NORTH MORRISTOWN on the Fourth of July suits me and my rural roots. Not that I’m rooted to this place in the middle of farm country in southwestern Rice County. But the down-to-earth basics of this nearly 130-year-old Independence Day celebration appeal to the raised-on-a-Redwood-County-farm girl in me.
I appreciate how this event, held annually on festival grounds in a rural Minnesota landscape, remains basically unchanged. Just like North Morristown, which is not a town, but rather farm sites, fields, a Lutheran church and school, and the grassy, shaded celebration site.
The rural character of July Fourth here prevails. In tractors and grain trucks. In barns, machine sheds and farmhouses. But it stretches beyond that to the people, to families rooted in North Morristown for generations. In many ways, Independence Day here is as much a celebration of our nation’s birthday as it is one big family reunion. With guests, like me, welcomed.
The event feels friendly and comfortably homey. I recognize that doesn’t come without a lot of planning, time, effort and hard work on the part of volunteers. I’ve coordinated and led events much smaller than this and fully realize the work and commitment.
So to those who spearheaded this year’s Fourth of July in North Morristown, thank you. And to those who have led in the past, thank you also. You are bringing joy to a lot of people. You are preserving the past. You are bringing people of all ages together from all over, this year from as far away as the Philippines. You are strengthening families and building memories. You are offering an alternative to high tech everything.
In a fast-paced world, we need a place and event like North Morristown on the Fourth to remind us to slow down, to sit for a spell. To listen to the music. To savor a slice of homemade pie or a pork sandwich. To visit with friends and family and strangers. To watch babies toddle in bare feet and kids climb onto vintage horses. To play BINGO or hunt for a hidden medallion. To feel grateful for faith and family and health and country.
At its core, North Morristown on the Fourth represents so many things I hold dear. I expect others feel the same.
TELL ME: Did you attend the North Morristown July 4 celebration or one similar? I’d like to hear.
Although the selection was limited by this time in the day-long event, we still found tasty pies. I chose fresh strawberry while Randy opted for rhubarb, both parceled in generous portions.
While we forked our pies, the ever-popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performed to an appreciative audience on the nearby Main Stage. The crowd settled onto bleachers, folding chairs inside the gazebo and onto plank benches, and also spilled onto the grassy area in lawn chairs and on blankets.
Several musical groups performed throughout a day packed with family-friendly events: A parade, patriotic program, BINGO, kiddie rides and games, and so much more.
Once we finished our pie, we roamed the festival grounds, a grassy space shaded by towering trees (including aged oaks) and next to farm sites and fields. Across the street sits Trinity Lutheran Church and School, the school benefiting from funds raised at this long-running July Fourth celebration.
I love everything about this event. The timeless quality. The step back in time. The connecting with friends (and for many, with family). The music. The food.
To be in North Morristown on the Fourth of July is to experience a sense of community, to feel comforted by the sameness of this celebration, to understand that this is about more than Independence Day. This is about rural America and how family and community and tradition are valued and cherished here.
As I watched the engineer of the barrel train steer his lawn tractor, I thought, what wonderful memories these kids will have of riding that homemade train. The same goes for the other kiddie rides and carnival games which remain unchanged. I need to bring my grandchildren here to experience this.
Generations of families run the rides and booths, stitching stories into their family histories. The kids will always remember going to North Morristown on the Fourth—to pluck a yellow rubber duck from a pond, to throw a ball toward a hoop or toward spinning “dolls,” to drop a line into the fish pond…all for some prize that is more treasure than trinket on July 4.
North Morristown on the Fourth truly rates as an American treasure.
Although Randy and I did not grow up here, we have lived in neighboring Faribault for 40 years and know a lot of people. So we saw many there—Mel, Carl, Leroy, Shirley, Virgil, Jane, Jen, Mike…and a college friend, Annette, whom I haven’t seen in decades. We made new friends, too, Kevin and Brenda from Elysian and another couple from Monticello. That’s the thing about this celebration. Sit at a picnic table and you’ll find yourself engaging in conversation with strangers.
