September 29, 2013

country fair

When I married my Farmer, I understood that going to the fair was part of the deal.  We had gone there on a date, eaten the freshly-made french fries and the sausage sandwich and the milkshake.

Now mind you, this wasn't a fair with rides, games, lights and music.  This was a farm fair.  My Farmer had walked me down the row of tractors, pointing out the model that his dad had had, growing up, explaining how this engine was different from that one.  He had led me down the aisles of produce, and I had marveled, like only the uninitiated can, at all the rows and rows of vegetable samples on paper plates, jars of canned fruit, and slices of baked goods, each awaiting their fate as decided by the fair judges.

Somehow, though, I never quite got it.

Maybe it was the crowded commercial tents and my Farmer's carried-over-from-childhood love of collecting brochures, or maybe it was running into person after person after person who knew my Farmer, and not me.  Maybe it was my complete ignorance of all things agricultural.  Maybe you had to be born to it.

But my Farmer loved it, so we went.  I learned to know the some of the people and the colors of some of the tractors.  We grew a garden and entered our vegetables.  We had children and took them to watch the tractor pull and eat milkshakes and french fries and funnel cakes.

It grew on me, kind of, but I still felt like an uncomprehending outsider much of the time.  Like the locals could just tell, looking at me, that I was a transplant, an imposter.

This year, though, we had a date night scheduled for during the fair, and for what felt like the first time in years, we went without the children.

I was feeling a little jaded going into it.  The fairgrounds seemed more crowded than ever, and I am not a fan of crowds.  The food lines seemed impossibly long, the vegetable displays impossibly tedious.  I tried, again, to see the fascination of the fair ... and failed.

And then the fire siren sounded.

The fairgrounds are located just behind the firehouse, and before the first wail had begun to fade, there were guys galloping past from all over the fair:  a short stocky guy sprinting for all he was worth came first, a golf cart dropped off another, and last was a lanky Amish man loping in from the parking lot where he had been helping to direct cars.  All of them responded instantly, volunteer firefighters running from the fun of the fair to take care of someone else's problem.

That's when I started to get it.  This is what the fair was about:  community, taking care of each other.  Even though it wasn't my fire, I felt protected, cared for, to see all those guys rushing to put out a fire they hadn't started, for which they bore no responsibility other than their desire to serve their community.

I looked around me with awakened senses.  Smelled the fresh paint on those restored tractors.  A small grey tractor of an unusual make had attracted my Farmer's eye.  He'd struck up a conversation with a weathered-looking man standing nearby.  Turns out the tractor belonged to an old friend of his who had been paralyzed.  He had put weeks' worth of painstaking work into restoring it for his friend, grinding, welding, painting.

The free tulip bulbs and door prizes, helium balloons (later seen floating overhead) and sample bags of chips, rulers and flyswatters, and jolly ranchers galore stood for more than the sum of their parts.  Sure, it was a chance for local businesses to advertise.  But it was also a chance for the community to gather together and just have fun, to celebrate what they have in common.

We joined the funnel cake line that stretched up the hill toward the fair office.  It looked like a long wait for our two orders of batter-fried Oreo cookies.  Just as we began to wonder if the wait was worthwhile, a worker from the stand came up through the line asking who wanted "road apples" (the affectionate misnomer for this country delicacy).  We were bumped to the front!  Rescued!

I may never raise a pig or a cow to take to the fair (and probably no one will ever mistake me for someone who could), but I can still enjoy the camaraderie evident in the cadres of farm kids who do, and admire their industrious care of their odiferous charges.

I may never fully understand the intricacies of the fair, but my children probably will.  They were born to it.

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