Since I’ve started writing “Sundays with Steve” I’ve been thinking about vignettes of my life growing up in North Idaho. I realize the town where I grew up and the life I lived with my family is really a classic, all-American story. Perhaps you will recognize some of your childhood in these writings. And perhaps you will recognize the town you grew up in, too, and some of the characters you knew. Mrs. Steve has encouraged me to write these as attempts of “creative writing” as opposed to the more factual journalistic style I was trained in and practiced in my early career, all those years ago. So my apologies if I stumble a bit here and there trying to blend the two styles together
SMALL TOWN MUSINGS - ROCKY MOUNTAIN OYSTERS WERE ALWAYS A HIT
Rocky Mountain oysters are a delicacy to some, repugnant to others. In the small town of Eagle, Idaho, the volunteer fire department budget was funded every year because many people in town thought they were delicious.
I lived with my family in Eagle, Idaho for many years. When I moved there in 1981 it had a population of about 2,100, compared to 30,000 today. I had a bit to do with that growth, but that is a story for another time.
In those years, Eagle Days was a local celebration held the second weekend of each June, right about the time the summer heat was turning up the thermostat. The stated goal was to raise money to fund our volunteer fire department for another year, and we always succeeded. The unstated goal was to have a good time, get re-acquainted with neighbors, watch a parade, and needle those who thought Rocky Mountain oysters were not the nectar of the gods.
A cowboy breakfast in the bank parking lot always started off the Saturday festivities, followed by a chili cook-off later in the morning. The year that Ed Griffith and I collaborated on preparing chili, we really thought we were being brilliant by using venison as our meat. This was Idaho after all, where “everyone” ate wild game. We finished 9th. Out of nine. Really, what did those judges know, anyway? No doubt they were city slickers from Boise.
The fireman’s parade kicked –off at noon. Fire departments for miles around would send an engine and crew to join the parade. Sometimes there would be 25 engine companies whose main activity was to shoot water on the engine crew either in front of them or just behind them in the parade line-up. The real activity, of course, was to drench the crowd with water, including my children Chris and Stephanie who thought the mid-day shower was grand. The fireman were very good at that activity.
Later in the afternoon, after a nap and a swim to recover from the heat, the Oyster Feed would kick off right around 5 o’clock. Meat packing plants from around the area would save bull testicles all year, and donate them to the Eagle fire department for the annual feed.
We would walk from home to downtown, 10 minutes down an irrigation canal bank, knowing that what was coming might not look so good on a driving record.
The serving tent and outdoor tables and benches were set up behind the Post Office, and lines would string out down Main Street. Usually the line wait was 40 minutes or a bit longer. The firemen were smart, not only was almost all the food and drink donated, they knew how to keep the crowd happy. For ten bucks you could have all the oysters and cold beer you wished. And just to be sure that everyone in the crowd got to spend their money, they also offered all-you-could-eat roast beef for the sissies who wouldn’t eat the oysters.
Waitresses, almost always attractive young women who would sass the men, would walk through the line every 2-3 minutes serving beer from two glass pictures, one in each hand. You would get snockered just waiting in line. The wait didn’t seem long at all, and the more the waitresses came along to fill your glass, the shorter the wait seemed. It was not really remarkable, in the cold sober light of day, that the longer the wait became, the more friendly everyone got in that line, until it was just seemed like old home week. Which in a way it was, since the feed was repeated every year. The long beer-soaked wait also made the meal taste that much better. Many of those with natural reluctance found, that after consuming an over-abundance of brew, the waiting oysters not quite so awful, after all.
The testicles were sliced thin, breaded and grilled under hot Army tents. Piles of roast beef, aluminum - wrapped baked potatoes (this was Idaho after all, you had to have potatoes), packaged rolls, and of course, more beer, were all laid out for your gastronimical pleasure.
In the early years, if 1,000 people showed up for the feed, the firemen would consider that an enormous success. In later years 4,000 or more would come. Today? I don’t know.
The day ended with a street dance with country western bands playing very late, and a local bar serving from a tent set up in the middle of the Main Street. The State closed the street for the dance, which was also a federal and state highway. If people had to drive through our town that night, they had to go some other way. The tent bar served until the legal closing time of 1 and the bands played for an hour longer.
But not for me! I was usually home snoring after making sure the baby sitter was safely home, by about 10 or so.
See you next week.
A Date with My Dad
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