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An Ode to the Fair

I was telling my kids about the major memory I have of our yearly county fair. I grew up in a place that was rife with both artists and farmers, and I am guessing that our fair had plenty of worthy stuff to see. But here’s what I remember: Eating cotton candy, which makes me feel sick, then going on rides that turn my stomach around, which make me be sick. Yep, my childhood memories of the fair pretty much all involve throwing up.

So it was that in my adult life, I never thought about fairs. I never noticed, wherever I lived, when one was advertised. Oh, I have fond memories of the Ferris wheel, and when I drove by one I’d feel nostalgic, but that was it.

Then along came the kids, and their schools went to the fair. And then we started homeschooling, and lots of homeschoolers are are big into the fair. I was actually shocked to find out that one of my homeschooling friends whom I’d consider a shoe-in for the fair (she raises, kills, and jerks her own meat, fer gawd’s sake) doesn’t do the fair. It has become such a huge part of our lives.

The very coolest parts of the fair are not the ones I remember (obviously). My kids do get a little smattering of junkfood and stomach-turning rides, but the main reason we go there is to see everyone’s entries. One totally rad mom in our homeschool program puts together a scavenger hunt with all the kids in our program listed. Her version was four pages long! I condensed it to the front and back of one sheet by making the font tiny, but still, it was impossible to find everything on the list.

What did we see? We saw all manner of art, including a gorgeous close-up shot of a bee and some really stunning paintings. We saw sumptuous-looking baked goods that will become stale as people admire them through the week. We saw sewing projects and garden projects. We visited one classmate and the lamb she raised from a newborn.

My kids entered their own work in photography, sewing, baking, Legos, and the perennial favorite, Vegetable Creatures.

We also saw work by kids we’ve met through other avenues. I see them yearly and point them out to the kids: Remember Kaitlyn? Isn’t this gorgeous? Oh, and there’s Tara! And look at the amazing work Simone is doing now that she’s in high school. Though we don’t often see these kids anymore, we do see them yearly at the fair, meeting up with them like old friends at a school reunion.

The parents also get involved (though it occurred to me today that I’d never even considered entering anything). I saw a friend’s knitting, her husband’s plum wine, another friend’s photo. I love to see my friends doing other things besides parenting and striving to make enough money to parent. Art — and winemaking — is necessary for the cultivation of a healthy soul.

I also see grown-ups I know through other avenues — our vet’s goats, a family farm we’ve visited, someone I worked with before I had kids.

It is true that there are many drawbacks to the fair: It’s not cheap to get in (except on education day, which is when we go), and the food prices are a perfect illustration of highway robbery. My kids beg for stupid, expensive junk they won’t want in a week.

But it’s also true that you won’t get a better cross-section of this county at any event outside of the county fair. Everyone’s there, from strawberries cultivated and picked by our seasonal workers, much needed and little appreciated residents, to art by our semi- and professional artists. We’re all there, together, enjoying the agricultural, intellectual, and artistic harvest of the place we call home.

Posted in Culture.

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