In Praise of County Fairs

Fair week begins Saturday here. The next few weeks all of the counties will have their fairs so that entries can go to State Fair. Our local fair has dwindled since I was a child. It’s mostly a 4H fair now, although local residents can enter open stock items for judging and win ribbons and small cash prizes. 4H members and FFA members from the High School show dogs, sheep, horses, cows, etc. and then top it off with an auction for cows and pigs. The bidders pay way too much money and the kids sock money away in college funds.

Open stock is when residents enter photography or paintings or flowers or canned¬† or baked goods or veggies to be judged. It’s fun to see the local photo’s, most of which are matted, but not framed. It’s good local exposure for people. Some years, people enter woodworking, like children’s toys, or wooden bowls.

We do have a quilt show, food trucks, and a free stage with live entertainment. For $20 you can buy a grandstand pass for the three main events; the demo derby, the rodeo, and the live concert. It’s country western music all the way. We usually go out to the fair once or twice and see the quilts and buy overpriced lemonade and sometimes dinner. I always look for cotton candy, but last year there was none. Once upon a time carnival rides were offered, but they have gone to those big blow up bouncy houses and slides for small children in recent years.

There is a parade along with the fair. Mostly political candidates and local businesses decorate floats to match the theme and throw candy to children. There are prizes for the top three floats. Sometimes people drive classic cars or classic tractors. Years ago the local high school bands marched in their hot uniforms playing rousing patriotic songs, but now our town doesn’t even have a marching band.¬† The American Legion Honor Guard marches with flags, the fire truck is loaded with volunteer firemen throwing candy and the main street is blocked off for about an hour, with detours in place for through traffic since it is on US Highway 20 South.

Certainly bigger counties with bigger populations have bigger fairs. The ritual is played out this time of year all over the USA.

Small town rituals preserve tradition. They unite people. They support our kids, and take us back to days gone by. They are rinky dink and not exciting unless you are a small child. They are a tie to the past, connecting us to original settlers who were primarily farmers and ranchers. They give people a change to wear their dress Wranglers and button down pearl snap shirts, big belt buckles from their past glory days as bronc riders at the local rodeo, and dress cowboy boots. People mingle and pocket their cell phones as they sit at long tables under awnings on the grass at sunset at the county fair and actually talk to one another. Don’t knock it until you’ve been to one.

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