Eight years ago, the annual Midsummers Festival moved to Riverside Park with the theme, Coming Home to Sweden. For a long time the Festival had been north in Swensson Park, with activities filtering downtown; but it seemed to belong at Riverside, close to the Old Mill Museum and Heritage Square, nearer the Swedish Pavilion, closer to home. Now in its 47th year, the Festival – which opens June 16 – is still about connection, about coming home, even for those who have come from somewhere else. We have found many people who live elsewhere, but believe home is in the Smoky Valley. They return, some of them often, because they can’t stay away. The Heart of America Volvo Club, for example, returns again, scores of vehicles, their owners and families ever devoted to their “Swedish Steel” and eager to show and tell. The Volvo event is more about gathering than showing. It has never been about glitter and polish; many owners simply drive their cars or wagons a hundred, a thousand or two thousand miles to Lindsborg, park them in the shade, set up lawn chairs and start talking. Others will have detailed stories or illustrations on display. Old or new, the vehicles and their owners bring a sense of love and devotion beyond the presence of their steel. They evoke a feeling of place. * A couple of days ago we visited with Mark Carlson, who had come to Lindsborg from Sacramento, Calif., for a public policy conference involving the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Mark, a Bethany College graduate, is director of the Church’s public policy office in California; and he is a nephew of the late Rev. Perry Carlson and his wife, Alice, long beloved and missed in these parts. Mark’s credentials and intellect are superior, but what strengthens the thread here, is his connection to Perry and Alice. We have come to know people who were raised in Lindsborg or Marquette or somewhere in the Valley and then left, dreaming of success in far lands and after a long absence, fulfilled or otherwise, returned to live here for good. There are other couples, other types, who have come “back.” More than a few will say that once, long ago, they had happened by for just a quick look and a meal, on the way to somewhere else – and years later they’re still here. It turns out that there is comfort in such a place, in friendly banter at a grocery store, or a visit along a sidewalk, the lively chatter at lunch, the happy cries across a park. There is a sense of reassurance in the strong and busy buildings along Main Street, in the nuzzling of a river along the Old Mill, in the great old churches in and near town, in the familiar faces of the same crowds, the ebb-flow of their traffic at ball games and concerts, at commencement, at weddings and funerals. * We’ve noted before that this is often a time, as Midsummer concludes, when some people, especially newcomers, seem surprised that they have taken root so quickly. After only a few tender years, they feel the staunch old American pull of home. This is born of many things, but the old-timers say it comes mostly of a shared joy of living. The pulsating call of home has touched a million different corners of our land, once and long ago defined by the directions of rivers, home that was once the dry wash along the Arkansas, the sandstone outcrop along the Saline, the gentle sweep of our Valley among the Smoky Hills. Today we have the call of all the places that remain part of the land around them, places that carry the vanishing echoes of our youth, the glow of memories unlocked. What is common among the new, the old, the in-between? They have found places that incubate and brace the human process, where intelligence, kindness, imagination and sensibility, and courage and fun, are all worth the courting. They have found a community of the heart, the closest community of all. We might say they have found Midsummers.
‒ JOHN MARSHALL