Somehow July slipped by me. We had the Historical Society's annual ice cream social and the end of July saw us attending the Saginaw County Fair. We didn't have ice cream social's when I was a kid so for me those are relatively new experiences which knit the more senior of our community together. They come for the ice cream, scooped expertly by me, (at least I am getting better at it every year). They listen to a band comprised of mostly senior gentlemen but a couple of 30 somethings add a nice touch and I respect their committment to playing music that is old by my standards. This year I saw women I had gone to school with now sheperding their mothers to seats and laughing about how far we have come, or gone. We have now quite often become the parents to our parents, something we could not have imagined 10 years ago. But it is what life doesn't tell us. I am finding that in every stage of my life, I have arrived unprepared and I am constantly learning on the job and maybe that's the way it should be. It would be nice to have our visions of life at the end be close to what we expect, but surprises make us appreciate the good so much more. So the ice cream social was people getting together for a brief time to listen to music, to sweat, (it was a 90+ day), and eat ice cream and laugh about diets not being in the realm of a hot fudge sundae.
While my childhood run in's with ice cream were of the Merrill Whippy Dip and homemade variety, the County Fair was in my memory from my earliest recollections. I can't remember a time we didn't go, and it was always held in September, and quite often rain would drown out forays if we waited too long to go. It was magical the few times we went at night, the ferris wheel and bullet lit from all over the area. When we were old enough for 4-H we almost always went on the day the cooking entries had to be in. We got in free if we carried in a baked item for the Fair. For us the rides were the least of the Fair. The Fair was about caramel and candied apples, elephant ears and rock solid ice cream cones dipped in chocolate and then rolled in crushed peanuts. It was french fries in a cup right out of the hot oil and sprinkled with vinegar and generous dollops of ketchup. It was corn dogs and bags of popcorn, often given out free in the vendors buildings. We made a slow tour of the grounds, generally starting with the barns, as that's where the 4-H barn boys hung out. The 4-H kids who brought animals got 3 or 4 days off school to stay with their animals and it was as much a party as anything. After trying out our burgeoning flirting techniques on clueless boys we went to the other barns where draft horses so huge there back ends stuck far out into the isles and bulls so huge they needed pens all to themselves, and finally pigs so wide they seemed incapable of standing and lay on their sides letting an occasional grunt escape.
After the barns were thoroughly perused we would amble up the Midway deciding which rides we would go on when we finished doing everything else. We weren't all that courageous and the ferris wheel was enough to make us squeal for the rest of the day so it was saved until close to last. The vendors buildings were next after the 4-H building where we it seemed to extend forever and we knew so many of the names on exhibits and clothing and baking. We all had our 4-H projects and I just wanted to be old enough to have a camera and exhibit in the photography show. Somehow when I got to be that age, I had left 4-H behind and never entered the upper eschelons of high school 4-H projects.
The vendors buildings meant a stop at the first place that offered bags to store all the loot we could pick up on a couple of go throughs. There was the usual pamplets we picked up from everything to home building to insurance and weather tight windows. Yardsticks, pencils, rulers and frisbees were just a bit of the junk we picked up on our way. We came out laden with bags bulging and then had to decide on rides or carnival shows. The carnival shows, such as the bearded lady always seemed enticing, but our allowances wouldn't cover the shows and the rides and the rides usually won out. From the top of a ferris wheel, the world spread out before us and was magical. While the seats were stopped and patrons let off we would sit on that top seat for a brief minute and our breath would escape us at how we had left the world behind. The ordinary rural kid's life we all lived every day was suspended in the County Fair every year in September.
But as things go, they change. They grow or they stagnate. The Fair was losing patrons every year. Its down town venue became a place where no one wanted to be at night any longer. The 8 day fair seemed mired in rain half the time and it was becoming financially impossible to keep it going as it had. Many suggestions were made but the one that finally caught ground was the building of a new fairgrounds in Chesaning, the far south end of Saginaw County, and a smaller schedule would be put in place. It went from 8 days to 5 days and was changed from rainy September to late July or early August which was usually a dry period. Rural Chesaning was a good place to hold a County Fair. The parking was safe and abundant and there was space for growth. We don't go every year, but like to go every couple of years. Sadly what used to take us three or four hours now can be done in an hour. As with everything the size has shrunk. One building for 4-H exhibits and the collections exhibits which are all that remain of the "home" arts. A smaller building for livestock, horses, pigs and sheep share a building and chickens and rabbits share another small building. The Midway is scaled down but still seems "midway" sized. The food isn't the same, but then I'm not a kid any longer either.
The biggest draws seems to be the track which hosts demolition derbies, and big truck and auto races that filled the stands the evening we were there.
In these times, we hold onto those things that are the best of our childhood memories. They may in reality be just a memory but we can't quite give them up, and hope every time we go to catch lightning in a bottle, even though we may be reduced to a lightning bug in that bottle, and our memories will still be the best part of these events.
While it may not be quite what I remember, in these times of upheaval and nothing old is new anymore, in hundreds of venues all over the states, County Fairs still go on, and I hope always will...