After we completed our tour of the festival grounds and enjoyed the music by Monroe Crossing, Randy and I ordered sandwiches. I got barbecued pork. He chose a burger. The food, served from vintage stands, is always, always delicious. And, yes, we ate our dessert before our main meal because we weren’t willing to risk the pie running out.
Several hours after arriving in the less-busy, less-crowded late afternoon, we left, taking the scenic route home along gravel roads winding past farm sites. I felt so appreciative of this rural setting, of North Morristown on the Fourth of July and of the people who make this event happen. What an exceptional example of a holiday celebration which, at its core, remains unchanged and rooted in community and family.
FYI: Please check back for a second post with more photos from North Morristown on July Fourth.
NORTH MORRISTOWN OFFERSa July Fourth celebration unlike any other in Minnesota. It’s grassroots Americana, billed as the longest-running Independence Day celebration in the state. Since 1892 (with the exception of 2020 due to COVID-19), folks have gathered on a plot of land across from Trinity Lutheran Church and School in western Rice County for this rural-rooted community event.
I’ve attended many times (click here to view past blog posts), even though I hold no familial connection to this place. Yet, I always feel welcome. I’ve lived in nearby Faribault for 39 years and know a lot of people in the area. The Fourth of July in North Morristown is, at its core, about reconnecting with family and friends. Or, if you’re new to the event, meeting new people and experiencing an old-fashioned, down-to-earth Independence Day celebration.
While some activities, such as a Remote Control Demolition Derby and Bean Bag Competition, have been added to the event, most activities are long-standing. A Patriotic Program, 10 AM parade complete with Candy House, silent auction, BINGO, Medallion Hunt, games, vintage kiddie rides and more endure. There’s something incredibly comforting and charming about keeping things the same.
From the Pie Stand to the Hamburger Stand, the food offerings are basic and delicious. I’d advise purchasing a slice of pie early on given the popularity of the pies. Vintage buildings house the food stands where volunteers prepare and serve food and beverages. Onion rings, pork sandwiches, ice cream, cold beer…
The music also draws many, especially the popular Monroe Crossing, set to play at 1:30 PM and 4 PM on July 4 at the Main Stage. Believe me, it’s worth coming just to hear this bluegrass band. Other musical performers include Potluck String Band, Red Dirt Road and more.
Fireworks cap the day of celebration.
Words really cannot fully describe North Morristown on the Fourth of July. It’s something you have to experience. I’d encourage you to attend. Bring your lawn chairs or blankets (seating is limited for the concerts), your money, and a joyful attitude. Then celebrate America’s birthday in the middle of the countryside—among soybean and corn fields—with people who love this land and each other.
TO YOU, MY DEAR READERS: Have a safe and wonderful Independence Day celebration whether you are at home or traveling, among lots of people or simply with family. Or even just relaxing alone. Please take time on July Fourth to reflect on the blessings of living in a free country. I, for one, feel grateful.
That strong visual of the empty chair before that Somerstein photo sparks within me the desire, the need, to look deep within myself, and then beyond myself. To learn. To begin to understand in some small way what it means to be Black in America. To read the history. To recognize how slavery affected generations of families. How the hurts and wrongs of yesterday remain.
The official declaration of Juneteenth as a federal holiday certainly prompts me to research, reflect and contemplate. But I hope this new national observance initiates community conversations that bring change in a nation reeling from racial issues and injustices. It truly takes each of us at a grassroots personal level to effect change.
Recently, I listened as an elderly white woman spouted angry words about George Floyd, murdered by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020. She claimed that Floyd was being portrayed as a “saint” when he was “nothing but a criminal.” I felt my blood pressure rising as she continued her rant about all the shootings in Minneapolis and how thankful she was that she didn’t live in the Cities. She missed the point of the protests—over police brutality, over racial injustices, over the needless death of a Black man (yes, one with a criminal record) while in police custody. I walked away. And maybe I shouldn’t have. Maybe I should have stayed and tried to discuss this with her. But I knew my efforts would prove futile. She saw this all as a metro, not a rural, “problem.”
I disagree. We are all human. No matter where we live, we ought to care about how others are treated, whatever their skin tone. Perhaps today, Juneteenth, we can sit quietly for a bit, contemplate and reflect on life in America today. How can we improve this country, starting right in our own neighborhoods and communities? Within ourselves.
