Everything being a constant carnival, there is no carnival left. – Victor Hugo
From the time I was 5 until I was 18, I lived about one and a half miles outside the small Missouri town of Louisburg. During most of the time I lived there, it had a lumber yard, a gas station, and a general store. All of those are closed now. During my youth, the population dropped from 200 to 175 to 150. Now it’s 122.
But once a year, the Louisburg Picnic – technically called the Old Settler’s Reunion – still occurs. When I was a kid, I would get very excited about the Picnic. There were carnival rides, booths and games, fair food, and everyone in the surrounding area was there. It was quite the big deal, even magical.
It started in 1890, when the original settlers of that region would gather to catch up on each other, remember old times, and eat. My dad told me that he had once met an elderly woman who talked about going to the Reunion in a covered wagon, camping overnight with her family and the other settlers.
I went to the Picnic with my friend and her daughter last Friday, and we had a good time. We ate fish sandwiches and ice cream, we played Bingo, we rode one of the rides – which made both my friend and myself so dizzy we staggered around a bit. We listened to a little bit of live country music, what my dad would call Honky Tonk.
And while I couldn’t quite recapture the magic of my youth, there was a clarity to the air that was, at least, enchanting. It had rained during the day, taking down the humidity. My friend and I were amazed that we could see the water towers all the way over in Buffalo: a thing unheard of.
It could be argued that the old-timers in their wagons had a better appreciation of reunion than we of the present, that the spirit in which they started the Picnic has been lost. Here in this place where they cooked over campfires, we’re taking pictures with our smartphones. I can see the rationale of that argument, but I disagree. Louisburg may be dying, but the spirit is still there, largely dormant until those few days in July. The trappings may have changed, but still we gather year after year, seeking to reconnect and remember, just as I have with my dear friend.