Last night, I took my Mom down to my hometown county fair. This is the one we went to every year as a family when I was little, in the small town next to where I grew up, where my Mom hails from. We used to park at aunt Lillian’s house (who wasn’t my aunt, but my Mom’s), as she lived across the street from the fairgrounds, and walk across the state route that snakes through the tiny town. Last year, my Mom had some mental health problems from being on a bad combination of medications, so I was glad to be able to go do something normal and traditional with her again like this. Things are a little strained when you have to put your mom in a mental hospital, but all that seems to be behind us now.
I didn’t get to very many fairs this year. I usually take my son to several but every fair we have frequented in years past was taking place on weeks I didn’t have custody of him this summer, so sadly, no fairs for me and D together this year. I know he went to one with his Dad, so I guess that’s cool. But I remembered taking him to the tractor pull last year, and hearing the tractors as we walked around at the fair last night was bittersweet, to say the least.
We ate too much, and all of it junk food, which is sort of the point, and walked around and saw the animals and such. We spent a lot of time in the hobby building looking at photographs and memorabilia people collect. There were some really interesting items in there and it generated good conversation. And the weather was perfect. Gorgeous. Crisp and sunny and warm. I’m glad we went.
There is a clear component of my personality, my upbringing, that is at home in these settings. Whether it’s the country music, the demolition derby or the manure under my boots, I will always feel a connection when visiting places like this. The people we spoke to and shared tables with, or purchased food from, were friendly and easygoing. Being able to know right where the Dor-Lo pizza stand is or Willard’s french fries as they always set up in the same place gives it a feeling almost like they never leave, like if you pulled into the dusty fairgrounds any time of year, there they’d be, dishing up hot dogs with cuban hot sauce and cherry cobbler with ice cream. It’s timelessness and nostalgia, combined to the smell of onions and fryer grease.
In some ways, it’s great that the fair is so unchanged from what it used to be. Generally speaking, the kids still look pretty innocent and wholesome, many are hard workers as they are farm kids or at least in the 4-H, raising their animals to sell or to try to win awards at the fair. The hand-scrawled signs in the barns, pre-teen girls brushing their horses, young men helping to shear sheep, it’s all pretty much the same as when I was a kid.
What I see now that I didn’t see when I was little is how racist, close-minded and somewhat scary the redneck contingent can be. From the “Don’t Tread On Me” and confederate flags, to the t-shirts proclaiming, “Don’t be a chump, vote for TRUMP,” all I could think was how glad I am I got out of there; it’s just not for me. It’s really hard to believe this other-world feeling can be gotten by simply traveling an hour and a half south of Cleveland. But there it is.
As evening fell, it started to grow chilly, and the screams of the children riding rides and playing games made me miss my son. We got our bags of french waffles, dripping with powdery white sugar, and got on our way home. The sun sank into the horizon and left a purple skyline as we zoomed back to the city.