“They buried me in the great tomb that knows no sound,
but I am still around. I’ll always be around, and around, and around and around and around.” – The Highwaymen
It was the mid-eighties, and the voice of Waylon Jennings crackled through the AC Delco speakers of our Oldsmobile. The driving rhythm of the song contrasted with the slow, loping sound of tires finding seams in Highway 25’s asphalt. Our Dad was never in a hurry behind the wheel. He possessed an unspoken belief that driving under 55 mph was not only good for gas mileage but also the soul. However, it was maddeningly frustrating for a 7-year-old who just wanted to get to the fair.
In addition to my Father being the antithesis of Sammy Haggar, we had to delay our departure for Mom to buy us jackets at the local Ben Franklin. The temperature dropped dramatically overnight, and we had all outgrown our coats. My Mom returned 45 minutes later with a blue, hooded sweatshirt. It would serve as both a passport to this autumnal rite of passage and a protectant from cold air induced illness- which of course would produce pneumonia, accompanied by certain death in my Mother’s eyes.
The fair was a rare opportunity for our family to embrace frivolity. We rode carnival rides held together by hope and cotter pins, ate saltwater taffy, and looked at the livestock.
In high school, I attended the fair with my friends. Our marching band participated in the annual parade, beginning at Capaha Park and moving westward to the fairgrounds. We marched into the sun for thirty minutes, typically in stifling heat, risking heat exhaustion, and blindness for a funnel cake and a chance to ride “The Scrambler.” (It was totally worth it by the way.)
During my college years, I lived three blocks from the fairgrounds. My girlfriend (now wife) and I would go to the fair on Saturday night, eat greasy food, walk the midway and people watch.
Seventeen years later we go to the same fairgrounds with our own family. It still looks and feels the same. We eat fair food, including homemade potato chips peeled with a power drill, and delivered with the trademark phrase of “Tater Up!” We walk the fairgrounds basking in the glitter of lights, the excitement of adrenaline-producing rides, and the chatter of people as they pitch games, vinyl siding, and Jesus.
The fair encapsulates the temporal realities of life. As a child, I always wanted one more piece of taffy or one more ride, but I eventually had to climb into the Oldsmobile and return to reality at a speed of no more than 53 miles per hour. As an adult, I’ve learned to savor these moments, like powdered sugar from a perfectly prepared funnel cake. It comforts me to know that the same fair will be there next year, providing an opportunity to make new memories.