The Tanana Valley Farmers Market celebration this weekend made me curious about the first-ever event.

I found the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner edition from July 20, 1973, with a short article buried on Page 3. The headline read: “Farmers market here Saturday.”

The location was different from today’s market. The opening market at 8 a.m., July 21, was at the parking lot of 44-acre Alaskaland, later renamed Pioneer Park.

It was a weekend of apparent cultural sophistication in Fairbanks. The market was held the same weekend as a Tanana Valley State Fair beer drinking and keg-throwing contest at Alaskaland Gold Rush Town.

I winced, imagining both those events occurring at the same time.

“Hey, Ole, I’m sorry I conked you with a full keg,” I imagine a competitor saying. “Why didn’t you duck?”

“What? Duck and spill my beer, Gaspard?” Ole would say while pressing down the lump on his noggin with an icepick. “Just nine more measly gallons of suds down my hatch and I’ll get me a Fair blue ribbon.”

Technically, of course, farmers markets were held in Fairbanks prior to 1973 at the Alaska State Fair held in August. I found a couple pre-’73 full-page ads for farmers markets in the FDNM and in a competitor paper.

The first sellers in ‘73 sold produce, tanned skins, cut flowers, berries, honey, craft goods and nursery stock from the tailgates of pickups and station wagons (remember them?), or they set up portable stands. Sellers using scales had to get them certified by weights and measures inspector Dewey Emetic.

A few rules were published for displayers.

“ … Policing of your own area is of utmost importance,” Cooperative Extension service agricultural agent Virgil Severals said. “If litter becomes a problem the operation of the market may have to be terminated.”

Presumably, I think, that meant all thrown beer kegs had to be picked up.

My week in review

My plans for jumping into June with long hikes, fishing and visits to our acreage in Tok received a serious blow on June 2. That morning I was at a clinic getting my first physical in around a decade at the insistence of my wife, Gosia. I felt fine except for a wisp of a scratchy throat. By 3 p.m. at work, I became woozy at my desk, and when I arrived home at 5:15 p.m. I registered a 102-degree fever and tested positive for the coronavirus.

I called one of my old baseball teammates from college. He offered a lot of sympathy. “Back when you played outfield, you couldn’t catch anything,” he cracked.

At home my wife made old-fashioned Polish chicken soup the Old Country way.

“Your cough seems to be better,” she said on Day Three.

“It better be better, given all the time I’ve spent practicing it,” I said.

Being a generous person, I gave Gosia the same virus, but she luckily had milder symptoms and fought it.

Day after day, in spite of positive test after test, I worked from home. Finally, on Wednesday, I slipped into my office chair and saw my colleagues again.

I also managed to make it to rehearsal for the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre summer production of “Romeo and Juliet.” (I love the talented director, executive director and cast!)

Romeo is an impulsive lad, who kills two guys and abets the death of a third but is otherwise likable. Juliet is a winsome lass who expresses undying love for Romeo, coming to that conclusion after three whole Kardashian-like days. Hate to offer a spoiler, but neither Mr. nor Mrs. Young Love has a speaking part during the last five minutes of the play.

I’m joking here of course. According to the Shakespeare Folger Library, Romeo and Juliet is a classic, one of William Shakespeare’s most memorable tragedies. “Simple in its story line, clear in its affirmation of the power of love over hate, Romeo and Juliet seems to provide both a timeless theme and universal appeal,” notes the Folger Library summary. “Its immediacy stands in welcome contrast to the distance, even estrangement, evoked by other Shakespeare plays.”

I play the handsome, intelligent Prince Escalus, which may be a classic case of typecasting — even if my wife vehemently disagrees with my assessment. The prince has the misfortune of overseeing the feuding Capulet and Montague families.

Prince is like a U.S. state governor with a bit more power. If Verona’s city council members get out of hand, Prince Escalus gets to execute them as a deterrent.

Naturally, being a prince I get to wear a cool costume. I look like the Lord of Seven Kingdoms who has escaped from a “Game of Thrones” convention.

My wife, Gosia, plays an extra in the play (“I play a kitchen table,” she jokes), and she dances in a formal ballroom scene. Of course I’m biased, but I think she’s a decent dancer.

The director asked me to dance at my tryout for the tragedy. I lunged like a pachyderm and came close to stomping on my partner’s toes and disabling her for life. Other than that, I did fine.

However, the director announced that the pachyderm — er, Prince — was now excused from all future dance practices.

The director’s executive decision to bar me from the dance floor came as no surprise. At age 12, I first learned I was dancing impaired.

Back then, my Catholic parochial school devoted one hour per week to teaching hot new dances like the foxtrot. Thinking I was Fred Astaire-cool, I bent and dipped my partner, but she slipped and landed on her bum.

My dance partner, Judy, then refused to dance again with me. The instructor assigned me study hall in place of dance hour.

About that time, my mother asked me to dance with her at a Polish wedding. Wow, getting to dance with my mom to the wild strains of the Oberek felt to me like a cool rite of passage.

However, in 30 seconds flat, Mom abandoned me to light up the dance floor with

her sisters.

At home I complained about being dumped.

“I’m sorry,” my mother said. “You can’t jump up and down, yell ‘Hey!’ and call that polka dancing.”

This weekend my Polish wife is flying to a wedding in Ohio. I’m sure she’ll miss me when the band strikes up a Polka.

Or maybe not.

Gosia in Ohio, me in Alaska. Now that’s what I call social distancing!

First published in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, June 16, 2023

Prince Escalus