I spoke with THE most delightful group of fifty elders yesterday about my books. They meet monthly along the shore of Lake Superior north of Duluth. For the sake of anonymity, I’ll call them the “Pioneers.” I spoke in a church basement after their business meeting but before lunch. The rituals and small-town nature of the event made me feel like I was in an episode of the Red Green Show or Northern Exposure, which are some of my favorite television shows, so this was a good thing.
The meeting began with the pledge of allegiance. O.M.G. I haven’t said the pledge since grade school. I was surprised I still remembered it. Then came opening jokes. Several were shared, including a priest/rabbi joke and an Ole and Lena joke (a Minnesota favorite). The latter dealt with Lena reading “one of dem romance novels,” and the former dealt with “the pleasures of the flesh” – all of which provided perfect unintended lead-ins to my presentation.
But it wasn’t time for that yet. After introducing visitors (which was only me — introduced as a writer of “one of dem romance novels”) the meeting moved onto birthday announcements (complete with song), anniversaries, minutes of the last meeting, a moment of silence for the deceased, a treasurer’s report, and committee reports. At this point we learned which of the Pioneers were absent due to recent heart attacks. Much discussion ensued about next month’s picnic meeting and how to procure and handle the industrial-sized cans of baked beans.
The formal part of the meeting ended with a prize drawing. I don’t recall what the prize was because I was getting ready to talk, which induced momentary panic and a memory lapse, but I’m sure the prize was fabulous.
This was the first opportunity I’ve had to talk about both of my novels at the same time, so it was good practice. And I was surprised by how many Pioneers had heard about recent sightings of piping plovers on a local beach. (Plovers are the topic of my second novel.) The audience asked lots of questions. In the tradition of “Minnesota Nice,” we managed not to get into any fights over wolf management or the existence of climate change (other novel topics).
Afterwards, people were almost throwing their money at me to buy books – another good thing. We ate “a little lunch,” which consisted of finger foods like homemade pickled devil eggs, half sandwiches, and dessert bars. LOTS of bars.
The event was punctuated with much laughter and good humor. The structure reminded me of my family reunions, which are conducted every two years in central Minnesota. While we don’t have jokes or prizes or as much laughter, we do have ice cream, which makes up for a lot.
Although this glimpse of northern Minnesota social heaven was a privilege, I left the church feeling bittersweet. In our current era of online meetings and cyber conversations, I fear that social groups like the Pioneers are a dying tradition. Will the teenagers of today gather in church basements or town halls on a regular basis when they are senior citizens? Or will they invent some new form of support group? If they do, will it be as fun? More important, will they have bars?
Only time will tell.