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The Seven Ages of Woman (at Steamboat Days) (06/12/2011)
By Frances Edstrom

It’s almost my favorite time of year. Steamboat Days! beginning Wednesday and ending on Monday, the 20th. Home and Community Options’ play, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, opens June 16, with the final performance on Wednesday, June 22. The Great River Shakespeare Festival opens its season of Midsummer Night’s Dream, King Henry IV part 1, and The Fantasticks on June 22. Concerts on the Green begin Friday, June 24. And then the Minnesota Beethoven Festival opens on Sunday, June 26, with a performance by André Watts.

And by August, it’s all over.

So move fast to get your tickets, your armbands, your Ambassador Brat Booth fix, your American Dairy Association milk shake, your blanket on the ground for the concerts and the fireworks display, and your spot on the boulevard for the Grande Parade.

You’ve heard of the Seven Ages of Man, as written by William Shakespeare (The Festival Guy) in As You Like It. “His acts being seven ages. At first the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms,” and ending with “Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

Well, that’s sort of how I think of my life with Steamboat Days. My very first experience was after meeting John. I contrived to stay in Winona for the summer, rather than returning to Massachusetts to get a job, to be close to him. At the time I didn’t know that I’d be looking at more than forty years of being close to him, or I might have given myself a breather. Whatever.

We made the trip downtown to the carnival, accompanied by John’s father, Harold, who in his heart skipped most of the ages of man and cherished childish pleasures like carnivals all his life. We went on all the rides, including the Bump ‘Em Cars, which showed me a competitive side of Harold I hadn’t noticed before. It was great fun, and I wanted to go every night.

After we had kids, at first they were too young to take to the carnival, so we’d get a baby sitter and wander downtown by ourselves at least once to go on the rides and let John try to knock over milk bottles or shoot metal ducks.

About the time the kids were old enough to notice something like a carnival, they moved it to the Lake, right next door to their grandparents’ house. So of course we had to take them. That was when I realized how boring it is to watch kids on the kiddie rides. The first couple are thrilling, and we took lots of pictures, but after the hundredth time of waving as your child cycles past yet again, beaming, your mind tends to wander to laundry or what to have for supper. Fireworks was fun, though, right in Grandma’s back yard.

Then all of a sudden, that was over, and we found ourselves watching every parade ever imagined so we could wave to our kids as they marched past in the high school band. About that time, the carnival became off-limits to us as parents because our kids wanted to go, but didn’t want us within a mile, two if possible, of anywhere they would be.

Graduation came, no band members to watch, so sometimes listening to the parade on the radio or reading about it later became an option. About that time the carnival was moved to our backyard at the Winona Post, so we’d get our fill every day.

Then wonderful grandchildren came along, and here I am, back at the kiddie rides, waving like an idiot, wondering what to have for supper. Another bratwurst? Pretty soon, my grandchildren won’t want me to take them to the carnival, and I’ll have to decide if Medicare would cover a fall from the Ferris Wheel.

So, the Seven Ages of Woman at Steamboat Days. How else could we define a life richly lived in Winona? 


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