Each year I go to the fair. It’s a summer ritual, that I look forward to, and plan for. The Northwest Washington Fair, often called TheLynden Fair, is a classic old time country fair and is about thirty minutes from where I live, and I’ve gone just about every year, since we moved here 13 years ago. For a long time our trips to the fair were marked by child-centered activities: which rides could they go on, what sugary thing could they try, and how long would they hold up? Back then I longed for some time to just peruse the animal barns, check out the winning quilts and visit the sea of vendors– all of which my kids found horribly boring. Instead, it was a battery of questions, and pleas for things that only came at the fair.
“Mom, can I get a cotton Candy? An elephant ear? Some curly fries?”
“Mom can we ride the Graviton? The Ring of Fire? The Tilt’a Whirl?”
“Mom, am I tall enough to ride this one?” They stood on tippy toe, hoping.
“Mom, can I bring a friend?” Always a friend who didn’t have a ride.
“Mom, my friends and I want to go to the fair; will you drive?” Or, several friends–
“Mom, I’m meeting my friends at the fair… could you please not hang around us?”
“Mom, the barns are boring! All my friends are at the rides.” Of course.
“Mom, I’m starving! Can we get a turkey leg– it’s protein! Mini donuts?”
“Mom, can I have some money for…” The fair… is very expensive!
There was always an endless list of must haves at the fair; thankfully it only came once a year, and I was never afraid of the word no.
It was often so hot that I wanted to leave, as soon as I got there– the heat amplified by the straw, the dust and and the dry grass all around. But deep down, I loved being there as much as my kids did. I would follow them around, waiting as they road the rides and bellowed that they were doing it again. I’d get dizzy just watching them spin and flip and do it again, over and over. We generally went with friends, and the adults would stand around tisk tisk’ing the poor choices made by the teenagers– checking out who was there with who, and what they were wearing. We watched our own kids turn green– even as they pleaded to keep going. Their determination and energy was boundless, each year a the fair. I waited, and followed and paid and waved, patiently, hoping that somewhere in the day/night, we’d wander into the barns, and see the animals.
“Let’s go look at the horses,” I’d coax. “I love the way they braid the horses’ manes, and the lambs are so cute!”
“The animals are boring! Want to come on the Ferris Wheel with us?”
“I think it was Socrates that something about all the world being in the eyes of a cow.”
They rolled their eyes at my feeble attempts. “We’re hungry!”
Let’s face it however, without the food and the rides, the fair would just be a farm. It’s the one time of year that we buy lots of junk and celebrate getting it! Outside of Disney, where else do you get a 2 lb. turkey leg?
I learned to park in the back lots, so that we had to pass by the barns coming in and going out. It helped my chances of breezing through a few of them, one way or another. Inevitably, my kids would venture through the barns with me, when they were sick from eating too much starchy, sugary food, and riding one too many upside down, twisty machines. They never admitted defeat, but came along to see the animals as if doing me a favor. Of course they enjoyed the animals too. But for me, this is the best part of the fair. I could watch the baby goats scramble over each other for hours. The pigs amazed me– their violent tussles and their lazy slumber. The ravenous piglet who are perpetually suckling from an exhausted sow. The cows and horses are my always my favorite– the cows, with their enormous, soulful eyes, and the horses with their beautiful coats and elegant rink maneuvers. I love the smell of a barn, the light, the memories that are evoked.
One year we saw a baby cow being born. They added a “birthing barn” a few years ago, and if you’re lucky, you might see a an animal being born. This calf was stuck– breach, in its mother. I watched in amazement as the vet attached chains and pulled the calf out by it’s little hooves, feeling a certain maternal connection to the wild-eyed mother. My son Middle Man, watched in silent horror, though he was long old enough to know how babies were born– human or animal. Those are memories with my children, in a place I love, that I will always hold dear.
This year I went to the fair with a good friend. We’ve gone together nearly every year for the last eight years, but this year, neither one of us had kids to take. Mine are gone, off exploring the world, or figuring out college. Hers are still in high school, but past the point when going to the fair with your mom is acceptable. Admittedly, it all felt a little different. We stayed away from the rides, and I wouldn’t recognize any of the teenagers at this point, anyway. We shared a turkey leg, some mini-donuts and an elephant ear, over the course of the day– after all, it’s still about the food. We took our time looking at the blue ribbon quilts, the collections, and the artwork– not feeling rushed or pulled. We visited the rodeo to watch a shortened version of the big show that would be performed over the weekend. But we took our time in the barns. We watched young riders compete on horseback in the main rink; strolled along as stalls were mucked out, and watched baby animals play, without feeling any pressure to be somewhere else. We remembered the years we’d brought our kids, but also enjoyed the freedom to take our time and enjoy all the other great things at the fair that we wanted to see.
Time shifts; the lay of the land changes, but the fair is still how I mark the end of my summer. It’s a symbolic heralding of a change in season, leaves changing color, and my kids moving on. This year at the fair, there were no kids with us, and while that was a little bitter sweet, it’s also just fine. We enjoyed it on our own terms, and had a blast.