I woke to the roaring whisper of the wind through the treetops. It held me those first few minutes, like a song can hold a memory, and then the rain came. Quietly at first, it was the tuning of an orchestra on my rooftop before it burst into the bold sounds of brass and percussion.
It felt exquisitely “summer” lying awake to the sound of a warm rain. I had long since kicked off the quilt and lay with only the sheet covering my body. The ceiling fan kept the air moving and I shifted to my other side once more, one arm under my head and the other cradling my growing abdomen.
I can feel the kicks now, have been for weeks, even though it’s still early. It’s never not on my mind, this little starlight of a being, even while a thousand other topics and tasks ask for attention. I imagine it’s what centuries of women before me have gone through after loss and grief. The refusal to love for a time, avoiding attachment to the very idea, the anxiety of not knowing if one tiny decision or indecision will lead down that horrible road of pain and emptiness again. It has taken incredible courage and faith not to live in fear these last few months and even more to soddenly pick my way out of it when I’ve stumbled too close to its powerful tentacles.
But now that it feels somewhat safe to assume the baby will keep, I have taken to celebrating “lasts”. Where I usually rejoice in firsts of all sorts, this summer feels like a birthday party for lasts. The last summer before my Iris goes to school. The last summer it’ll be just our sweet little party of three. The last time my attention is on solely her as we swim in the inlet, walk our quiet roads, or revel at the fair.
The fair, in all its shabby, over-priced glory is as quintessential summer as it gets in our rural locale. We quietly avoided it with her last year, but this summer it felt right to make a production of the whole thing. Just the build-up and anticipation brought such joy: pointing out the fairgrounds each time we came to town, seeing the flyers here and there, memorizing the schedule in the newspaper, deciding what treats we would taste first, what rides we would ride, and how long we would look at the floppy-eared bunnies and feather-footed chickens.
She’s five now, tall enough to go on all but two of the rides, and though we’d missed the advanced ticket sales (never again), I handed out the $3 tickets with abandon. If she wanted to run through silly fun houses three times in a row, faster each time, it didn’t matter to me. We blew through the imaginary ticket budget and then went back for more. We took breaks for cotton candy or ice cream and then traipsed back out to the rides.
My only selfish objective of the whole experience was to finally get to the SAP SAP food truck, run by Joy Phonesavanh Sprester and her family. Having lived on the West Coast for more than two decades, I dearly miss and appreciate good Asian food, and SAP SAP didn’t disappoint. In fact, I was very impressed. I asked Joy to choose for me, and I walked away with a dish called Nam Khao, which was divinely flavorful and worth well more than the asking price if I’d been sitting down somewhere eating from real plateware. Krispy bits of rice and ham with the flavors of lemongrass, cilantro, green onions and peanuts mingling together. It was served with bright green romaine leaves so I made little lettuce wraps of most of it and ate every last morsel that fell back into the bowl.
We stood watching some of the music while we ate our fair dinners. The five-year old opted for a corn dog, which she ate the breading off of first while dancing and mingling with people she didn’t know. I drew the line at her licking the ketchup out of her plastic ramekin and cleaned her up with napkins and the traditional spit thumb, though I now let her lick my thumb instead of me. An old-timer standing beside me looked at my dish and then asked, “would you call that ‘roughage’?” before chuckling long at his own joke.
The people were the best part of the fair, though I’m sure the five-year old would disagree, as they routinely made her wait 2-3 cycles before it was her turn on the bigger rides. But I enjoyed the dusty bits of humanity traipsing through our own summery tourist trap. The diversity that now exists in Northern Minnesota surely didn’t when I was a child begging for more ride tickets at the very same fair.
Late this year I’ll bring another plain white baby into the world, no exotic seasoning, no mixed heritage beyond my English, Dutch and German mingled with his Norwegian. But I’ll parade him or her around the fair next year as if I have the world in my stroller. And indeed I will. There is nothing so close to God as a newborn. A child in full glee at the top of the Ferris wheel must surely be a close second. She didn’t stop talking the entire evening, unless she was screaming in delight on a ride.
“It’s so amazing up here!” She exclaimed countless times as the wheel made its slow rotation letting people on and off. “Are you taking in the view, Mama?” she asked me again and again. It was easy to be quiet and let her joy reverberate to the mountaintops and back. She pointed to the dark evergreens near the river, “It’s so beautiful over there!” she said, and then with both arms out over the Midway as if beholding the entirety of the fair, “but it’s SO EXCITING over here!”
Her tanned skin, and sun-lightened hair, ketchup stained shirt and sticky fingers were my breathtaking view and I couldn’t look elsewhere. Didn’t need to. She was as summer as the fair, and whether it was a first or a last didn’t matter. I felt as full as I could possibly feel.
(Published in the July 24th issue of the Warroad Pioneer)