“There was a smell of time in the air tonight”

…that was how Time smelled and looked and sounded. And tonight – Tomas shoved a hand into the wind outside the truck – tonight you could almost taste Time.” – Ray Bradbury

My boy and I went to the last county fair of the season yesterday. With my Mom, as it’s her “hometown” fair – Ashland county. I have a lot of great memories of going to fairs when I was a kid. My best friend’s Dad had an exhibit in the commercial building that he traveled around to display, so we went to at least a dozen fairs every summer, seeking out the cheap, greasy food, watching Pat Benetar cover bands and occasionally finding something like a square dance or a teen barn dance.

I think the fair is one of the few things I find has really not changed a lot since I was a kid, and perhaps even since my Mom was a kid. As we sat on a lopsided wooden bench eating French waffles, the powdered sugar raining down on our clothes, she recognized some old guy working the nearby gate as a high school classmate. She couldn’t remember his name, he was an upperclassman, she said, but she was sure she went to school with him. Small towns are still just that small, that you can see an old classmate of yours if you go to the fair, even if you’re in your 70s. We looked at the crafts and collectibles building, my Mom explaining that the memorabilia from the “Ashland Dairy” was from what they called the Ashland Sanitary Dairy, and her explaining where it was and what they sold. My son was on a sugar high and bounced around not looking at much of anything. He’s kind of fair’d out, I guess – this being probably the fourth or fifth one we’ve gone to since the season started in early August. We’ve seen the sheep shearing, the cows getting milked, the livestock auctions. We went to the tractor pull and ate freshly made doughnuts and buckets of french fries with plenty of salt and vinegar. And whether it was Randolph or Wooster or Cuyahoga or Lorain, we weaved in and out of the crowds of mostly well-behaved young people out having a pretty innocent good time. Girls in pink Cummins tractor-trailer t-shirts eating cotton candy, arm in arm with boys wearing work boots, Wrangler jeans and checked shirts with camouflage John Deere hats. Little kids lining up to ride the rides, my boy among them, blowing kisses to me each time he passed by where I stood and waited for him, watching him grow older seemingly minute by minute. He’s already too big for the “baby” rides as he calls them, saying they don’t go fast enough. And he managed to stay up late enough at a fair this year to see all the midway lights come on, which he loved. A couple of months full of corn dogs and imitating chickens and lots of reminders about where our food comes from, and why, and the harvest – explaining the message of this state where agriculture is still one of our number one industries, so that he never thinks our food comes from a styro package at the grocery. So that he’s aware and thankful and respectful for what we have, and how it was raised, and how hard people work to get us that food. But also lots of corn on the cob and caramel apples and Elvis cover bands and country fiddlers, pictures atop old Massey-Ferguson combines and checking out the beekeeper exhibit.

My Mom smilingly recalled her youth, walking up and down the midway with her best friend Barbara, walking by a carny, Barb all legs and long, blonde hair, and the guy calling out, “There she goes, poetry in motion!” We talked about how when we used to go when we were kids, we could just park at my Mom’s Aunt Lillian’s house, which was across the street from the fair, and walk over. Long time ago, when I held her hand as we walked those grounds.

I know it won’t be that many years before it isn’t my hand my son is holding at the fair, but some young, pretty girl’s hand. He won’t scream in childish wonder on the dragon ride that goes up and down, up and down, talking a blue streak about how much “funner” it was than the other rides, but he’ll win his girl a stuffed animal and they’ll share a sticky lemonade. It both breaks my heart and makes me happy to think of it, all at once.

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