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First Things

Leslie C. McManus

Leslie C. McManus

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When my 10-year-old son and I left home for the Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, he was loaded for bear. Handheld game system and game cassettes? Check. Portable CD player and CDs? Check. 14-day supply of fresh double AA batteries? Check. Admiral Perry traveled lighter when he set off for the North Pole. 

This, however, is the '90s, and boredom is an ever-present foe to a boy. Ours have been raised to prepare for all eventualities: they know the whine of "I'm bored" guarantees a withering look from their parents. So, setting out for his first Old Threshers Reunion, this boy was leaving nothing to chance.

But, as the poet notes, the best laid plans of mice and men gong off to glee. Through all the frenzy of parking and loading and unloading and setting up a table, the electronics inventory was forgotten in the car. By the time Cal remembered his diversions, they were well out of reach. To his credit, there was no whining, but the look on his face suggested that the day ahead would be a long one.

About then, a steam locomotive pulled into the station just across the road from us with the storm of noise only a steam engine can generate. As the engine hissed and clouds of steam burst forth, the sounds of gunfire rang out. Desperadoes! Currency floating in the air! Terrified cries from the conductor!

Next thing I knew, it was noon. Cal returned from a morning of gun fights and train rides, full of news about the show. Lunch was quickly dispensed with, followed by visits to the shingle mill, tours of the traction steam engine display, a look at an ancient steam shovel (recalling the childhood tale of Mike Mulligan and Mary Ann), and inspections of the sorghum mill, sawmill and veneer mill. The rest of the day passed in a blur. Late that night, Cal was bone weary but babbling happily with tales of all he'd seen and done.

Day two? Same song, second verse. A trip to the Log Village, rides on the trolley cars, cream sodas, kettle corn, fiddlers strumming on a porch, Indian dancers, saloon singers ... for once, the 10-year-old's energy level was equal to the task.

He missed a day and a half of school to make the trip, but no amount of time in the classroom could match this lesson. Oh, and that electronics equipment? Kicked under the front seat; long since forgotten. FC