The sound of chirping birds entered through open windows on a cool morning that hinted at coming fall. A wasp from a small hive in a walnut tree stumbled into the house, which caused haste to find the elusive flyswatter.

Survival Days, a celebration so named because West Concord survived changing times and a long-delayed road repair project involving the main artery into town, crammed the weekend schedule. It may have been better if the fete had been dubbed “Progress Days,’’ but holding on to what exists is the order of the day.

Kathy embarked on an endless garage sale quest while I and the rest of the family took in the antique car and pickup show. Gleaming chrome, open hoods and happy owners were crowded on Main Street. We mostly listened as visitors reminisced.

An old-timer talked about driving his dad’s 1950 Chevy and wishing he had the foresight to keep it, and another talked about the old times when Main Street included car and implement dealers, clothing and other retail stores.

“It’ll never be the way it used to be,’’ he said in summation.

There is no one and nothing to blame, although it is not unreasonable to suggest that much has been sacrificed on the oblique altar of progress.

Good things are happening. The town raised enough money to remake its park into a handicapped-accessible and colorful gem; the public library has been reborn with displays that honor Native Americans, the present and future. Methodist Church members produced dozens of old-fashioned doughnuts and the volunteer firefighters and EMTs offered a fund-raising burrito breakfast.

We digested all of it as we made our way along Main Street. I stopped to chat with a friend who wanted to talk history. He mentioned how a gravel pit outside of town was once a meeting place for the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK was active in southeastern Minnesota in the 1920s — a big rally was held in Rochester and the Old Concord Christian Church in Dodge County was a gathering spot.

Lore has it that gravel pit neighbors were upset about the KKK’s presence and hurled sticks of dynamite over the pit’s rim; the shaken but unharmed Klan members dispersed and never returned.

I am — as journalistic ethics require — apolitical. Standards forbid political bumper stickers, yard signs, public office seeking and the like. Opinions are required on editorial pages but mustn’t intrude in straight news coverage.

Current events stopped our talk of history. A man wearing a “Make America Great Again’’ cap entered, and conversation turned to his wish that the president could serve 12 years in the White House because of all the good he has done.

I said something stupid and out of character in response, which was the equivalent of waving a red blanket in front of an angry bull. The cap wearer responded with a series of expletives and in vile terms invited me to leave immediately.

The response — that I would leave when I was good and ready — caused him to take a menacing step toward me before backing off. Daughter Sarah watched the scene.

“I didn’t think you had it in you to do something like that,’’ she said. “I thought you were going to get into a fight right on Main Street.’’

I was embarrassed for both him and me. I should have walked away and avoided the gnawing bad feeling that lingered throughout the rest of the day. It’s an awful and fearful time when anger overwhelms common decency.

My friend continued talking to the cap wearer. I respect him for his knowledge of history and professional skill. However, the realization that he said nothing in my defense raises serious concerns, which Sarah asked about.

“I don’t think I want anything more to do with him as a friend,’’ I said.

The incident may be blown out of proportion. History and the present can be ugly. However, I regret my contribution to it. A few antique car owners roared engines and burned rubber as they left town and enveloped the future in smoke.

Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News, a weekly farm-based newspaper published by the Post Bulletin. He lives in West Concord with his wife, Kathy. 

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