Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Coming of Age in a Small Town

Memorial Day around here is something akin to the Black Friday after Thanksgiving. It marks the the last 30 days of preparation before Independence Day weekend. Surrounding communities kick off their celebrations in succeeding weekends: Conrad Whoop Up, Augusta Rodeo, Dutton Fun Day, Fairfield Swim Day, and Dupuyer Grizzly Day. In rural communities such as Choteau, you have but one festival a year to "make hay"; ours is the Fourth of July.

Boxers train for months for the Smoker while organizers hit up fight sponsorships, organize the ring (set up in a rodeo arena), chairs, stands, tickets, advertising, ring girls, announcers, security and medical.

Jaycees put up flags, take down flags, and organize advertising, set up music and food for Fling on Spring Creek. Soroptomists put together games and family friendly booths and reconfigure the creek rocks to maximize the water flow (shhh,don't tell Fish and Game!). Duck races are serious things here and the race heats must be competitive!

Chamber of Commerce organizes the parade route, lineup, judges,grand marshals, and theme. Others skewer steaks on pitchforks and make mounds of friend potatoes. Good souls pick up and pack up. Volunteer firefighters referee, and award prizes for the much-contested Keg Hockey tournament. When they're done there, they'll provide shoulders and security for the smoker. When they're done there, they'll set up and set off the community fireworks. And, in the midst of all of the above, they hold down day jobs and respond as EMTs and scene security.

Booster Club sells fireworks for a week. Bright Eyes rescue and rehab center holds bakes sales. 4-H kids, fresh off of county fair, sell concessions, compete in the rodeo, hock goods for their cause.

The Lions Club Swimming Pool (the oldest civic group-run pool in Montana) overflows with squeals and splashing, hoping that next year, we can break the ground for a new one. Farmers look wistfully over tall, but wet hay. Ranchers move their cattle to higher pasture. Outfitters shuttle happy guests between the mountain camps and town.

Class reunions set up at the country club, the hotels, and even on the feed store dock! Grizzly Marathon gets runners registered, ran, and awarded for the Run for Freedom.DJs spin tunes while bartenders try to keep an eye on the doubling crowds, and all the reserve officers in the county are on for 72 hours.

It's busy and bustling with unrelenting lists and guests, and supplies, and calls...each needing their own attention. Entrepreneurs on every corner cook, outfit, or hand water to weary participants.

Over at the rodeo grounds, American Legion, Sons of the American Legion and Legion Auxiliary members, along with a crew of volunteers, scrub the concessions stands, paint numbers on the grand stand, turn over the arena, pick up trash, put in fence, make new corrals, and turn the dirt once more.

Businesses and non profits, families, and sporting groups are checking to make sure they have enough staffing, facilities, food, and transportation. Politicians make campaign signs, pack candy, and shake hands.

And now, at 35, I fall into their ranks...working the feed store by day, meeting deliveries late at night, painting numbers on grand stand seats, trouble-shooting at the museum, selling fireworks, cooking brunch, scrubbing the house, mowing the lawn, getting laundry done for the next week...visiting with guests, hugging on my family, and remembering the veterans and our current troops.

It's a wonderful, invigorating, and exhausting process of becoming a full-fledged community member. It requires that I have more than one priority, remember that we have small economic windows here, and that all of this is possible, and much of it guaranteed, by the constitution of my country. And that if it were never for the Declaration of Independence, I may have never had the choice of where I lived, worked, schooled, volunteered or done none of the above.

And as the weekend winds down, Wylie and the Wild West yodeled to a park full of tired weekenders as they lick their fingers from bbq and await the grand fireworks disply.

I realize how happy I am in my little small town life, a member of the very proud,interdependent,intergenerational Fourth of July Celebration in Choteau, Montana. We're a little tired, but that's how we make the hay.

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