When the Red River Valley Fair rolls around each year about this time in West Fargo, N.D., a rare moment of nostalgia sometimes comes over me. Sometimes.
Allow me to paraphrase Marilyn Hagerty each (and every) Christmas Eve. Excuse me, please. But I must go back. If only for five minutes and only in my thoughts, I have to go back.
When I think of the “Fargo fair,” I think of our band days. In this case, the band is the Hillsboro (N.D.) High School Band.
For some of us — me, anyway — band wasn’t just the best reason to go to high school, it was the only reason to go to high school. In no small measure because of the band trips.
The fair board used to invite a different area band to perform each day of fair week. It was a pretty easy gig, as I recall. We would march in our (wool) uniforms through the fairgrounds in the late morning or early afternoon, then do a short preshow concert in front of the grandstand in the evening. Something like that. This was when the fairgrounds was still in north Fargo, near Hector Airport.
The rest of the day, we were left to our own devices. That meant the midway. How we could spend an entire day on a carnival midway without boredom today seems mind-boggling. Then, it was no problem.
The fair wasn’t our only annual band trip. There were parades, community celebrations and each spring, the WDAY Band Festival, a huge, televised parade with upward of a hundred other high school bands.
And then there was the infamous Tom Jones scandal. Not Tom Jones, the singer. “Tom Jones,” the movie.
It happened on one of those band trips to Fargo. It may have been the band contest we competed in — and usually won — each year. Whatever it was, I remember we finished our band business in the morning, leaving most of the rest of the day free for shopping or whatever. It was that “whatever” part that caused the problem.
Some of us decided we wanted to see a movie. And not just any movie.
Although it would be tame by today’s standards, even something of a minor classic, then “Tom Jones” was considered by many to be naughty. Very naughty. This was 1963, understand.
We didn’t know it was supposed to be a classic, we just wanted to see how naughty it was. And if it lived up to its enormous, titillating hype.
That meant a fairly long trek on foot from downtown Fargo, where our bus was parked for the day, to Moorhead, where the movie was playing.
As it turned out, the movie wasn’t as “good” as some of us had hoped. Some of us left in the middle of the film in order not to be late for the band bus, which was scheduled to leave for home at exactly, let’s say, 4 o’clock. Some of us stayed till the end of the movie, running back just in the nick of time. And some of us stayed till the end, taking our time walking back, thinking the bus would never leave without us, no matter what.
The bus left. Some of us made it. Some of us didn’t. Our band director, James “Buck” Holo, held the bus for a few minutes. Very few.
Those of us left behind in the big city had the embarrassing task of finding alternative transportation home. Not to mention explaining to our parents what we were doing at “that” movie.
I don’t recall the exact punishment. I do remember something about written letters of apology. At any rate, we gave them something to talk about Monday morning at school.
Funny thing, not only did Mr. Holo remember the incident 20 years later at a class reunion, he remembered names!