[Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 9/9/10]
The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting cooler (well, maybe not last week, but just bear with me for the sake of the story) and the kids are back in school.
It must be time for the fair.
Last week, the Vermont State Fair rolled back into town in all its down-home, deep-fried goodness.
My relationship with the fair is an odd one. From an introduction, I have come to truly enjoy and appreciate it as a touchstone of rural life and traditions, a seasonal signpost that marks the end of summer and the start of our inevitable albeit unpredictable descent into winter.
My first experience at the fair went about as badly as any first experience anywhere possibly could. It was long ago; so long ago, in fact, that I can’t event remember it, which is probably for the best. Nonetheless, in my family, the story persists.
It all started in the cow barn. I’ll spare you the ugly details and just say that my visit ended with a “plop” courtesy of a less than cordial bovine.
Later fair visits were spoiled by my insistence to compare the fair to Disney World, which I had visited for the first time at the impressionable age of 3. (Looking back, my parents really set me up for disappointment.)
“Where’s the nightly laser show and the Electrical Parade?” I’d wonder aloud.
(I’ve since learned that viewing life through the Disney lens is far more politically and culturally troubling than it’s worth.)
In subsequent years, I greeted the fair’s arrival with indifference. I’d tag along with my parents, but I was just as likely to pass.
It wasn’t until middle school that I began to enjoy the fair. By that time, my friends and I were old enough to go without our parents. Attendance became a social necessity.
Rides also began to gain some appeal for me. Up to this point, my ever-protective mother had always steered me away from them, which wasn’t a big deal since they never really appealed to me anyway because of that whole Disney hang-up.
But in middle school, I started to see rides differently. If I played my cards right, I could get two or three minutes of quality time on a ride next to some lucky girl. (Of course, in real life, these interactions were far more awkward than they did in my head.)
By the middle of high school, the fair had once again lost its allure. In those “too cool” days, my friends and I considered walking the midway anathema – too pedestrian for our discriminating tastes, which at the time included the very un-pedestrian high school activity of drinking beer in fields and basements.
In college, things began to change. Unlike most of my friends, classes didn’t start until after Labor Day for me so every year I found myself with an extra week to kill.
An evening at the fair began to take on a nostalgic appeal. (Nostalgia for what I’m not exactly sure since I didn’t have many memories of the fair growing up.)
I began to appreciate the fair for what it represented: an unpretentious gathering of community, the celebration of our agricultural roots and the coming change of seasons – the last hurrah before the cold months to come.
My visits to the fair in that last week before returning to school were peaceful and reflective. I was all summered out and ready to move on. The fair was a quiet finale.
Nowadays, my friends and I eagerly embrace the fair as part of the unique Rutland experience. We go for the food and the sights (oh, what sights you’ll see), and for some of us, the occasional ride.
Everyone has their fair bucket lists – the absolutely essential stops. Mine is a pint of fries from Roxie’s (with vinegar and ketchup, naturally) and a maple creemee from the Maple Barn.
(As usual, I’ll be steering clear of the cow barn.)
For me, the fair still carries with it that feeling of denouement – the summer warmth slowly gliding away in the cool evening breeze. Enjoy it while it lasts.