Hale, Connecticut in 1975 housed 3,371 souls and sponsored 5,827 civic organizations. Everyone lived in a small town with large families, not just the Catholics, and the fathers and mothers constantly sought new ways to get a night out. Most organizations existed only to run unhealthy food booths at the annual Durham Fair or to parcel out $50.00 scholarships every spring to local scholars. No one knew why the Grange existed at all.
The Grangers once met weekly in the old Town Hall but that practice ceased long before the razing of that building, because the place was inundated by termites, owls and poltergeists. Undeterred by the absence of a meeting place, the Grangers persisted in staging annual pot luck dinners in the school gym where they cranked out the long lunch tables and covered them with 23 different species of Jell-o molds and 18 crocks of baked beans, as well as a few casseroles formed from various compost piles and expired spam.
Naturally our parents made us go every year, sort of their way for punishing us for all that we had done wrong in the preceding year, but for which we had not been caught. Ladies with rolling fat arms ladled out the fare and we held our noses and gagged it down, then went home and vomited and farted until sleep gently slayed us.
The Little League banquets were a bit more exciting as we generally had a sports star speak, someone from the Hartford Knights semi-pro football team or the physical education teacher, and afterwards we got trophies. No political correctness here; the stars got huge trophies they could barely lift off the ground. The remaining ballplayers got six inch trophies with the inscription “You sucked” etched into the bottom metal strip.
And yet the Grange had to do something else besides hold meetings and force feed us Jell-o molds and baked beans, but it remained a mystery for decades because no one gave a crap.
The gig was up after the untimely death of Forsythe Mills at age 117, a few moments after the new millennium dawned. The only known victim of the feared Y2K phenomenon, Forsythe passed when an alien being sprung from his computer screen and gobbled him up. As Forsythe meandered through space colon, his computer yielded valuable information about the Grange’s minutes from its inception in 1951 onward.
Mundanely, the minutes started, standard Roberts Rules of Order, entries of calls to order, discussion of past business and the exchange of pumpkin pie recipes, then the committee reports began. That’s when the dirty little secret leaked. It turned out that the Committee for the Propagation of Pomegranates was a front for the Enforcement of the American Way–an anti-Communist front–and inedible food and flatulence were at the forefront of the struggle.
It all makes sense now. Our school librarian started our library science classes with a Dewey Decimal system quiz, then, after scooping up our papers and throwing them into the rubbish bin, she pivoted to lectures about the Vietcong and the sins of the Democratic Party. Our chemistry teacher, Mr. Snowblower, taught us how to split the atom, “just in case. It might come in handy some day.”
Then one year the entire French department disappeared because the language sounded too much like Russian and Chinese.
Our poor parents spent lots of dollars buying nightlights and story books to lull us to sleep, but this never worked because after our parents themselves nodded off, we saw the moonlit faces of local Grangers looking inside our windows, for dirty magazines sure, but primarily for copies of Trotskyite tracts and The Communist Manifesto.
Their flash lights scanned our rooms, then turned off the moment we began to scream for Mom and Dad.
In the interest of fairness, we did have a few Commies in town, each year three votes for Gus Hall and Brezhnev were written in and counted after the polls closed at the town feed store and whorehouse. So the Grangers took over all of the voter registrar and polling compliance jobs in town, for free, which saved the town $14.00 each year, and their members sat and watched until the Larneski triplets came in and asked for pencils so that they could write in the names of the candidates of their choice.
That was the last occasion that anyone in Hale voted Communist. Never saw the Larneski triplets again, not a one of them, and their home became a John Birch bookstore.
The bell tolled for the Grange the moment the Berlin Wall tumbled, their raison d’etre vanished as surely as the Larneski triplets had, as it turned out their members did not give a hoot about agriculture and they only promoted the Jell-o molds because they installed listening devices in them.
Today the youth of Hale fall asleep soundly at night, and they receive soccer trophies even if they do not attend one practice or play in one game, but they missed out on the experience of living in a small town when it was weird because the Grangers cared for us. And we never did fall to Communism.
Donald Hubbard has written six books, one of which was profiled on Regis and Kelly and another that was a Boston Globe bestseller and Amazon (category) top ten. Another book has gone into a second edition and he was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame as an author in 2015. A chapter of one of his books was published in the online edition of Notre Dame Magazine and a recent story was published in Funny in Five Hundred. Quail Bell Magazine has agreed to publish one of his poems and one of his short stories. He studied English at Georgetown University and the University of Kent.