Our Day at the Centennial
My friends, David and Vidya from Washington State , are visiting me. You might remember them from a column I wrote last year in which they were almost stranded in Saskatchewan , frantically searching for their passports at the Monchy border crossing. Well, they are back again.
One morning David was paging through the Havre and Hi-Line Visitor’s Guide. He said, “Where’s Gildford? It says here they are having a Centennial celebration on Saturday. I bet that’ll be fun.” So we decided we would go.
Saturday, after a leisurely breakfast, we headed out to Gildford, excited as all get out. We like town celebrations. We aimed to arrive in time for the chili feed and the historic tour. David speeded up so we could beat the crowd.
Gosh. Gildford was empty. Not a human in sight. We couldn’t find the celebration. No cars were nosed up the restaurant. The bar sported a “For Sale” sign. A black and white cat lay in the middle of the street. The museum looked like it might be locked up for the day. This did not make any sense.
“Maybe the functions are being held at the school or the community center or the park. Everyone could be there—wherever “there” is,” David said. We drove slowly up and down every street in Gildford, searching for a crowd. We saw a woman in her yard, watering flowers. A couple streets over, a man pushed a lawn mower. Two small girls pedaled by on bicycles. Another black and white cat crossed the street. Or maybe it was the same cat.
We sat idling at an intersection for several minutes, contemplating what might have happened. We had searched the entire town and could not locate the festivities. Maybe everything had been cancelled at the last minute. Maybe we had grabbed last year’s visitor’s guide. Maybe the venue was moved to Kremlin. Maybe UFO’s had abducted everybody. Maybe the Rapture had occurred and only we and the two cats were left behind.
“Let’s head back to Havre,” Vidya said. “I’m hungry.”
“Me too,” David agreed. “I could almost taste the home-made chili. Chunks of succulent beef, spicy peppers and beans, dipped steaming out of a giant kettle.”
Over the chicken-fried steak special at Wolfers we continued to puzzle out the mystery of the empty town of Gildford . Without success. We shrugged, paid the bill, and left the diner, picking our teeth. We ambled down the sidewalk just because it was there. The sun was shining. There were a thousand things we could do, but we were lazily content to enjoy one another’s company.
Somehow, scavengers that we are, we ended up at the Salvation Army thrift store. An hour, nineteen books, a coffee cup, and half a “new” wardrobe for Vidya later, we lugged our bounty out the door.
On the way to the car, we passed the Book Exchange. For a long time I had been hunting for an early novel by Wayne Ude, a friend from Harlem school days. There was nothing for it but to go upstairs in the Atrium to see if they had the book. Susie and I disappeared into the office to look it up on the computer.
David idly flipped through a copy of the Havre Daily on the counter. From the office I could hear him sputter. Vidya cackled. They raced in and shook the paper in front of my face. The front page of the second section was filled with photographs of people enjoying the Gildford Centennial—pictures taken the previous Saturday. Oh. Mystery solved.
On the drive back to Harlem , Vidya said, “So, tell me, what was your favorite part of the Centennial?”
I mulled over her question. “The hot-air balloon ride. Definitely. I have wanted to do that for years. What a thrill to glide over the town, up in the air so high.”
“That was your ride. For me, it was to fly, sitting snug behind the pilot in the yellow bi-plane,” David said. “It was just wood and canvas and wire, held together with glue. I couldn’t believe it when the pilot did the figure 8 loops and the rolls.”
Vidya and I giggled. “We saw you throw up after you landed.”
“I loved the turn-of-the-century costumes,” Vidya said. “And that the entire town was in character, as if it were 1910.”
“Yeah, the old cars and the horse-and-buggy rides and the steam threshing machine and the honky-tonk piano and the old time music.”
“And best of all, the chili feed.”
We were a week late. We had missed the whole thing. But we sure had a good time at the Gildford Centennial.
HDN: Looking out my back door
June 17, 2010