A couple of weekends ago, I had an opportunity to step back in time. We were staying at our lake house in Hickory for the Labor Day weekend. In passing, my mother mentioned that the Hickory American Legion Fair was the same week. On the spur of the moment, we decided that would be an awesome outing with my four kids and my three nieces. So, we quickly showered and headed off to the county fair.
Now, I have to admit, it's probably been 15 years since I've been to fair. I grew up in rural Caldwell County. For many of my formative years, my mother served as the Chair of the Caldwell County Fair Association. I have fond memories wandering around the fairgrounds enamored with the lights and looking at the exhibits of fat pumpkins, homemade jellies and handmade quilts. When I was in the third grade, I won a blue ribbon for a red dress that I made in my Four H sewing class. I had not thought about that memory in years!
We arrived at the Hickory fair, and I was bombarded with the sights, sounds, and smells of my childhood. Of course, there were flashing lights and rickety rides. I recently heard a monologue by comedian Jim Gaffigan about county fairs. He talked about thinking that a ride looked really dangerous . . . so he decided to put his kids on it first. That's a true statement! He reassured himself thinking the ride attendant was obviously a structural engineer . . . and that's how he lost his arm and his teeth! Yep, some of that going on as well!
Gaffigan’s words were echoing in my head as we walked up to the fairway ticket booth. We immediately blew through $200 worth of tickets. Yep, I know that sounds crazy, but when each ride is 3 to 4 tickets, and you have seven kids, you do the math!
Then, the fun began. We went from ride to ride to ride, watching the seven kids, ranging in age from 9 to 15, literally squealing and giggling with joy. At one point, I was pretty sure my daughter may vomit. That was especially true after we walked past The Scrambler that was “temporarily closed” to clean up the vomit! A few rides later, my niece and daughter were splattered with tobacco spit on a ride. In this part of the world, dipping tobacco is common. And apparently when you spit on a spinning ride the sputum goes sideways and not down! We found some hand sanitizer beside the pony rides and gave them a makeshift bath.
As if the rickety rides were not enough, there were the glorious games. And yes, of course, every one of them costs five dollars. There was the “Guess Your Speed” booth, wherein you throw the ball three times and guess your speed on the third. My little softball player nailed that one. And, surprisingly, so did her brother who prefers baseball over any other sport because there's little running! And then, there's the “Throw the Dart at the Balloons” booth. It's amazing how dull a dart can be at the fair! Not sure how a dart can bounce off a balloon, but at the fair, it does! At that game, however, every kid is a winner. We walked away from that booth with a plethora of stuffed animals. We then came to the “Crossbow Booth.” My niece is an archery whiz, and she couldn't even hit the target. Obviously, the game was rigged. We then came to the “Hoops” booth and let my other niece show off her skills. (She’s the top scorer on her high school basketball team and she missed as well . . . rigged again!) Finally, we came to my favorite both, “Guess Your Weight.” (This was certainly a kid-only activity as no adult in their right mind would agree to a snaggled-toothed woman hollering your presumed weight over the microphone!) Luckily, one of my sons is a lot more solid than he looks in the lady missed his weight by 12 pounds. And, he was a winner!
At this point I looked around at my husband who was now carrying a blowup green alien, an inflatable bat, two neon kick balls, a stuffed gorilla, two stuffed giraffes and a stuffed turtle. He was a sight to behold. (Since you can't take the toys on the rides, he was the pack mule.)
Once we rounded the fairway with the games and rides, we came to the food. Oh, the glorious fair food! Jim Gaffigan also talks about the lack of a health inspector at the fair. He notes that if anyone does show up to assess the sanitary conditions, the vendors just pack up and leave. So true. But, oh so good! Over the next 30 minutes we feasted on the finest fair cuisine. The appetizer was deep fried Oreos. In case you don't know, that's an Oreo dipped in funnel cake batter, fried to culinary perfection then sprinkled with powdered sugar. OMG!!! Delicious. We then moved on to the homemade ice cream, the fresh-squeezed lemonade, the deep-fried pickles, the candied apples and the blue cotton candy. (According to my sons, the blue tastes so much better than the pink.)
And, we could not forget the main course, which was a chili dog and a burger all the way. In the South, that means chili, slaw, and onions. By this point, I think we were all ready to puke. Good thing we did the rides first.
Since we were all stuffed like a pigs, we decided to find the pig . . . races. Yes, you heard me, we went to watch the Hogway Speedway. We saw racing pot belly pigs, racing billygoats, and racing ducks! And while we watched the race, we of course had to indulge in a little kettle corn.No fair would be complete without a tour through the exhibit hall and the livestock barn. I was utterly satisfied to see the 436 pound pumpkin. That pumpkin was just as big as the ones I remember as a kid. And, I saw all those blue ribbons. Quite frankly, nothing looked as good as my red dress from the third grade!The highlight of my night, however, was walking through the livestock market. As my sister was attempting to take a picture of my au pair beside a milking cow, a lovely heifer dropped a load on her ankles. Yep, she was splattered with good old fashion cow poop. I thought we would all bust a gut laughing. It was udderly satisfying. (I could not resist!)
At this point, we had seen enough, and it was time to go home. As we drove back to our lakehouse, I was amused listening to the chatter of my kids and nieces in the back of the car. For the last five hours, they had not looked at an electronic device. No Twitter. No Instagram. No Snapchat. They had enjoyed an evening of pure Americana . . . just like I remembered as a kid. This was good, old fashioned fun.
Being an adult can be hard. The demands of work, family and life can drain us. And, sometimes, we forget what it is to just have fun. That night, I was reminded. I thought about the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 12:1: Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, "I find no pleasure in them.”
Author Jennifer Worth captures this idea of grasping fun in her quote: “I remember the days of my youth when everything was new and bright; when the mind was always questing, searching, absorbing . . . And the days when joy was delirious.” (Farewell to the East End: The Last Days of the East End Midwives)
My night at the fair had been deliriously fun. May you find your day at the fair as well!
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