I love county fairs a-deep down in my heart! And here’s why:
First, there’s the history. I think that there is an inborn appreciation for the beat down grass, the the tables full of eatables and handicrafts, the barns full of sleeping pigs, curious goats, wooly sheep, tall horses, and hay-munching cows, the stadium with the ancient paper owls hanging from the ceiling, and the glitz of the amusement rides in my family. My Grandma is full of tales of every day attendance at the fair as a child, and I have several family members (more to come on this later) who regularly participated in the fair for years. I started my fair involvement in high school, when I started helping my Grandma (and, at the time, my cousin Rachel who has since moved away and left us (sad face)) with our educational fair displays (The topic: Michigan Agriculture and Economy. Why? Because Michigan Agriculture is the bestest, that’s why!). Being involved in the fair is fun, but it takes work.
The planning is very important. Because of our fair-loving blood, it is not unusual for my Grandma or I to start thinking about ideas for the fair months in advance. The fair is the crown of the summer, the last hurrah…and is therefore very important, and not to be slapped together at the last moment. Once we have our idea, the gathering and creation of materials begin.
Sometimes there is building involved. For the fair, I have built three doll-sized buildings (some more impressive than others): a replica of my father’s milk-house, a processing plant, and a produce store. One year Grandma built a life-sized stuffed man in her basement using my Grandfather’s clothes.
Sometimes there is growing involved. One year, Grandma planted some corn seeds in a shallow tray, timing it so that the tiny plants would be the right size for a miniature cornfield at the fair. And of course, we always grow the fruit, hay, rye, or corn that we use in the display.
There is always some artistic talent involved. Every year, I cut out letters to use for the heading that goes above the table. Last year, I painted small wooden trees. This year, I have been painting a background, and even doing some sewing (What? Did you say sewing? Why, yes. Yes, I did).
In short, planning can take several weeks. This is serious stuff!
Of course, the result of the planning always culminates in the big day itself…Entry Day!
Entry day always begins with the meeting of the minds…aka Grandma and I meet, pool our resources, and load up the truck. Actually, usually two trucks (Grandma enters a lot of different things besides participating in the fair display). And then we arrive at the fair, where we spend the day stapling to walls, laying out scenery, and polishing fruit. The day historically also involves Knights of Columbus hot dogs and hot beefs and an end of the day dose of ice cream and wander about the barns.
Entry day is a very comfortable day…almost all of my fair display competitors are relatives that I have seen here every year. There is something about the readying atmosphere and the sense of anticipation that makes entry day the best day of the fair (for an adult who doesn’t care about the rides, at least).
The judging takes place the next day. I don’t fret much over what color ribbon I get, but the sense of friendly competition is fun. Last year, I recieved the Best of Show ribbon. Oh, Yeah!
Which brings me to a complaint that I need to file with my local paper. The week of the fair, they ran a story on my competitors…cousins of mine with three generations in the game, competing against each other in a bloodthirsty, winner-takes-all battle of the fair displays. Their competitive nature was touted with one member of the group asserting that next year, she was going to win Best of Show. Nice article, right?
Well…yeah. But it was missing one important detail. And that detail was a quote from said (Best of Show losing) cousins: “None of us won the Best of Show ribbon this year because our cousin, who has highly superior skills, won with her totally awesome kick-butt fair display. Next year, we hope to come closer to reaching her level of excellence.”
Yes. That’s the quote that should have been in the paper. But it wasn’t. The winning cousin wasn’t even mentioned. What’s up with that, local paper? I know that my favorite double distant cousin Jessie Eyes probably said something exactly like the quote that I just produced above. Why was it not in the paper? I just don’t understand!
That being said…
I guess if I had to sum up what makes the fair so special it would have to be…
the family atmosphere, the smell of a barn with newly swept aisles, the roar of tractors pulling weight down a track, the lights of the ferris wheel, the taste of cruddy-yet-satisfying-in-a-very-special-way fair vendor food and…
the sense of tradition!
The fair is a little piece of home, rolled up into one short week.