduating class and miraculously, the ceremony only took an hour and a half (his older sister’s was two and a half hours – did I mention it was bleacher seating only?). The open house, however, took place in the basement of a tiny little Congregational church (white clapboard with a steeple and gothic arched stained glass windows). It looked like a rural church, with decor from the 1960s and ’70s, including a large oil painting of Jesus and “all the little children of the world,” including stereotypical and borderline racist Hawaiian, African, European, and Asian children. But, as my sister said, “At least it’s multicultural.” True that, sis, true that. It also smelled like a rural church: one part dust, one part mustiness mixed with one part ammonia-based cleaner and wood wax and add two generous parts old lady perfume.

The open house party was in the little basement and was actually quite cute and fun. My cousin (the grad’s older sister) is a graphic designer and made very nice posters for him, one of his senior pictures saying “Congrats,” and another a collage of photos from him growing up. Very adorable.

The food, which is the main point of posting this, was extraordinarily stereotypical of rural graduation open houses, but was also quite good. Sliced ham & turkey – the real stuff, not deli meat – on the most delicious and giant buns I’ve ever had, various kinds of potato chips, dill pickles, fruit salad with whipped cream and marshmallows, potato salad, mixed nuts, and a half-sheet marble cake with white frosting and a John Deere theme. The fruit salad was good, if a little on the sweet side, and the potato salad was okay (a little bland), and the marble cake was dense and moist and good like all grocery store/bakery-bought sheet cakes seem to be. Oh, did I mention there was punch (store-bought fruit punch with 7-Up, basically) and lots and lots of coffee?

All the relatives went, some I hadn’t seen in a long time, so it was nice to visit. The grad is going into agricultural sales or electrical work, he hasn’t decided yet. It was strange how all of his classmates were not leaving the state (except for one or two going to Moorhead State) and many of them were going to tech schools. Only one was going to a private school and that was for elementary education. At least two of the boys were going straight back to work on the family farm.

For a city girl with a BA from a private, liberal arts college and about to go on to graduate school, it was a little surreal. Part of me wanted to ask these kids: Don’t you have bigger ambitions? But the other part of me was glad they were being practical. Because lord knows it’ll be a helluva lot easier to get a job in diesel tech or as an electrician than some of my friends with 4-year degrees in English Literature, not to mention the $50,000 in student loans (I was lucky and with a scholarship, got away with half that).

It was an interesting peek into rural life. As was the drive through the town, which was surprisingly large, but also quite run-down. It must have been quite prosperous at one point because there are lots of old (aka 1880s-1920s) houses around town, some of them well-kept, others falling apart. The town was also prosperous enough to give away $125,000 over six years in its Dollars for Scholars program (local businesses donate to a fund that awards scholarships, most of which were well under $1,000).

The drive out was also interesting. Farmers were burning off their fields, even though there was still a lot of water in the ditches and ponds and a few of the rivers were still flooded (though not as badly as a month ago). Tons of waterfowl were everywhere, and not just mallards and Canada geese, but grebes and pintails and pelicans and egrets and cormorants and teals. I even saw a ringneck pheasant (male) stalking through the ditch.

Tomorrow we might go out to the lake. This is a very common thing in the Red River Valley, particularly in the F-M area. As soon as Memorial Day rolls around (sometimes sooner, if the weather is nice like it has been), people pack up their cars and boats and kids and head east into Minnesota to lakes country (most go no further than the Detroit Lakes area). Tomorrow, however, is supposed to be cold and rainy. I kind of like to go to the lake then. My great-aunt and -uncle have a cabin out there with a giant screen porch (almost larger than the cabin itself) and I like to bundle up in sweatshirts and jeans and sit around playing cards and eating good food. If we go tomorrow we might try and make a rhubarb crisp before we go. Or maybe some break-apart store-bought cookies. Cheating, I know, but fast.

And now, since I spent about 5 hours in the car today and a total of nearly 10 hours straight of sitting, I’m going to go lay down and go to bed. G’night!

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