No two are exactly the same. If they were, it would spoil the uniqueness that is a county fair. Whether your county fair last four days or fourteen, brings in 10,000 people a night or just a couple hundred, it's an annual happening that many people, especially country people, frame their summers around.
Some folks who read this piece might think I've been in the sun too long. My family considers me just one step short of the "Grinch that Stole Christmas," only I would be the "Grinch that stole the county fair." I've been known to complain about all the work that leads up to getting ready if you're into livestock, gardening, or just building a model of the Farm Progress Show, which my daughter Kayla did two years ago. Wonder where she got that idea?
I've also been known to complain about the expense, both of buying, feeding, and showing hogs and sheep, and of spending a week at the fair, pigging out on fair food. And yes, I've griped that it was too hot. One year it was 98 degrees F in the shade, we were penned in the middle of a metal-roofed barn with no ventilation at the time.
Did I enjoy it? I'm the guy who swears he would rather have a zero day than 90 degrees and humid. That year my feet felt like they were boiling. Turned out it was some sort of heat rash, which made me feel like I was walking on pins and needles. Indeed, sometimes when the livestock show doesn't go so well, the whole family is on pins and needles.
So where's the magic about an event that takes a full year to get ready for, that can cost thousands of dollars that you may never recover, that may make both you and the animals miserable, and that often doesn't turn out just as you hoped in the show ring?
Even I must admit that there's something special about the firs time a 4-H'er makes the cut for showmanship, whether it's your kid or one you've helped. And the friendships kids build working together and playing together is not quite like any other. Kids from all over come together, for a common purpose, if only for a week. More than one romance has been kindled by the sparks glowing at a county fair.
There's something special about eating a giant tenderloin or a huge walleye fish sandwich and onion rings under a tent on a warm evening with your family, even if you're tired. One kid may be eating fried rice, another might have went just for elephant ears, or one of my favorites, chocolate milk shakes from the county Farm Bureau booth.
There's also something special about sharing breakfast in the local Kiwanis tent with friends from high school, who you haven't really sat down and chatted with for years. There are real reunions at the fair, even if they only last for half an hour.
It's a moment in time, it's a rural tradition- it's 100% American. Years from now, our kids won't remember whether they got a red ribbon or blue ribbon on Spot the pig, even though it seems like a big deal then. But they will remember the first time we trusted them to go across the fairgrounds with friends to check out the Lemon Shake-Up stand.
Even though I rarely admit it in front of my wife, Carla, who was weaned on fairs and nearly lives there 24-7, there are those special moments I savor. Carla, you better print this out and save it - you might not find me publicly admitting this ever again.
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