Going to the Fair
Growing up in Michigan, next to Christmas, Fair Week was the most anticipated week of the year. It was always the week of September 20, my Granddad’s birthday. He never missed the fair; no one did. The St. Joe County Grange Fair has a particular smell in my memory. Fried food, cotton candy, caramel apples, pies, cow patties and pigs.
Dave and I went to the Western North Carolina State Fair last Thursday. It’s the first time we’ve gone in the 19 years we’ve lived here. I was really hyped about our date, and on the drive we reminisced about fair week. Farm kids and some of the 4-Hers got off school the entire week to work at the fair. The rest of us got off on Tuesday for Kids’ Day at the Fair. I remembered that the scariest part of the fair was going to the bathroom. The large wooden outhouses, painted green, hidden under the pines trees, three units back to back, had holes bigger than a child-sized rump; a scary ordeal, especially since my mom warned me never sit on the seat. The Ferris wheel was a scary close second. Remember screaming on the Bullet? I remember hats with our names embroidered and kewpie dolls wearing pink feathers hanging from a stick. The animals. The exhibits. The wonderful sparkling grandstand shows at night around the horseracing track. Under the grandstand were the food booths of churches and civic organizations that served real food, and we sat down to eat with other people.
The last time either of us had gone to a fair was in 1970 in Columbus, Ohio with three little children. So, of course, the fair today wasn’t quite up to the standard of our memories. The animal barns were empty. The animals only come on Saturday and Sunday. There isn’t a grandstand. There were caramel apples in sanitary sealed packages not dripping on waxed paper, cotton candy in plastic bags not magically spun before your eyes. The midway games are deluxe versions of the pitch games with zombies for prizes instead of teddy bears, Uzis instead of pop guns. Funnel cakes and corn dogs are sold from silver diners. I didn’t see or smell any Lutheran Church ladies’ Pie Booth.
In all fairness to North Carolina, I should explain that the St. Joe County Grange Fair of my memory has been doing their thing since 1851, pre-Civil War. The fairground is 150 acres. The grandstand burned down a few years ago, but it was rebuilt, bigger and better. Old barns have been replaced with concrete floors, and I’m sure the outhouses have been replaced. But 147,000 attendees in 2014 agreed it was one of the top five county fairs in the country. So perhaps I had the barre set a bit too high. (But I really wanted to see the sheep and llamas. Whine.)
When we hopped out of the car in the parking lot, eager to begin our Thursday afternoon date, I reminded Dave we had to hold hands. You should always hold hands at the fair so no one gets lost. It’s a fair rule. So we held hands, looked at the 800 pound pumpkin and all the blue ribbons.
One of the most interesting things I saw was near the tractor exhibit. An old farmer, tanned and wrinkled, wearing a plaid shirt, bib overalls and dirty work books sat alone at a TV table hunched over his laptop. Sort of a time-travel moment that could find itself in a future novel.
I’m glad I got to go to the fair this year. A Thursday afternoon date is always fun. And the memories were even more so. And a good enough reason to hold hands.