Do you remember the first night at the fair? Every fall, we would watch it move in. I remember walking through mud and sawdust with my free ticket from school. Do you remember the lights and the music, the man talking over the loudspeakers? It was one of the most exciting weeks of the year. The rainbow of lights against a night sky was a kind of heaven for a small town girl. Life was, without a doubt, for one week, in living color. It was an overwhelm of the senses. In the fall, the brisk nights made everything more animated. As the week traveled on, the fairgrounds started to feel more familiar. The rides, the games, all memorized. By fifth grade, we were off alone with friends, only to meet our parents at the water wheel at nine-thirty. The freedom was exhilarating. We ran from ride to ride, laughing with abandon. We would try our hand at the games, hoping to win a giant stuffed animal. If we got lost, we always headed for the water wheel. We would find each other and begin again, running towards the midway. We would weave around slow people, who were looking up, amazed, and we’d slow and say, “Excuse me.” We felt so assured because we knew what was what, where to stop, and who was who in this perfect spot. Except, I might add, for the games. We could never win the giant stuffed animals. Every try was over in a minute without a win. But luckily for me, my older brother could win. He was a guard on the Shelby High School basketball team. He was small and quick, with big hands that could palm a ball. He practiced a lot. Shot after shot. He would get a feel for a basket, a memory, and then he was hot. At the fair, he would always head down to the basketball games. The ones that looked real, but weren’t really quite right. He would practice a few times, find the sweet spot, and then he was automatic. He would win again and again. All the big stuffed animals hanging from the ceiling would belong to him. He would give them to his sweetheart, his friends, and to me, his little sister. I would walk around the fair carrying giant bears, feeling rather pleased with all the stares. Eventually, the man from the fair would tell him he was done, he had exceeded the limit; and then he would move to the next one. He would employ the same routine, arrive at the same outcome...find the sweet spot and shoot. More wins. More stuffed toys. On those fall nights, it felt like winning the lottery. The fair was a mystical place of what was real and what was fake, and that was its allure. We saw everyone we knew, yet in a traveling world. We knew the faces of people who lived in RVs and went from city to city, state to state, and built a temporary magical place. A place so ingrained in my psyche, that I can still hear it, smell it, and taste it. In fact, the nights I did not attend the fair, I would turn off the lights in my parents’ bedroom and watch the fireworks at nine o’clock. The colors of the fair exploding across the sky just added to the excitement. In our now ever-changing world, I hope fairs remain. They are different than amusement parks, they are home, yet away. There is nothing quite like being on the double Ferris Wheel, gazing out over all you know, all you love, the people, the places, and calling it home.
Art- County Fair Nocturne Oil Painting Keith Gunderson Plein Air