My mother, nurturer of a large family, planned trips to the Minnesota State Fair as a general plans a military campaign. Despite her small, unimposing frame and ruby-lipstick smile, she lined up her troops, barked out orders - albeit nicely - fought battles and negotiated treaties with the best of them.
"It's time for the state fair," she announced. "Eat well. You'll need your energy."
Gleefully, we munched our cereal, gobbled our toast, and gulped down our juice. This was the announcement we'd anticipated all summer. My brother and sisters and I ran to our bedrooms in disarray, dressed in jeans and T-shirts, and returned to the kitchen - Mom's command post - to line up for inspection.
"Marci," she said to my youngest sister as she held her hand out to her, "put your money in your pocket or give it to me to hold." Then: "Nori, go put on tennis shoes. Sandals are not appropriate footwear. Myra and Beth, put on red T-shirts. You're all to wear the same color. Paul, prepare the apples and carrots for snacks, and grab the sandwiches I made for lunch. We'll purchase our milk at the all-you-can-drink-for-a-quarter booth."
I silently hoped Paul didn't hear Mom or would forget the snacks and sandwiches as we walked out the door. He trudged to the refrigerator. As the senior member of our troop, he resented being lumped with his younger sisters, whom he considered mere foot soldiers, for our annual trip to the state fair.
Minutes later, dressed in red or at least red-striped T-shirts, we all lined up for our second inspection. Mom nodded as she passed each of us and said, "Ready."
The five of us marched out the door behind Mom and up the street to catch the bus. As we tumbled up the bus stairs, she ordered us to sit in the front seats behind the driver as she dropped coins into the change box. Paul sat two seats behind us without saying a word. Mom sat across from us to better survey her troops.
The slow, halting ride - jerking as though we were in a military jeep - seemed to take hours rather than 20 minutes to arrive at its destination. Mom moved her eyes slowly from oldest to youngest. Periodically she nodded, silently giving her approval of our behavior.
I could almost smell the corn dogs lathered with ketchup and the cotton candy, sticky and sweet. As we got closer, my sisters and I craned our necks toward the windows to catch a glimpse of the lines of fairgoers waiting to get tickets at the entrance.
When we finally arrived, Mom ordered us to walk single file, and we obeyed. As we stepped off the bus at the entrance on Snelling and Midway avenues, Mom lined us up again and said, "We'll all stick together. Paul and Myra, you are buddies for today."
Paul sighed; Myra smiled. "You're responsible for each other until we walk through our front door this evening. No complaints. Beth and Nori, you're buddies for the day." I grabbed my little sister's hand, silently shouting at having drawn the easiest sibling to be a buddy with. She usually was quiet, stuck close to me in a crowd, and rarely whined.
"Marci and I will be buddies," she said.
Then Mom straightened up and took a deep breath. "Now, you each are allowed to pick one activity. The state fair offers us a rich assortment of events, opportunities and fun to have together. I choose the education building. Marci," she said to the youngest. "What do you choose?"
Without hesitation, Marci said, "The midway."
"OK," Mom said slowly. "Now think broadly. There are farm animals, creative arts, and agricultural activities. Nori," she said to the second youngest, "what's your choice?"
"The midway, Mom," she said quietly but firmly.
Another deep breath. "Myra, think about the open stage theaters, the wildlife exhibits. What is your choice?"
"Midway, for sure."
Mom reached to her forehead and then neck, rubbing it ever so gently. "Beth, do you remember how much you liked the creative arts building last year with all the cross-stitch, knitting, weaving, and sewing award winners?"
"Sorry, Mom. It's the midway."
Before she had time to offer Paul her last feeble attempt at an alternative, he said, "Ditto."
"OK," she said, straightening her shoulders and leading the way. "Grab your buddies' hands. We're going to the Education Building first."
The Battle of the Midway was won.