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Is there much of anything better than going to the county fair? I'm going tomorrow. I also went yesterday, the day before yesterday, and today. I'll go on Sunday, too. It's a yearly pilgrimage my family has made for several decades now, but this fair is far older than our experiences. This fair has been in continuous operation since 1888, and the people who run it do a wonderful job of balancing past history with present attractions.

What do you like to see at the fair? I pretty much love everything. Well, maybe not the carnival stuff; but we all know the fair is so much more than that. Isn't the fair pretty much the exhibition of a homesteader's dreams? The first thing I saw when I went to the fair this morning was a draft horse show. Beautiful, powerful, massive walls of horseflesh that move so light and flashy they seem to defy the laws of physics. Do their feet really touch the ground, or do they float? Then the beef barn, with mainly Angus and polled Herefords, with immaculately fluffed coats enjoying their own personal fans. Then the hog barn, full of grunts and squeals and pigs at their peak. We walk then past the sheep barn, then the goats, and marvel at the dairy cattle. My heartstrings are tugged by the sweet-faced Jerseys, and I have to keep on going to the poultry barn because I miss having cows.

One of my favorite places is the Home Arts Building. This building has stood for more than a hundred years, and is a landmark in the area. I walk in there and feel like I do when I walk into church. Inside are thousands of hours of labors of love-- exquisite quilts, handmade sweaters, aprons, clothing, pillows, afghans, and other needlework projects like cross stitch and embroidery on one end, and on the other end is every conceivable type of cake, pie, cookie, bread, muffin, and candy. There's an area for juniors as well as an area for adults, and a huge wall for every imaginable sort of home canned goods, as well as eggs from home flocks. I look down the wall of jars, shining in the September sun like treasure, and above I see a reproduction of a photo of that very same wall taken almost a hundred years ago--- farm wives in their sensible shoes and hair in tight buns seriously inspecting the goods brought by themselves and others. I confess I get a lump in my throat when I think of those women who came before me, their lives made recently easier with the introduction of electricity to their homes, and feel a kinship to them.

Another place I love to go is to what sometimes feels like the Hall of Inadequacy-- the Horticulture building. This is where the building bulges with displays of all sorts of garden favorites, the veggies and the fruits, as well as herbs, nuts, seeds, field crops and hays. The walls are covered from floor to ceiling with displays, and in the center is a pyramid of flower arrangements. There are several tables of garden novelties (like the biggest cabbage, the eggplant that looks like Richard Nixon, and carrots with a multitude of forks) as well as houseplants and pumpkins decorated by children. The planting, the cultivating, the mulching, pruning, watering, and sweating are all forgotten in this moment of glorious perfection in a plate of perfectly matching pumpkins, or onions, or plums, or whatever else a person might bring for a little premium money and bragging rights. This place smells like home, like herbs and earth and humble pride. I stand and slowly take in every single display, savoring each and sowing seeds of thought.

I love to see the commercial displays. I come home every year with some silly "necessity" that could only be found at the fair. We find the food at this fair to be astonishingly good. There's a group that's been coming up from the South every year for more than fifty years, that bring their smokers and make ribs sweet and tender enough to make you cry. There are eclairs made with real pastry cream and pate au choux, fragrant cinnamon rolls hot from the oven, sausages and turkey legs and pulled taffy. The Methodist church ladies make incredible pies. They make thousands. This fair often has more than 100,000 people attending each day, with some days topping over 200,000 people. Each pie is made by hand.

I also love to go into the beautiful park-like area where the small engine displays stand. The town used to produce a variety of farm implements, including these water cooled engines that did a variety of chores from powering saws, to grain mills, to even washing machines. The cool shade under these giant oak trees is the perfect place for these displays, and every year I watch old men stop and stare at these old engines and get a faraway look in their eyes. I wonder, who are they remembering? The memories of hard work on long days, a father or grandfather long dead, that taught them how to be men?

I know this. Summer lives at the fair. It doesn't matter what the temperature is, or whether that year is scorching hot or cold rain coming down sideways. If summer has an address, it's there. Each year I go there to visit the very best of summer. When I leave on that final day, I know a page turns on the calendar and summer is over for that year. It's not so bad; it means pumpkins and leaves and crisp cool air. But I find myself wistful for that last burst of summer's finest, the brightest and most beautiful of the season, and I begin to long for the next year's fair.

Tomorrow I'll take it in, and savor every single second. And thank you for letting me tell you about it. I knew folks here would understand.
 

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Our fair is the 1st week of October, with exhibits and entries due on the last day of September. My daughter and I are pulling together most of our entries for the fair now. Except for the animals, all of our exhibits are in one building. Surrounding that building is all the carnival type stuff, and the animals are outside the carnival things on the south side. We love going every year, but usually only go one day.

Your fair sounds much larger than ours!
Dawn
 
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