Sunday, July 8, 2012

Country Fair

Growing up on the farm, our family always looked forward to the country fair.

It was three days of fun in the summer! Rain or shine, cool or hot, people of all ages flocked to the fair. It was a chance to meet up with your friends, neighbours and meet new people!

The main focus was on agriculture and home economics endeavours. The livestock included various divisions for horses, cattle, pigs and in more recent years some exotic farm animals and even a petting zoo. The home economics displays and exhibits included baking, canning, jams & jellies, fresh fruits & vegetables, plants, floral, quilting, needlework & sewing, and a wide range of other arts & crafts. There was also a special section that focused on the arts and crafts of school kids from Kindergarten through Grade 12.

A few months before the fair, a book of prize categories for the livestock and exhibits would be published and snapped up by many of the locals and those in nearby communities. Small prizes were awarded for the top 3 places in hundreds of categories. Ribbons were also awarded as a more permanent acknowledgement of the recipients accomplishments. Some of the livestock was auctioned, with the monies bid going to the people who raised the animals.

Besides the exhibits, there were vendor displays, food booths, baseball games, horse racing, a nightly variety show at the grandstand and of course a midway! The first day of the fair focused on the achievements of regional 4-H clubs. The town also hosted a pancake breakfast and a parade during the final day of the fair.

My dad loved to check out all the livestock barns. Mom loved to linger in the display buildings and check out many of the various categories. It gave them both a chance to visit with friends and see what was new and creative. Despite being a farm kid, I almost never went to the barns - too strong a smell for my nose! Although dad did get me to go a few times if there were some baby animals on display.

Actually, I didn't spend a lot of time in the main exhibits building either. It was interesting, but frankly, even back then I didn't have enough sight to see the names of the winners or to be able to appreciate the work that went into the entries.

Well, that isn't quite true. There were a few years that I was really interested in some of the categories! From about age 10 or 11 till I was 17, I entered baking in the junior section. Occasionally, I also ventured an entry in the adults section if I felt I could do a good enough job.

My mom and I would go through the categories and decide which ones I would enter. The first couple years, I only entered a few categories but by my mid teens, I entered pretty much every baking category in my age group. One year, I even won Junior Bake Queen and was given a pen and pencil set. I don't recall how much money I won that year but probably around $15-20. Not enough to really pay for all the supplies used in making my entries but mom let me spend it as I wanted. I seem to recall spending most of it on the midway!
The midway, was your typical assortment of rides, games, sideshows and a few food vendors. Carnival barkers calling out to the passersby, enticing them to come and try that attraction!

Most of the games looked easy enough but of course were always harder to win - especially any of the big stuffed animals or prizes of any value. I played a few, but tended to stick to something with a slightly better odds of winning - like Bingo! Not that I was or am a fan of the game, it was just a way to kill some time and sit in the shade of an open air tent without spending a pile of money!

I wasn't overly adventurous on rides. I didn't like anything that turned me upside down and was never a fan of roller coasters. When I was little, my dad took me with him on the bumper cars and would ride the merry-go-round with me. Mom wasn't much for rides - they made her dizzy. As I got a bit older, I tried several rides and came to have some favourites that I looked forward to riding at least a couple times every year.

The "Tilt-A-Whirl" was my favourite and involved spinning in a small circle while also spinning in a larger circle - and at various angles! I don't recall the details, but there were ways to spin even more if you shifted your weight as the cars were at certain angles!
Another ride that I really loved was the "Scrambler". It also involved spinning cars that wove in and out of each other's paths as they spun. I can still picture the silver cars! 
I've found some pics online of some of the other rides I enjoyed.
Naturally, I had to do the Ferris Wheel at least once every year and I preferred to do it at dusk to enjoy the sunset sky or after dark to get a full view of the lit midway.

Midway food was okay, but most locals preferred getting their eats from the local vendors that set up near the grandstand. These booths were run by volunteers from local community clubs and church groups so you knew the money stayed in town. There was also a dining hall run by a local church group. They served home cooked food but the building didn't have AC. It almost always had a waiting line to get in but we only went there if the weather was cooler!

My parents loved going to the horse races during the last 2 days of the fair! They'd meet up with several friends and have a hat pool for each race. Everyone put in a quarter and drew a number. If the horse with that number won, they got the pool! Dad and his friends would also go to the ticket windows and bet on some of the races. He taught me how to read the race forms. Over the years, you could really get to know the lineage of some of the horses! I could pick a few winners but never won if I actually put money down! In between races, everyone would visit, get refreshments, listen to the town's volunteer orchestra or watch the baseball games in the two diamonds that were on the infield of the race track.

In the evening, we'd watch the grandstand show. In those days, it was more of a variety show with an emcee, acrobats, comedian, a novelty act or two and maybe a ventriloquist. There was also a backup band for a couple of singers and/or a group that we'd never heard of, It was always a unique blend of entertainment! After that, dad would take us for one last walk down the midway - and maybe one last ride. On the way home we'd stop for an ice cream and share our stories of the days adventures.

I haven't been to a country fair since the 1980's or a city fair and midway since 1990. Given my visual limitations and risk for further vision loss with the jarring movements of the rides, I don't foresee myself ever going on any rides again. A small part of me misses the thrill of the ride. My limited vision also makes mobility in noisy crowds difficult so I don't go to fairs anymore. There is a part of me that really misses the atmosphere of the fair and midway, but I have very fond memories of all those years of going to the country fair!

Many small towns and communities will be hosting country fairs in the coming weeks. Check out your area to see if there is one near you! It is a great experience for kids of all ages! And if you do - take a ride on the "Tilt-A-Whirl" for me!


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