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The Saturday night ‘free show’

I’ve taken a lot of razzing over the past few decades because of my passion for a TV show everyone in the universe thinks is a big joke. I refer to a masterpiece from the 1970s called "The Waltons." I'm so nuts about this tearjerker, I even dragged an old television set to our hobby farm in Trempealeau County, so I would not miss one single episode during our three-month summer vacation at our little version of Walton’s Mountain, a hilly, worthless 40-acre farm just outside the metropolis of Pigeon Falls, pop. 196.

My sophisticated colleagues at Augsburg College snickered behind my back. My Chicago- bred wife shook her head in disbelief when I dragged the TV out on the lawn to sip a cool brew and watch the activities of John, Olivia, Grandma and Grandpa and all those kids as they battled the Great Depression in rural Virginia. I even wrote a fan letter to Miss Michael Learned, who played Olivia.

She sent back an 8-X-11-inch glossy which I treasure. She looks like a person who could have lived in rural Virginia during the Depression.

As I’m watching, Grandpa Walton, played by Will Gere, auectionately pats his wife's bottom and receives a withering Baptist glance for his troubles. The moths swarmed around the TV screen, reminding me of the last occasion I had sat outside on a blanket mesmerized by images on a silver screen, in- terrupted by night creatures flitting back and forth before the movie projector’s lens.

The occasion was "Free Show." It hap pened every Saturday night for many years and was recently revived by the Pigeon Falls Chamber of Commerce — maybe in hopes of reviving a dying town that sprang to life on those Saturday nights. On your typical day, the Pigeon Falls "Loop" was drowsy enough. Here an old dog sunning itself in the tiny parking lot fronting then Dew Drop Inn. Over there, old fellows swapping tall tales in Iver Johnstad’s Barber Shop. A young buck dickering with Ray Hagen over a spotless fender skirted ‘38 Chev. A Farmall H quietly chugging in front of tiny Pigeon State Bank while its owner cashes his milk check.

But on Saturday night and dusk, cars began hurtling into the hamlet.

Free show was underway!

Teenagers from Hixton came in ‘41 Fords with furry dice hanging above the dash.

Oldtimers from Schermmehorn chugged up in mint-condition Model A’s. A newlywed farmer and his wife made it all the way from Poker Coulee to show ou their new Chevy sedan, its trunk handle announcing that it was equipped with "Powerglide." Farmers, clad in overalls, white shirts, dress shoes, sport coats and brown hats stood in front of the Dew Drop. Seeing a neighbor, they’d ask the inevitable Norwegian ques- tion: "Aare yew in town tew?" Then back into the Dew Drop for as many beers as they could safely down before the wives came looking. Meanwhile, mothers scurried up and down the aisles at P. Ekern’s, buying canning lids, thread, "boughten" bread, hoping not to miss the "Pete Smith's Specialty" or to lose a ripe young daughter to that wild fellow with the yellow Dodge convertible.

And the rest of us? We sat on old blankets, anticipating the ten-year-old movie we were about to see. Would it be a "Hopalong," a "Red Ryder/Little Beaver," a "Bobbsey Twins," or the one we saw last year about John L. Sullivan, starring Ward Bond? “He was so terrible to drunk, I hear." Mrs. Frems tad whispered to Grandma.

Two hours later, Free Show over, Pigeon Falls closed down for another week and we all went home, pondering Sunday morning milking, church later and the promise that next week we'd see "Girl of the Limberlost." The familiar Waltons theme music interrupted my reverie and Ruth said, “Well, that one wasn't such a bad episode, Dave." "Ah, er, no, no, not bad at all." "Of course," she added. "No one ever lived that way—making such a big deal about going all the way to Charlottesville, Virginia, to see movie!" “Ah, no, of course not. Never happen in real life!"

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.

BY DAVE WOOD

May 10, 2022