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The Last Windrow - Tale of a small-town festival

Ralph had never been asked to do this before. In a way he was excited, yet scared that he might screw up.

After all, he was a farmer and only went to town to get supplies once in awhile and he never really mingled with that urban crowd much.

But, he had joined a fraternal organization over the winter when boredom drove him from his farmhouse. Other than a short stint with the National Guard, Ralph had never really done much with groups. He was used to talking to himself while he chiseled his ground or herded pigs up into a waiting stock truck.

Working with others was not where he had been, but he was there now.

It was an innocent enough request: Would he be interested in heading up the bingo booth at the local community festival over the Fourth of July? His organization was responsible for running a number of activities and the bingo booth was one of them. The president of his club explained that all Ralph had to do was get the booth set up, get the bingo machine from the Legion, round up the prizes and call the numbers.

Ralph reasoned he could handle that, so he volunteered.

Although he had never done it before, Ralph visited businesses in the community and came up with the alloted number of prizes. Of course, he had to listen to a few complaints about the slow economy and some shop owners said they had donated enough already, but Ralph persevered and he got a barrel full of "good stuff" for bingo.

Next he stopped by the Legion to ask if he could borrow the bingo machine. Indeed, he was told he could. But, some wiring was loose inside the machine that needed to be fixed and there were three balls missing and someone had spilled coffee on a number of the bingo cards, so they would need to be replaced.

Ralph gathered the information needed to replace the balls and the cards and he figured he could fix the electrical wire himself, saving a few bucks and adding to the profit.

A huge tent had been ordered by his club. It needed to be erected somewhere in town where it wouldn't bother traffic and he found the perfect spot, next to the used furniture store in a vacant parking lot. If only he'd known that there was a foot of concrete secretly hidden under the parking lot, the tent stakes would have gone in a lot easier.

But, with a jack hammer and a fair amount of sweat, he and two of his buddies got the tent up.

The big festival day dawned sunny and bright. Ralph had everything in place and even had secured a friend to act as the caller for bingo. As the crowd began to gather before the 11 o'clock start, so did the clouds from the west. Ralph could hear some distant thunder just as he was delivering the prizes to the bingo table under the tent.

His cell phone rang in his shirt pocket and it was his friend who had volunteered to call bingo. He was going out on storm patrol and would not be available. The only man left standing was Ralph.

The tables were full of eager bingo players as Ralph plugged in the bingo machine. There was a huge sparkling sound and a puff of smoke arose from the plastic paneled unit. No balls were bouncing inside the machine as the eager crowd started to lose patience.

"Well," Ralph said, "guess I'll have to pull the balls out by hand."

There was a collective groan from the crowd just as a bolt of lightning hit the power pole next to the building. And then another one.

The bingo crowd ran for the exits as barrels full of rain pummeled the bingo tent, which had now begun to seep. Ralph stood there along with the smell of ozone in the air and a cancelled bingo booth. It rained into the night.

As he pulled into his farm yard that night, he thought maybe that might just be the last bingo booth detail he would volunteer for. He had barely escaped a brutal death from bingo players. It was easier to round up stray hogs.

It was a small-town festival. They seem to be coming around these early summer days. Ralph had been saved by the weather "gods."

See you next time. Okay?