Perhaps I seem like an average gal. Yet I am, in fact, no ordinary citizen. There is a part of my heritage that I have long kept from the public eye. At one time, my life was anything but private.
You see, in the early 1960s, my father was the mayor of Circle Pines, a small village north of the Twin Cities. At that time, the small cooperative community was a bustling hub of fur trapping, gold mining, and the motion-picture industry. For two years, Daddy presided over a thousand or so Circle Pinians (or Pinites or Piners—the matter has never been settled).
My mother, my six siblings, and I had many duties as First Family. Our primary civic responsibility, however—like every political dynasty, from the Roosevelts to the Kennedys—was to refrain from picking our teeth or noses in public. There were also the various ceremonies: ribbon cuttings, opening the new Dairy Queen, presenting the key to the city to visiting dignitaries, like the mayor of Blaine. One might think this high-profile life was nothing but glamour. But then one might not recall the calamity that befell the First Family one summer.
In Circle Pines, it was customary for the mayor and his family to appear in the city’s Fourth of July parade. Tradition dictated that we all ride in a convertible. In the past, that setup had proved injurious to those of us on the bottom of said stack: We were a clan of individuals that were large of build and massive of flesh. So parade organizers arrived at an ingenious solution: The entire family would ride in the back of a utility van our neighbor Roy Rasmussen used for his carpet-installation business.
That year, July 4 dawned bright and clear. As we crowded into the cargo hold of the van, Roy secured the door behind us, and we arranged ourselves around rolls of beige carpeting (which was very popular at the time). Roy began driving. We could hear the muffled sounds of the marching band and the Shriners revving their tiny motorcycles as we made our way down Main Street. The truck seemed barely able to make its way through the throng of several dozen, the loyal populace who waved and cheered their beloved First Family, although I take this on faith. There were no windows in the back of the van.
Amid what we assumed to be a jubilant celebration, disaster struck. Overcome by all the excitement, my brother hurled a handful of candy at the unwitting crowd. He knew not his own strength. The barrage of Jolly Ranchers, Hershey’s Kisses, and Bit-O-Honeys ricocheted off the walls of the van, painfully peppering us with bullets of sugar.
It did not end there.
The hail of sweets ceased. But then, in one brief, silent moment, we realized that all the treats lay at our feet. Ever aware of their duty to the public, Mayor Daddy and Mrs. Mayor Mother bravely kept waving. But my siblings and I, never ones to pass up victuals of any kind—especially sweets—found ourselves engaged in the sort donnybrook that European soccer fans might relish. When it came to foodstuff of any kind, it was every First Family Kid for himself, and good luck and Godspeed to any delectable that found itself vulnerable. Even now, some 40 years later, I can’t shake the image of the poor, wayward Skittle that had rolled to a stop in the corner of the van under a bucket of carpet glue.
Eventually, the screams subsided. The sobbing waned. We discovered that one of my brothers had lost an eye. My sister had broken a finger. The crowd remained unaware of the grisly chaos inside the truck, and they never knew that Daddy had courageously completed his term with a chocolate coin irretrievable lodged in his nasal cavity.
Or so we thought. The incident might have passed unnoticed, hidden in the dark vault of our family history, if not for the outcry from a few enterprising members of the citizenry, who happened to notice that when the parade was over, they had been left empty-handed, candy-wise. A Watergate-like investigation was launched, and shame was brought on the House of Pehl when it was discovered what had happened. Months later, Daddy was ousted from power in a terrible coup, though—it should be noted—most historians seem certain that the local National Guard unit was merely on weekend maneuvers, and that Daddy misread the signals and overreacted by stepping down.
Ah, but that was a long time ago. The wounds have healed, though I still have the fillings from the cavities wrought by the candy. In these summer months, I so want to love a parade, to enjoy the spectacle with my neighbors and friends. And yet I cannot. For I can never look at a those weird taffy things wrapped in wax paper without recalling that tragic day in our nation’s history.