Summer Fair in America

After paying $7 for a wristband, Beren kicked off his shoes and ran to the bounce castles. Only the couple guys taking money had seats and a shade canopy. I looked around at the trampled grass that lacked broad leaf plants, indicating some kind of herbicide use (as with many lawns). I considered my bare legs, the herbicide, the irritating blades of grass, the interesting impressions my legs would take on, and I sat down in the sun.

I watched Beren race through the complex of bounce castles and slides. I sweat. I did what every other parent and grandparent was doing. I checked my phone. My flip phone informed me that an hour remained until the opening ceremony for the fair and that I had one message. I closed the phone and scanned for Beren.

Earlier in the afternoon, I checked the weather on NOAA and another website. Rain was predicted. Thunderstorms. Wind. I decided to take Beren to our neighboring county’s 4H fair despite the forecast. I had missed seeing my father in a July 4th parade (we had arrived late, as usual), and his role in the fair’s opening ceremony seemed like a good second chance.

“Shade, I need shade,” panted a my red-faced kid. I had just dialed a friend, “I gotta go…hot kid,” I told her. Beren and I explored the 4H Robotics Club’s tent, lingering over 3D printers, a life-sized Darth Vader (“those are not Darth Vader boots,” Beren said pointing to Vader’s military boots), and an adjustable set of chutes and gears for a marble run.

After missing two calls from my Mom, we wandered to the bandstand, and waved at my Dad who looked handsome and sharp in his uniform, white gloves, and carrying a ceremonial flag along with his colleagues. We were not out of breath. We were early. Finally.

I left Beren with my Mom who looked notably fresh despite the humidity. I bought two hot dogs, opting for the chili and kraut on mine as it was included in the price. I was already out $35 between rides, the bounce castle, and two delicious lemonades. The chili dog was soggy and somehow tasteless. We ate in the bleachers . I noticed Beren resting his elbows on his knees and holding his hands out like a zombie. Ketchup covered his fingertips. I offered precious water from my canteen so he could wash up.

After my father’s part, the local dignitaries had their turn at the microphone, and I got the fidgets. We said our goodbyes. We had already looked at the rabbits and chickens, so we visited the other animal pavilions, finished out our tickets for the amusement rides, and got a pulled pork sandwich ($10) and another lemonade ($3).

The heat wore on our mood, but arriving back at home at 7:00 PM seemed too early for a fair night. We checked out the Flemington Speedway Historical Society’s tent and admired the custom race cars. Silent footage of races played on a screen, showing race, trophy ceremonies, motorcycle wipe outs, and car crashes. I thought about a classmate who died in a motorcycle race in high school. I couldn’t remember his name. He was one of the smart kids.

Next was the tractor display, and then back to the rides ($9 more for another couple turns on the Tilt-o-whirl and carousel) as the sun got lower. As the sun got lower, the heat was lessened. After a moment watching the evening’s music offering, Hawaiian music. It was an entirely odd act to watch at a country fair. The tent was only partly filled. The audience was reserved. I was intrigued, mostly to observe the people watching. Beren clapped his hands over his ears and demanded to go back to the dog show, “in case we might miss something”.

Back in the adjacent dog show tent, two women continued set up the course for the intermediate level dogs and their young owners. We had not missed anything. Nothing at all. The Hawaiian music was audible. The initial thrilling drumming and fast-paced hula dancing had given way to subdued and syrupy ballads - live vocals over canned synth-sounding stuff. I sighed and sprawled out on the bleachers.

“When is something going to happen?” Beren asked impatiently.

“I’m bored, too,. Let’s give it another couple,” I said. Our fidgets increased, and I suggested we leave.

“Go home? What?! Now? Isn’t there something else to see?” Beren said.

I consulted the schedule, “There’s some kind of show over here at the Livestock Show Ring on the map,” I said pointing. “It says ‘Fair Bowl’. I have no idea what that is. Let’s check it out.” At what I thought was the Livestock Show Ring were two girls grooming horses in the evening shadows. “Hmm, not sure.”

I had been tuning out the sounds of revving engines and generators earlier. Suddenly, the sounds came into focus. “Seems like there is something over there. Across the field.”

Beren began jogging towards the noise. “Oh it’s a tractor pull,” I said.

“When did it start?” Beren shouted, breaking into a run. “How long will it go?”

We saw the crowded bleachers across the field. Kids streaked across the open, sloping grass. We ran towards the ticket taker and bought a ticket for me ($5).

The bleachers were packed. We edged our way through the crowd and sat in the grass (dry as straw, herbicided, for sure) against the fence. Front row seats. “Rachel!” the fellow next to us said as he leaned over the shoulder of his lady companion. It was the farmers we get our vegetables from taking an evening off.

We (Beren and me, not the couple who left shortly, probably to collapse after a long day in the fields themselves) spent hours watching truck after truck pull a heavily weighted ‘sled’ (look it up, it looks nothing like a sled). The goal is a ‘full pull’ of the sled, in this case 300’ from the starting line.

It was a thrilling evening, and only the combination of lightning and the diminished excitement level (the truck finished and tractors began pulling - a much slower-paced event) sent us to our own truck, into the rain, and home.

I do enjoy country fairs.