Thursday, September 26, 2013


First, let me be clear. This is not a post about zombies. Christina, I know you got all excited, but just calm yourself down. No zombies here. Except this guy:

Here in my hometown of Evansville, Indiana, we are fortunate to play host to the second-largest street festival in the country. What's the first? Mardi Gras, of course. Let that sink in just a little bit. This tiny river city (not a small town, but not a large city, either) in Indiana is home to a festival that is second only to MARDI GRAS. I still cannot for the life of me understand why the Food Network and Travel Channel are not beating down our door. Heaven knows I've email them enough times. But I digress...

In its 92nd year, the Fall Festival draws more than 200,000 people each year and features parades, carnival rides and midway, talent shows, live music, and - of course - FOOD. More than 126 individual food booths, in fact. Each booth is run by local not-for-profit groups, such as churches, schools, private clubs, scouts, and fraternities. And many make it their mission to try to have the most outlandish, grease-laden or bizarre food item for sale on the street.

My fascination with the West Side Nut Club Fall Festival began in middle school, when my dad's Shrine unit opened a booth at the festival, selling hamburgers, cheeseburgers, Polish sausage, curly fries, pizza, and soft drinks (or "sody pop", as my dad was so fond of putting on the menu board). I would tag along with my parents when they worked their volunteer shifts in the booth, and I usually got put out front selling soft drinks - a thankless job. Some chilly October evening go outside for a few hours and fish cold cans of soda out of barrels of ice or ice water a few hundred times. It sucks. But the people-watching from the sidewalk makes up for it in spades.

Now a member of a Masonic- and Shrine-affiliated body myself, I have a booth of my own to work each year. And we don't have a menu of typical fair food. We, too, have an outlandish, grease-laden, and bizarre treat for sale. In fact, it's the ONLY thing we sell: Brain Sandwiches. Read it again if you have to: Brain Sandwiches. Little brains from fat little piggies all battered up and fried like a delicious, organ-filled fritter, served on a white bun with pickles and onions. And people cannot get enough of them. Although the Big Guy didn't seem to sure about it when he tried his first one a couple of years back.

Anywho, it take a lot of work to get all those little piggy brains ready for cooking, and that's just what we did this week. Every member of my unit - plus some outsiders who were nice enough to volunteer to help us out - spent hours this week sitting around tables "cleaning" brains. I won't go into the particulars, but you know how it is when you prepare an animal or cut of meat - there is some trimming, picking, "cleaning-up" to be done before you can cook it. Same with brains. For someone like me, who had to be excused from Biology class in high school before I barfed all over my group when we started dissecting a frog, this is a chore I dread every year. But it's all for a good cause, and it's only once a year, so I take the Big Guy's advice and "suck it up, Buttercup!" and get the job done. I do enjoy the fellowship that takes place during the cleaning, though. Sitting with a group of ladies for hours at a stretch with nothing to do but talk makes for some interesting stories and a lot of laughter. 

Midweek this year, though, we experienced incredible sadness in the midst of our fun and fellowship, and our time in the Brain Booth at the Fall Festival will not be the same. One of the originators of our famous brain sandwiches was taken from us. In a previous post, I briefly mentioned Miss Wilda, who was one of Miss Mary's dearest friends. After a day of cleaning brains, Miss Wilda went home for the evening and quietly passed away. I will never forget her or the impact she had on my life. Our organization owes much to the leadership and passionate dedication of this elegant lady. Always dressed to the nines, Miss Wilda was the picture of class and dignity, and I am honored to have been her friend these past few years. 

Next week we will honor Miss Wilda with walk-throughs and a memorial service conducted by the officers of our order. And the week after that, we will work our tails off in the Brain Booth and remember these two incredible women who devoted their lives to Masonic service and to their fellow man. We will laugh at remembrances, and I'm sure we'll shed a tear or two as well. It's going to be a grueling week, but I can't wait for it to get started. Check back for a recap of the Fall Festival in a couple of weeks, complete with photos of - you guess it - brain sandwiches. 

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