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County fair, common ground

Posted: October 26, 2013 - 11:00pm

Long before we had iPads and smart phones and apps, we gathered once a year for the county fair. As far back as the 1800s, families anticipated this week of the fall season to share their best crops and latest gadgets and talents. Local fairs united us.

When the weather began cooling and the the last harvest was just around the corner, it was cause for celebration. Folks brought their best produce, prize pig, new machinery, and way of life to town for all to see and experience. Hay-lined stalls and rows of vendors showcased local agricultural talent and validated a year’s hard work. Local judges met to vote on the best apple pie within 50 country miles. Our relatives practiced for hog-calling contests and pie-eating competitions. Women shared baking, sewing, needlework and quilting projects. We admired each other’s corn and watermelons and tomatoes. The fair was a week-long goodbye to the summer season and a welcoming of autumn.

Eventually, traveling acts and rides pulled into town, changing the landscape.

Their arrival transformed our town squares and county acreage into fun for all ages. Children became wide-eyed. For generations, we have continued this tradition. It has evolved over the decades, but the basics are still the same: to gather as a local community.

My husband and I attended the fair before we were married and began taking our children when they were barely able to walk. We held their hands as they rode ponies that walked in circles, their toddler faces covered with powdered sugar. We loved watching their eyes grow big and smiles spread across their faces while picking out a bag of cotton candy or the best caramel apple. We all cheered their grandfather on as he tried to swing the sledge hammer hard enough to make the bell ring. We walked through the hay of the petting zoo and admired the blue ribbons on livestock and local artwork.

To be honest, I loved it all more than they did. I still do.

There is nothing complicated about a local fair. Parking attendants guide us in. Music and chainsaws and screams of delight fill the air. Lights illuminate the sky. The smell of hay, funnel cakes and fresh-cut fries welcome us.

When I enter the gates I feel a bit like Tom Hanks’ character in the movie Big. My clothes are all hanging off. I’m 10 again. I’m giddy and a bit nervous I might miss the best ride by running out of tickets. I grab my jean jacket and can hardly wait to hit the midway and blast a water gun, throw a ring onto a bottle, turn over a duck, and pop a balloon with a dart. I still want to win a huge stuffed animal, a goldfish, or other random “choice of prize.” (My brother once came home after winning a live goose. I’m still not sure how he managed to keep that pet.)

The fair is coming to town this week and it’s conjuring up all my excitement again. I hope I bump into you at the Columbia County Fairgrounds Oct. 31 through Nov. 9.

No matter your age, I hope you will jump on a ride that scares you just enough to make you scream with excitement. I hope you’ll twirl around on the Himalaya or the Scrambler, and stand making faces in front of the fun house mirrors. There’s no app that is as hilarious as that.

I hope you’ll join me in eating deep-fried everything and sip on lemonade made the old-fashioned way, before bottles and mixes were invented.

I’ll be the girl in line for the Himalaya munching on fresh-cut fries with extra vinegar.

And no, I’m not sharing.

(Amy Breitmann blogs at BelovedinBlueJeans.com. She is the co-founder of the Lydia Project and works for Helms College with Goodwill Industries. )

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