Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Thursday, July 3, 2008
The Sesquicentennial Celebration opened with a ceremony at Anderson Field. At 6:00 p.m. a re-fueling tanker from the Nebraska Air National Guard flew over the pitcher's mound at an altitude which drowned out conversation. Among its crew members was a fellow who had grown up in West Point.

We sang of the National Anthem.

We recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Yes, they say "under God...."

A formal proclamation by West Point's mayor, Marlene Johnson.

Eric Lauritzen recited a poem by Amy Brunner Almer, who was the daughter of one of West Point's founders. The poem was called "Pioneers of the Midwest." Lauritzen also recited a poem about the history of West Point, found in the city's 1925 high school yearbook.

Dave Mendyk sang "America" in the Neil Diamond arrangment, and Brooks & Dunn's "Only in America."

And then the festivities were officially underway.


Back on Main Street, a staged bank robbery and shoot-out. Give the people what they want: a clear story-line, with Good at one end of the block, and Bad at the other end, and by the time they meet in the middle let Good triumph while Bad lies bleeding in the street.

That's what happens when Good doesn't back down.

Or so we hope.


Afterwards I entered the Civic Auditorium to watch some more Good versus Evil in "North of West Point." Yep, the theatre company showed they can do it. They brought off a successful performance. That's not to say it was perfect, but it was pretty darn good. The capacity crowd lifted the actors to another level. The place was full. And when we left, we walked about knee-deep in pop-corn that had been thrown at the villain and the villainess.

Perhaps I exaggerate about the pop-corn, but not much.


Friday, July 4, 2008
The author of the melodrama, John Burkhart, was in the audience at the performance this afternoon. The auditorium today was full to overflowing and the producers had to turn away people at the door. It was another spirited performance, buoyed by the sympathetic crowd. When the terribly near-sighted trapper Pawnee Bob Jones (Paul Kreikemeier) entered mistakenly wearing his spectacles (because he is near-sighted in real life too), the audience hooted and cheered and laughed and clapped at the oversight; the cast members on-stage nearly lost character; Pawnee Bob paused to let the humor roll on, then he turned slowly, took off his spectacles and tossed them on the table. Everyone on stage swallowed down their smiles. And the show went on.

A community theater company is, in many ways, a microcosm of the community. You start with a disparate group of people, untested and uncertain of success, and you prove them. You test them, try them, see what they're made of. Throw them out there and see if they land right-side up.

You may think the villain is too nice a guy in real life to convey villainy in such a melodrama. You may think the villainess is much too sweet to be saucy. Yet when the curtain rises, when they are required to be villainous and you are required to boo and hiss at the dastardly couple, villainy rises to the watermark. That's the magic of community theater: the cast wants you to believe, and you want so much to believe, that you suspend any disbelief. An occasional dropped line or missed cue? No problem: these people cover each other, and if you hadn't earlier read the script, you wouldn't know.

The "community" part of community theater means that the actors and the audience are one in their desire for success on stage. The actors and actress up there are like us down here. They come from amongst us. Our hope lifts them in a way that a Broadway audience cannot lift a professional company.


I suppose it is a little queer for me to like looking at quilts as much as I do. What can I say. It is an under-appreciated art, as far as I'm concerned. There was a quilt show in Building 6 on the Fairgrounds next to the park, and Friday afternoon I wandered through looking at quilts.

A couple of the quilts simply took my breath away. Among the many more typical quilts, those by Mary Bogseth stood out. I heard someone say that people call her "the drape lady," whatever that means. Her quilts were atypical in that they weren't in traditional patterns; indeed, in their imagery they are more like painting than fabric art. They are evidence of a lovely eccentric genius in what is usually a traditional craft.

Here's to you, Drape Lady.


At the Chamber of Commerce barbecue in the evening, two long lines led up to the windows where they were serving plates with a pork sandwich, a beef sandwich, and potato chips, and a bottle of water on the side, for a mere five bucks. I was in line for fifteen minutes and had been talking with the fellow in front of me; as we neared the serving window, Gwen Lindberg came up to help me carry our plates back to our table, and she introduced me to that fellow as the author who is writing a book about what makes us middlewestern.

"Well, what makes us middlewestern?" the man asked me.

"The fact that all of us have stood politely in line here for fifteen minutes, that's middlewestern," I said. "And the fact that we've had some nice conversation while we were waiting, even though we don't know each other. Middlewesterners, by and large, are nice to each other."

To be continued....

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