The County Fair

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Growing up on a farm in Pennsylvania, I looked forward to the Butler County Fair. While my teenage brother was most interested in the carnival and its many attractions, I loved seeing the exotic chickens, the crop exhibits, the cattle, sheep, and hogs. We watched Standard-bred and ostrich racing, the horse show, and the draft-horse rigs. My dad sold a pony to one of the pony pullers and another to a pony-ride concession.

We always went in time for dinner: chicken slow-cooked over glowing coals. The thought makes my mouth water. And speaking of chickens, my sister raised her dyed, purple, 25-cent Easter chick to adulthood and decided to enter “Peep” in the fair. We were not chicken experts. Our neighbor said a vinegar bath would remove the remnants of purple dye. It almost removed the chicken, but Peep survived to enter and win the White Leghorn Pullet category. We came home and celebrated with the blue ribbon in the center of the table. Only later did we learn that the “pullet” began to crow and would never lay eggs.

My first career was as a 4-H agent. County fairs were a large part of my responsibility. I even served as a cookie judge at the Kentucky State Fair. We still travel to Louisville for the World’s Championship Horse Show at the fair. But I always take in the quilts and the art and indulge in pork burgers from the Kentucky Pork Producer’s booth.

I met my husband, Wallace, at a horse show. Our dates took us to county fairs, often as exhibitors. Wallace managed the local horse show and spent weeks recruiting officials, publicizing the show, and planning the center ring décor. Our children grew up showing horses on the Kentucky County Fair Circuit. One year, the Ferris wheel was set up near the end of the horse ring. We had a large, rather lethargic, three-gaited horse that looked like a world champion for a night. Another fair chose to have helicopter rides, which took off over the area where horses were tied to trailers. After much excitement, the flight path was altered.

I remember loading our Great Dane into the horse trailer (he didn’t care for cars) for the pet show. As a little girl snatched her tiny kitten away, my son said, “It’s okay, he doesn’t eat cats anymore.”

We spent late hours finishing up 4-H sewing projects and baking cookies. When our daughter was in high school, we moved to North Carolina. The fair entries became counted cross-stitch and watercolors.

We now live in Winston-Salem and look forward to the Dixie Classic Fair. I enter herbs, and Wallace works the Extension Master Gardener booth.

This past weekend, we visited the Anne Arundel, MD County Fair with our daughter and her family. Granddaughters Stella and Malaya met a sheep named Stella, petted a rabbit, and saw chickens, goats, cows, and pigs. We watched racing pigs and ducks and a horse-driving demonstration. The girls rode armbands’ worth of rides.

Wallace asked me if the fair scene brought back memories. Indeed it did. I loved watching our three generations enjoy a county fair.