I’m in denial about summer ending; more particularly about returning to U of L to work on my doctorate in Composition and Rhetoric. If I were not returning to school (for academic abuse and strife), I might still make time to accomplish a few important summer projects: skinny dipping, for example, in the St. James Court fountain, or going back to Holiday World for my second serving of fried Oreos. I might also get to Mike Linnig’s for an order of fried fish and fries. So I’m going back to the beginning of June.
During Memorial Day weekend, I relived a favorite childhood summer event: St. Clement’s picnic. Every year, I eye-shadowed, curled my frizzy hair into tube-like bangs and wore my angularly torn purple sweatshirt. Anyway, a couple months ago, I trekked to Dixie Highway to relive the glory, passing by the Batt-n-Putt, Golden Corral and West Pages Lane. I expected to find traces of “Bingo, Cake Walks, Rides, Door Prizes, Family Fun, Balloons.” For a week, as I walked home from my last days of elementary school, the sign listing these promises drove me to dreams of winning 8-foot stuffed snakes from the duck pond game.
Around 8 that Saturday night, after parking behind St. Clement along Sylvatica Court, Kris and I walked through the school’s back field. Clear night. 75 degrees. The grass smelled muddy and farm-like from being parked on and the ground being turned up. I waited all spring for smells like that; smells that imply summer and being outside. Holding Kris’ hand, I felt proud of my South End heritage. In part, I’m a redneck who likes the smell of cow manure as well as church functions involving beer and gambling. Ain’t those some things to feel good about? Never mind that I grew up Presbyterian. I’d wager that a good number of folks attending St. Clement’s picnic might have been affiliated with various religions or other groups. Everyone’s god surely understands the inherent spiritual value of pull-tabs, fried chicken dinners and dollar poker.
A teenage boy walked by in jeans with Beavis and Butthead painted on the backside. “Achy Breaky Heart” played from a couple of 10-foot speakers. Dime wheel games included: “Fruit,” “Groceries and Jars,” “Kid’s Delight” and “Wallet.” The picnic, true to memory, was a loud, happy kaleidoscope of funnel cakes, throw-up rides, betting booths and beer. I once again felt pleased. Yet, nowhere to be found was the duck pond of a couple decades ago, and more picnic gamblers chose to play poker than bet on the cakewalk.
The poker tent, with a dozen or so tables entertaining eight to 10 players each, felt like the picnic’s hive. Yellow lights were strung around the tent edges, and an officer hung close. Just in case, I guess. A building permit sign listing the Catholic Bishop of Louisville as the applicant/owner hung on one of the metal tent poles, and I began to wonder about Catholicism’s connection with gambling and drinking. As I reflected, Kris pointed out two poster boards under the tent with rules:
“1. No cheaten. 2. Ain’t no one allowed behind tables. 3. No cussin. 4. Rules decied by dealer. 5. No children. 6. If you don’t like the rules, talk to God (church in front entrance).”
Talking with PRP local Peggy Simpson, she explained that St. Clement’s picnic kicks off Louisville’s Catholic picnic season. I asked her why people enjoy coming out. She said she sees “people she hasn’t seen in a while,” but mostly comes to “bring grandkids.” She also said that “it’s a big party … a reunion sort of thing.” She added that some people also like the beer, then laughed. “These people don’t know that they could come out and have a good time without the beer.”
Maybe you missed the summer Catholic picnic season. The last picnic, “the granddaddy of them all,” as a local Catholic high school alumnus explained, happened last weekend: St. Joseph’s. I was there, tugging what’s left of summer from dime games and milk-shake stands, gambling on my ability to deny that summer is ending as I lose my non-denominational self among thoughts about what the devil connects beer, god and betting. Maybe I’ll research the connection and write a seminar paper, but not yet. And if you missed St. Joe’s, there’s always the St. James Court fountain. I’ll be saving dimes for St. Clement’s.
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