Summer Rites

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(Host) On a recent Saturday afternoon, commentator Philip Baruth and his family found themselves heavily involved with two major rites of summer.

(Baruth) On Saturday, August 28th, our family had two major events scheduled: the Champlain Valley Fair, and a “kraftskiva,” a Swedish crayfish party, thrown by some friends from our Swedish-American group. Now, maybe it’s me, but this seemed like a little much for one day — especially since my wife is not just pregnant but four days past her due date.

Now, in order to get half-price tickets to the Fair, we have to be at the fairgrounds by 10:00 a.m., not the optimal time to be dealing with the ex-biker who runs the Baloon-O-Rama.

Almost immediately, we go nuts and start pounding down food: I buy a Bloomin’ Onion and a piece of fried dough, and I dump on a ton of powdered sugarl. Everything is by impulse. We happen to walk by the Wheel of Colors, and I slap down a quarter on Blue. It turns out that they don’t throw a ball any more to pick the winning color — no, the guy lets a big white rat loose on a board full of holes. And the rat goes down the Blue Hole, and my daughter picks out a stuffed unicorn, and I think, “Man, this is my year.”

But the sun is really intense, and the next four hours are a blur: I know I ate sugar-on-snow, and sausage with peppers and onions, and half a caramel apple, and I had a fried Twinkie and one of those killer lemonades that you get at the fair. But the rest is hazier. I can dimly remember the hypnotist show, and I can hear him saying, “Deeper always farther, floating, drifting, like a ragdoll…loose and limp, just like that ragdoll.”

And then suddenly we’re at the petting zoo. I’m trying to jam a quarter in the little machine where you buy the animal’s food, and this East African pygmy goat gives me a real shot in the ribs, and I drop the food on the straw floor, and the goats devour it. You don’t have to be a genius to see that this is a little scam the goats run all day on unsuspecting fairgoers. And I tell my family, “Time to go.”

But time to go, on this Saturday, means time to go to the crayfish party. And so we roll from Essex immediately to Charlotte, where our friends Aiden and Helena have set up a huge Swedish “krafskiva” in their backyard: a beautiful table piled high with platter after platter of bright-red dead crayfish. n And there are other Swedish dishes, one of which is called “Gubbrora,” which means Old Man’s Mess. It’s made out of fried onions, hardboiled eggs, and anchovies, and I’m expected — after five hours of binge-eating and betting on rats and being pummelled by goats at the Fair — I’m expected to eat a big helping of everything here, too. And I do. Then we all sit out there until late at night, a long table-full of Swedes and those married to Swedes, drinking snapps and singing songs and sucking on crayfish heads.

It’s past midnight when we pull into our own driveway. When we get out of the car, our neighbor is sitting out on her front stoop for some reason, singing in the dark. nThe song is Sinatra, “The Way You Look Tonight.” And I look over at my very beautiful, very pregnant wife, and my first child sleeping innocently in her car seat, and I can’t help but think, “My stomach hurts wicked bad.”

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