I'm sure that as a child, I loved going to the fair for the rides and the colorful game booths; the chances to throw a dart at a balloon or ring a bottle to win a decalled mirror or giant stuffed animal. We ate funnel cakes and corn dogs. Calliope music played as we walked the midway, sniffing a mixture of popcorn and cow manure in the air.
Okay, maybe the cow manure smell doesn't sound like a pleasant memory of the fair. But it was, and still is. It's a comforting smell from childhood. It's home.
I grew up in southwestern Ohio before it was subdivision after subdivision. We used to have neighborhoods -- not gated, and not named. Just neighborhoods that were simply defined by the proximity of main streets and side roads. Often these neighborhoods ended as soon as there were houses with acreage, or fields, or farms. Southwestern Ohio was still largely farmland.
We'd drive along the roads with our windows rolled down, cresting over the hilly country roads as manure-scented air wafted through the backseats. We'd zoom by cornfields and cow pastures. We'd see clothes hanging out on the line and vegetable gardens and septic tanks flanking either side of the small brick ranch houses. I could imagine the interiors; the houses and lifestyles in Butler County all seemed pretty much the same. The individuality came out in the county fairs. That's where one could see the similarities between county residents and also see who excelled at their crafts.
Everyone grew pickles or pumpkins or cucumbers, didn't they? But did everyone excel at it? The prized garden vegetables were submitted to the county fair. Where else could one win a ribbon for nurturing and growing large, healthy vegetables? Or showcase their quilts and knitting and nature photography?
I love the art display buildings at the fair. I love wandering along and admiring the needlepoint works, and the precise stitching on sewn goods. I study the paintings and sketches and photography. There's some real talent in our area. I especially like the artwork that depicts life in our county. It's somehow transformed into something more beautiful than just the backdrop for our lives.
The pies, the cakes, the cornstalks, the gardenias -- all of the best homegrown/homemade goods to be prized. We get an inner glimpse at the lives of our neighbors: Stella Adams crimps the edges of her pies by hand. Nora Jacobs uses a fork. Henry Thompson grows vidalia onions the size of a cantaloupe. Stew Pickens breeds hybrid roses.
What treasures we have in our county and its residents. The week of the fair is a time to embrace that and appreciate and admire the roots of our county life. Oh sure, it's still fun to take a spin on the Tilt-O-Whirl, and look out over the race track from the top of the ferris wheel after your powdered sugar rush from funnel cakes, but to fully enjoy the fair, you need to step off the midway and into the arts buildings and see what talent has grown in your county. Much of it fertilized by the cows in the next building...