Thursday, June 3, 2010

Meet Me at the Fair

The county fair is getting underway back home on June 14th, and this is a momentous thing in Smalltownland...nearly as momentous as Cow Days, our local fall festival.

Now, the thing that I hated the most about the county fair between my freshman and senior years of high school was the parade. Any band kid will tell you, happily, how much parades suck. I missed the fair parade in eighth grade because I didn't join the drumline until the end of the next month, but I did not miss the subsequent four years of fair parade HELL. Ask any percussionist who's marched in that kind of heat, uphill, wearing between fifteen and forty pounds of equipment, and they will give you a real piece of their mind. The Cow Days and homecoming parades were not a thrill-a-minute either, since those were in full uniform in September. At least we got to do the fair parade in band t-shirts and jeans.

My mother was a huge 4-H'er growing up and won all kinds of clothing construction awards every year at their county fair. 4-H is still a big thing back home, although I never deigned to compete in the 4-H contests...I started entering the adult baking competition when I was twelve. After three solid years of beating venerable little old ladies of longstanding in the local Homemakers clubs (in the chocolate cake category), I was asked to not enter again.

When one of my history students at the college told me that she would be missing class to exhibit her prizewinning heifer at the state fair, I think that she expected me to laugh. All I said was, "Bring me the program as evidence." I grew up around this. There's money involved, and sometimes, scholarships; it's nothing to sneeze at, as they say. Hopkins's sister exhibited sheep; one of my sister's friends exhibited Hampshire hogs. Yes, we're country, and this is what we do for entertainment...

There was a children's day, Thursday, if I remember correctly, when they'd have stuff like the three-legged races and the horseshoe toss, and yes, the greased pig contest. If you've never seen a greased pig contest, I assure you that they are real and it's pretty funny if you're not trying to catch that little bugger. A pig is quick, and if he's covered in Crisco, he's slippery. You'll just have to trust me on this if you've never done it. The prize was, well, the pig. My mother was consistently relieved that we never won, although my sister, who was much faster than me, actually laid hands on the pig a few times without really catching it.

My parents were always hit up to buy a box at the horse show. Ours was pretty famous and drew a lot of very fine horsemen and -women, although my godparents only showed their Tennessee Walkers there a couple of times that I recall. The pageants were also held in the horse ring. Once, and only once, my sister entered the Junior Miss County Fair pageant; my father had a phobia of pageantry because his mother was a former Miss Arizona. He feels very strongly that pageantry promotes an overemphasis on superficial beauty and that his parents had ignored his three sisters' intelligence in favor of pushing them to be pretty and popular- something also reflected in his burning academic ambition for yours truly. Little Sister was a runner up, and that was that; she lost interest in ever doing another pageant again.

Attendant to all of this is that you can hear, see, and yes, smell the county fair up at Chez Airedaleparent, which overlooks the park where it's held. For a solid week every June, my parents' house smells like horse apples and fried onions, and you can hear both the jaunty organ music from the horse show and the loud rock from the midway. Of course, on the last night, everybody wanted to be our friends- because we had a spectacular view of the closing fireworks display at our house. If you want a good idea of what this throwdown is like, rent Doc Hollywood and watch the parts about the Squash Festival.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, like eating elephant ears, cotton candy, candied apples, and brownies from the Band Booster booth and then riding The Scrambler- your cool factor is judged on whether or not you hurl afterward (always wear closed shoes to the fair, no kidding). Gentlemen, let me remind you that your relative masculinity will be questioned if you cannot win your wife/girlfriend/little daughter a cheesy stuffed animal somewhere on the midway. Ladies, try to be patient while they waste a ton of money doing it, too, especially if it's for your child...somewhere in the back of my closet at the Chez is an old stretched Pepsi bottle full of blue colored water, won for me by the older brother of one of my babysitters. When I was six, that was the coolest thing I'd ever owned.

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