Take a look at this picture I snapped two years ago. Perhaps your eyes are directed toward the sun trying to peak through the haze. I don’t remember, but I’m guessing I might have taken a couple seconds to appreciate what was a pleasant, mid-August weekend morning in the upper Midwest.
And then while I didn’t break into a dead sprint and knock over grandparents, women who were 8½ months pregnant and toddlers ala the old-fashioned Black Fridays at the local shopping mall, my pace quickened, and I sidestepped a slow walker or two as I moved toward the row of tables and canopies that had glorious treasures just waiting to be discovered. And there were even more rows of tables and canopies with amazing things surrounding that first row. And what’s even better than more rows of tables and canopies with cool stuff? Buildings – big buildings! – with more cool stuff per square inch than should be legal.
I can’t even begin to tell you how much I am looking forward to feeling that joy again Saturday morning. It will have been 105 weeks, 735 days, and 17,640 hours (hey, who’s counting?) since I last attended the Olmstead County Gold Rush Antique Show & Flea Market in Rochester, Minnesota. It’s normally a twice-a-year, three-day event held in May and August that COVID-19 scuttled in 2020, and again this past spring.
Someone I talked to earlier this summer told me the August show was proceeding full steam ahead, pandemic and delta variant be damned, and that appears to be the case with T-minus four days until it starts. Still, I keep checking the event website oh, about every 22½ minutes and hoping I don’t see the word “cancelled” in bold, black letters and taking up the entire laptop screen. Or worse, maybe I’ll get up at the crack of dawn Saturday and drive 70-plus miles, only to be met at the fairgrounds gate by a security guard who looks like John Candy and told, “Sorry, sir – the flea market is closed!” I think you know what effect that had on the Griswolds and their cross-country trip to Wally World.
This is always the point in the summer when, at times, my energy level dips to sloth mode. The fact my wife Cindy’s new job requires me to get up a half-hour earlier than I used to weekday mornings if I want to go running has left me even shorter on sleep and patience; hence, the glare and muttered expletives because my son, Nolan, got up a little after 3 a.m. Sunday and won’t stop hitting one of his five Boom Whackers on his body while I’m trying to concentrate. I appreciate the fact Cindy is giving me the opportunity to spend all day at the show if I so choose. Even though Nolan, who has Autism and is nonverbal, can’t tell me, I think he’ll appreciate the spacious buffer zone between him and pops for several hours after spending almost every waking hour with me Monday through Friday since summer school ended at the end of June.
It’s not like I’ve been deprived of my love for treasure hunting this year. I’ve been to four decent-sized flea markets since May, and Cindy and Nolan tagged along with me to one Fourth of July weekend. So, what makes Gold Rush the “I absolutely MUST go, or I shall perish!” event of the summer for me? For me, it’s like the circus has come to town, and the big top covers all 52 acres of the Olmstead County Fairgrounds. And for the right price, you can take home the cotton candy machine and an elephant.
I first learned of Gold Rush in 2014 and went to my first one that August. Walking onto the fairgrounds was similar to the first time I walked into a Major League Baseball stadium, only instead of marveling at how green the diamond was and the smell of bratwurst and peanuts, I was enamored by the sights and smells of history from automobile parts to Zenith radios. Collecting sports cards and memorabilia was my main focus at that time. But that was the day I found and bought a 1950s era Pepsi picnic cooler, and I remember carrying it to Cindy’s car when she picked me up and gripping it passionately like a kid who’d found a puppy and wasn’t giving it up for anything.
From there, I’ve slowly turned into Navin R. Johnson, Steve Martin’s character in “The Jerk” the moment I arrive at the fairgrounds.
“I don’t need anything … except this MAD Magazine from 1966 with Alfred E. Neuman dressed as Robin. That’s the only thing I need. … and this Hee-Haw lunchbox. The MAD Magazine and the Hee-Haw lunchbox, and that’s all I need. … And this Tony the Tiger bank from the 1960s. … The MAD Magazine, Hee-Haw lunchbox, and the Tony the Tiger bank, and that’s all I need. … And this empty Clanky Syrup bottle from the early 1960s. … The Clanky Syrup bottle, the MAD Magazine, Hee-Haw lunchbox, and the Tony the Tiger bank … And this album by William Shatner. … The William Shatner album, the Clanky Syrup bottle, MAD Magazine, Hee-Haw lunchbox, and the Tony the Tiger bank – and that’s all I need. I don’t need one other thing! … Oh, I need this …”
I'll never hear "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" the same away again.
Sometimes the things I buy bring back a pleasant childhood memory. Sometimes I’ll buy something just because I think it’s cool or unusual. The mental break I’ve gotten every August has always brought me just as much happiness.
Of course Nolan is the focus of this blog, and he’s the reason Cindy and I write it. But part of dealing with the chaos we both face daily is knowing when it’s time to step away and regroup. I’d like to think all the things I’ve been thinking about a lot the last couple weeks – Nolan starting his sophomore year of high school, working with a new teacher this year, the unpredictability that puberty is wreaking on him – won’t trouble me as much as they do right now. For me, something as simple as a day of putting aside every thought that has been taking up space in my brain is time well spent.
And I'd like to think it will give me the shot of energy I need in helping Nolan prepare for the new school year. I am proud to be his father, and I beat myself up when I don't feel like I'm measuring up. The best gift I can give him is a rejuvenated dad.
Maybe there are better ways to deal with what’s been on my mind than spending time and money at a flea market. But I see it as self-care and a way to hopefully deal with my concerns and the challenges that lay ahead with the right frame of mind.