Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Home Town County Fair, Anywhere, USA

Home Town County Fair, Anywhere, USA
            I attended the Dawson County Fair with my daughter Dee Dee and her family. It was touch and go whether there would even be a Saturday night rodeo. Black clouds had rolled in, covering the sky, temperatures dropped, thunder roared and lightning struck as rain pounded the ground for hours. Too dramatic? Four different storm cells hit in succession and all the above is true. When we got to the fairgrounds the rides had been shut down. Rain aided the Mud-a-Palooza, mud volleyball competition, but talk was, the rodeo might be cancelled.

            By the time we got my granddaughters, Lexi and Antoinette, sugared up with cotton candy, the carnival rides, one by one, opened and our girls, jittery with excitement, raced from merry-go-round to bumper cars. By nightfall, as rodeo cowboys bucked out the horses and bulls, the full moon hung in the clear sky like a magical platter.

            We all love the fair, right? And we all have nostalgic memories about the way it used to be. We tend to forget the dust and mosquitoes. I’m glad my grandchildren can still experience the old-fashioned county fair. They will create their own memories, just as flawed as ours.

            Sadly, each year the county fair seems to shrink, probably in direct correlation to our diminishing rural population. Last year at one of our local north-central area county fairs, I wanted to sit down and cry when I walked through the building which housed the 4-H, FFA and Club exhibits. Not only were all the groups housed in one building, but the empty space overwhelmed the paltry exhibits. Garden produce was nearly non-existent. If this year you saw a mere two jars of pickles and three of jam, would you bother to walk through next year? Cattle and horses which formerly rated their own barns were housed together, along with pigs and goats.

            We can’t roll back the clock. I don’t want to. I just hate to see what has always been such an important cultural and historical part of country life completely disappear. More than that, fairs are fun. Fairs are where the community gathers. Neighbors from the far flung corners of our large counties, who maybe only see each other once a year, get a chance to chew the fat.

            This morning my friend and former high school neighbor, Cheryl, who now lives in Oregon, reported via email that she attended the Tillamook County Fair with her grandchildren. Tillamook’s fair is rated one of the top ten in the nation. Cheryl intrigued me with mention of the Pig N Ford Races. So I did what any modern woman would do—I Googled it and watched a YouTube race from last year. At the gun shot, contestants raced to the pig pens, grabbed a pig, ran to a “car”, cranked it up, jumped in the driver’s seat with pig in his arms and drove around the course at top speed. After exchanging one pig for another at the pit stop, each entrant jumped back in his Ford and raced to the finish, where he deposited his pig in another pen and wiped his shirt with brisk motions.

            I’m easily entertained. I admit it. The point is that wacky and unique things such as pig races and mud volleyball keep us coming back and supporting our fairs. While I was on the internet, I checked in at the Hill County Fair. Aw, shucks, I missed pig wrestling and Washboard Willy.

            Last night in Glendive, Karen Quest, cowgirl on stilts, threw a lasso around six-year old Lexi and roped her in for a chat. Lexi will never forget Karen. The girls jumped way high in the sky on the Monkey Motion, a bouncy device, free to the kids, run by one of the local service clubs. Antoinette lives for the petting zoo and her favorite chicken. Me, I would have gone for the llama.

            Some events never get old. Rodeo, tractor pulls, balloon artists, horse races and stage entertainment draw us. We don’t need big name and fancy. Tillamook has a “How to milk a cow” demonstration where children may participate. In Havre or Glendive, local dance groups and musicians, talents of all kinds, line up eager for a place in the spotlight.

            I’m too aware that so many local events are run by STP (same ten people). Our own fair will never rate one of top ten in the nation, but it can be tops in the lives of our children and our community. Hooray for the County Fair and for those who keep it alive.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

August 14, 2014

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