EVERY MEMORIAL DAY, my emotions rise, sometimes spilling into tears. This year, 2021, proved no exception.
As I listened to speakers during a Memorial Day program at Faribault’s Central Park, a sense of loss, of sorrow, of grief descended on me. It is the personal stories that always get me.
When Honored Combat Veteran Donald F. Langer spoke of losing his soldier-buddy John, I thought of my dad losing his soldier-friend Ray during the Korean War. Decades removed from Vietnam and John’s death, Langer’s grief still runs deep. I could hear it in his words.
I heard, too, of the challenges he faced while on R & R. He didn’t fit into civilization, Langer said, so he returned early to the jungle rather than continue his respite separated from his fellow soldiers. And when he exited war via a flight out of Saigon, Langer carried with him the trauma of war.
These are the stories we need to hear. To personalize war. To make it about more than patriotism and fighting for freedom and serving country. Behind every platitude are individuals who loved and were loved. Who were forever changed.
Emcee Gordy Kosfeld shared a poignant story pulled from Guidepost magazine about a young soldier killed in Italy. Uncle Bud, who loved his dog, Jiggs. And Maria. In his riveting radio storytelling voice (KDHL), Kosfeld had the audience listening with attentiveness.
While I listened, my thoughts drifted to my dad, recipient of the Purple Heart. He made it out of Korea alive, but not without trauma.
Bud was killed in action. John, too. And Dad’s buddy, Ray. So when the honor guard fired their guns and the bugler played Taps and the women laid wreaths representing our nation’s wars and the pastor prayed and we sang patriotic songs and the color guard retired the colors, I thought of the sacrifices made by so many. They are the reason we gather on Memorial Day. To remember. To honor. To consider the ultimate sacrifice of dying for country.
Please check back for one more post from Memorial Day in Faribault. A light-hearted moment that eased the grief I was feeling.
TO CELEBRATE MEMORIAL DAY in Faribault means coming together as a community. First during a ceremony at the Rice County courthouse, then the 10 a.m. parade through the heart of downtown followed by a program at Central Park.
This represents Americana. Tradition. A public way to honor those who died in service to our country.
It’s a day when politics are set aside and the focus shifts to patriotism and gratitude. We are simply Americans, thankful for freedom.
As has been our tradition for decades, Randy and I unfolded our lawn chairs along Central Avenue to watch the parade pass by. Little changes. Veterans and flags and fire trucks and Scouts and vintage vehicles and horses define the 15-minute parade. Absent this year were high school bands and the Shattuck-St. Mary’s Crack Squad.
But we were happy simply to have a parade, canceled last May (and rightly so) due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On this Memorial Day 2021, American flags stretched in the morning breeze. Parade participants waved. And kids waved mini flags distributed by Scouts and American Heritage Girls. Veterans clutched flags. And flags adorned vehicles. It was all about the red-white-and-blue.
While this parade rates as short and simple, I none-the-less cherish it. I cherish the tradition. I cherish the opportunity to come together as a community. And I cherish the opportunity to remember and honor those Americans who died while serving our country. Our America.
Please check back for photos from the Memorial Day program at Central Park.
SIXTY-EIGHT YEARS AGO on June 2, 1953, a 22-year-old soldier died on the battlefields of Korea. Blown apart by a mortar just the day before he was scheduled to leave, to return home to Wollbach, Nebraska. To his wife and six-week-old daughter.
He was Cpl Ray W. Scheibe, my dad’s Army buddy. Fellow soldier. Comrade.
My dad, Elvern Kletscher, witnessed Ray’s horrible death. Something he never forgot. The visual he carried with him from Korea back home to southwestern Minnesota. The trauma. The pain. The loss never left him. How could it? He and Ray were like brothers, linked by a bond unlike any other in the commonality of survival, of facing death, of shoot or be shot.
Today I honor Ray and all those brave men and women who died in service to our country. They left behind grieving friends and families and communities. Eventually, I would find and connect with Ray’s daughter, Terri. (Read that story by clicking here.) We have yet to meet in person, but continue to exchange annual holiday letters.
