The county fair is best experienced at dusk with the smell of deep-fried oreos filling the air. I associate fair season with summer’s end and that last blast of oppressive heat and humidity. As wrathful as summer can be at this time, seeing the ferris wheel glow means that there will be a bit of a breeze when the sun goes down.
People from all walks of life stroll along the Midway. Young couples stray from their large group of high school friends and embrace quietly between the clanging whirring rides. A man with a straight billed cap wants to impress his wife by raising a giant mallet and sending a puck up the High Striker. Children sit at the edge of their seats straining to see the cars in the open-air arena growl and shift into gear and smash all of the other cars in its path until no one can move.
Beside the Midway is the heart of the fair — the friendly competition of neighbors showing off their art, from a smoked ham to a perfectly groomed angora rabbit. My Mom, who grew up in Iowa, has great memories of exhibiting at the fair through 4H. Growing up on a farm with a big family, you are instantly part of a well-oiled machine. Along with childhood mischief, she also had chores and important jobs. As the oldest child, she learned to drive at twelve to help caravan farm equipment from their farm to my Great-Grandpa’s farm. With her 4H cow, she was solely in charge and took great pride in raising and showing it.
I see that same pride today walking around the barns full of animals and crafts. A ten year old boy, usually unable to sit still for a moment, gently applies Purple Oil to his goat’s horns, explaining to me that it makes them shine for judging and I shouldn’t touch them. The fair requires discipline and preparation. He spent months walking the goat on a lead for exercise and sociability, grooming him often, and caring for him daily.
The fair is a magical place where young people can try on their more adult selves and grown-ups can act like children.
Originally published on The American Guide. 2013.