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Signs and Wonders

Just where we were coming from I don’t remember, but I do recall riding through Hannaford, North Dakota, and saying, “Whoa, what’s that, turn here!” “That” was a maze of signs, perhaps a fortress of signs, hand-lettered signs, in front of a residence on a side street but visible from the highway.

Signs with attitude: Prepare to Meet Thy God; Whoremongers and Adulterers God Will Judge; God Is Angry with the Wicked Every Day; He Hath Also Prepared for Him the Instruments of Death; Fret Not Thyself Because of Evil Doers for They Shall Soon Be Cut Down Like the Grass; Be Sure Your Sin Will Find You Out; The Wicked Shall Be Turned into Hell; There Shall Be Weeping and Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth; All Liars Shall Have Their Part in the Lake which Burneth with Fire and Brimstone. There is more, but you get the drift, I guess.

These are the signs, and now the wonders. I wonder who is so upset with his neighbors—and we can take the term “neighbor” in the broad, New-Testament sense, I think. I wonder what the neighbors—and this time I’m thinking literally, the people next door and across the street—what the neighbors are thinking. I wonder how someone becomes so disaffected as to erect a wall of statements as a barrier against something. I wonder, why in Hannaford, North Dakota?

There’s a sign, too, I’ve always wondered about in Fingal, North Dakota. Fingal has one of those main streets that make your heart ache, where old buildings speak volumes of human stories, but they speak mainly to empty streets. The creamery, the bank, and most of all that round-topped, false-fronted, white-stuccoed building at the east end, north side of the street, the one with the sign: “Starlite Garden” in sky-blue letters on a green background, and five yellow stars, punctuated with empty sockets for light bulbs never replaced.

We were coming home from a fruitless fishing expedition on a hot summer day, and a cold beverage in the Fingal bar seemed like a good idea, but we didn’t know what we were driving into. It was all-school reunion day in Fingal. We just missed the parade. The town was full of people, though, and that round-top building was open for enjoyment.

It is, historically, a place of enjoyment. A dance hall, with a ticket window in the foyer, a hardwood floor, and the music of memory. Today it houses the local American Legion post, along with all the trophies of Fingal’s glory days. State tournaments, graduating classes with Buddy-Holly glasses and faith in the future.

Alongside the hall is an outdoor dance pavilion with a shell bandstand and a concrete dance pad. Starlite, star light.

Across the street we got our beverages and started asking people about the Starlite. Oh yes, we’re from Oriska, and when we were going together in the fifties, we came over every week. In those days it was big band music played by small bands. And then a few years later tastes bridged from swing to the beginnings of rock’n’roll, and people followed their favorite cover band, the Echo Men from Valley City, here to the Starlite, over to the town hall in Kathryn, and to many another lively venue in sleepy towns.

And was there ever a better name for a cover band than the Echo Men? I wonder if it’s trademarked. Echo Man—I might just adopt the name as my own.

 

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