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Monday, August 15, 2011

At the Fair

I love county fairs--I grew up next to the Skagit Valley Fairgrounds in Mount Vernon, WA. I can't smell onions cooking without being immediately transported to our old neighborhood during the annual county fair.

Unlike the larger, regional fairs, county fairs are just the right size for small children, and larger children (and adults, both small and large) can enter things they have made or grown and earn prizes and recognition. When you visit a county fair, you not only see lots of interesting projects, but you see lots of people you know, and eat a lot of good food that you don't eat every day (which is probably good, too).

I also admire 4H. I've seen the kids making meals, setting tables, and serving the judges their concoctions. I've seen what they have grown and animals they have raised, and I've seen them show their animals. I would have loved 4H when I was a kid, but town kids didn't have access to it then, or if they did, I didn't know about it. However, my friend Janet, who lived about a mile away, but in the "country," did introduce me to entering items in the fair when we were young teens. I enjoyed the experience.

Last year, I was disappointed that there wasn't more participation in the Needle Arts Department at our local county fair (and I had not entered any of my work, either). Needle Arts is my favorite department, so this year I decided to take part. I figured I had no right to complain about lack of participation if I, myself, didn't enter things.

I hadn't entered anything in the fair for several years. Back when our kids were still at home, we all entered photography, both because we liked taking photos and because a local camera store would accept our photos, deliver them to the fairgrounds, and, when the fair was over, return them to the store. Back then we had neither the time nor money to make three trips to the fair (once to enter, once to visit, and once to pick up entries), as it's 20 miles away from where we live. Now that we are retired, we can make three trips more easily. And with planning, we could probably cooperate with friends and get rid of one of the trips.

The monkey in the picture above won the only "big ribbon" I've ever gotten.(The handcranked sewing machine in the picture is 114 years old, and Monkey was sewn on that machine.) I don't put a lot of importance on ribbons--judges are just people who may not like what I like, but still, I pay attention. They leave notes on the back of their judging form, to let you know what they liked or didn't like, about your item. Feedback like that can be enlightening--or not.

What I DO like is exhibiting my work; I take satisfaction in making things. I also like looking at other people's work. If people don't enter their work in the fair, there isn't anything to look at--it's as simple as that.

I view the tradition of the county fair as an age-old democratic instituion in which anyone may participate, regardless of age or station in life. It's a level playing field and open to everyone--I like that. And sometimes you win a prize--I received a prize for the first time this year: a package of quilt batting, a result of Monkey's big ribbon. Sometimes, there are checks that arrive about a month after the fair, and that's nice, too. They aren't very big, but I know my kids were always really excited to receive their checks when they came in the mail.

Life brings inevitable changes, but one thing I hope never changes is the county fair--I hope it stays just the way it is forever.