I hold close the memory my dad shared about Ray’s death. Dad seldom talked about Korea. I wish I’d asked more about his time there. It’s too late; he died in 2003. But I have a shoe box full of photos and memorabilia, including the memorial service bulletin Dad carried home from Korea. The one that lists Ray’s name among those soldiers who died in service to their country. The ones who gave the ultimate sacrifice—their lives.
He inspired. He uplifted. He encouraged. He used words, like those spoken in his “I Have a Dream” speech of 1963 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, to affect change. “I have a dream…my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Change came in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Change came in shifting attitudes and edging toward equality. Yet, we still have a long ways to go. Peaceful protests during the past year, especially, underscore the social injustice issues that still exist in our society. So do the many Black Lives Matter signs I’ve photographed in recent months.
In my own southern Minnesota community, I’ve observed, listened to, read of the challenges our Somali immigrant families face. In language barriers. In educational disparity. In housing. In prejudice. Many organizations, like the Faribault Diversity Coalition, local churches, schools, St. Vincent de Paul, government agencies and more, are reaching out, helping, supporting. For that I feel grateful.
But we also need to step up individually—speaking up, for example, when we hear derogatory remarks about our new neighbors or anyone of color. I admit to not always voicing my objections, although I often do.
I regret not speaking to a young man who, for months, flew a Confederate flag (along with an American flag) on the back of his pick-up truck. I worried how he would react if I approached him. Thankfully, he eventually removed this blatant public symbol of hatred/racism. I was relieved. Still, the root issues remain. And, as troubling as this Confederate flag was to me, I can only imagine how disconcerting, threatening and offensive this felt to anyone of color in my community.
Yes, much still remains to be accomplished. But we have made progress. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr set us on the course nearly 70 years ago as did others in the Civil Rights Movement. A peaceful course. As one coming of age in the turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s, I gravitated to the word peace. It was everywhere, especially in the peace symbol. Many decades later, I still hold that word close to my heart. Peace. Just give peace a chance.
In the words of King: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”
And more inspiring words from this Nobel Peace Prize winner and Civil Rights Movement leader: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
FYI: The Faribault Diversity Coalition celebrates its 7th annual Martin Luther King Day Breakfast with a virtual event from 9 – 10 am today. Click here for details. In neighboring Northfield, the Human Rights Commission will hold a virtual event themed to “In This Together” at 7 pm. Click here for info.
CHRISTMAS 2020. What can I write that you haven’t already read? This year’s celebration will be much different as we adjust our plans due to COVID-19. Randy and I will gather with our eldest, her husband and our two darling grandchildren here in southeastern Minnesota. We won’t see our second daughter and her husband and our son living in Madison, Wisconsin, four hours away.
Is it disappointing? Of course, it is. We want to see everyone, to be together as a family. But we recognize that it’s best if we keep our distance. We don’t want to throw our caution of the past 10 months out the window, especially this close to vaccination. I remind myself of that often. And I remind myself also, that I still have family with whom I can celebrate. Nothing beats time with the grandchildren to shift your focus from what you’re missing to the joy right there beside you.
I know too many of you will be missing loved ones—lost this year to COVID or many other causes. I’m sorry for your losses. It hurts.
Yet, in all of these challenges, one thing remains unchanged about Christmas. And that is the birth of Christ. As a Christian, I reflect on this sweet baby come to earth with a plan of redemption. If not for my faith, I would struggle to face life’s challenges. That is my truth.
As I celebrate Christmas, I wish you the blessings of peace, love and joy. You, dear readers, bring me much joy by appreciating me and the work I do here on this blog. I value you. Your insights. Your kindness. Your friendship. Your care.
I photographed the company’s holiday decorations recently while traveling along US Highway 14. The business sits right next to the busy highway. I had to focus and shoot quickly from the passenger seat as the decorations flashed past our van.
What a gift from this family-owned full-line steel distributor and processor to the thousands of motorists who pass by daily.
During a year that’s challenged and stretched us in so many ways due to COVID-19, I’m grateful for scenes like these that share the Christmas spirit in such a visual, public way.
TELL ME: Have you spotted holiday decorations that bring you an added measure of joy this Christmas? I’d like to hear.