Monday, October 11, 2010

Blue Ribbon Night

I heard my husband's voice coming down the hall before I saw him. "I'm worried about Daddy," he said. "I think he's sick!"

"Let's go check on him right now. What's wrong?" I said, shifting into overdrive.

"He wants to go to the Fair," Ben deadpanned.

With that highly out of character request, we changed clothes quickly and picked up my eighty-something father in law and his wife who cannot possibly be near that age, and drove to the Mississippi State Fair 2010 on a beautiful October Sunday evening at sunset. Parking close by the Coliseum made the walking easier and the terrain smooth on asphalt. My husband was anticipating all the little things that might be an obstacle to their enjoying the evening.

Let me pause here. Enjoying an evening at the fair might be an oxymoron to many, and assuredly it had been for my husband's dad, Billy, who is more at home in a bow tie and dinner jacket than cruising the midway in his jeans. But despite decades of dislike for all things related to the fair, and repeated refusals to go to the midway with his beloved who has been known, she confided, to go by herself just to get Malone's taffy and walk around safely in the daytime, there we were: four Waltons embarking on a twilight study in Southern culture and gastronomic excess.

It was, in a word, delightful. Really. And it brought back memories.

As a child I remember the magic of the state fair in the fall. Magic was as vivid as tinkerbell's wand touching the top of Cinderella's castle on Walt Disney when night fell at the fair and the lights turned on. You just can't have a good fair without neon.
In rural Lawrence County, Mississippi, we had an afternoon off in elementary school to attend the Fair, which extended into night in my memories of going with my family. They got lost when I was in fourth grade, and I had to go to the Sheriff's tent to find them. My classmates in 4-H and the FFA students in high school had worked on projects, produce, and livestock all year in anticipation of winning prizes in the fall. Blue ribbons meant big dollars for the best of breed in the barns. That was the meat of the fair for many. Literally.

Others came for rides. Spinning cages offering riders a glimpse of airbrushed Alpine peaks and buxom Swiss misses, and the various whirling apparatus attached to something resembling a giant drill bit visually enhanced by flashing strobe lights held thrills, chills and plenty of ticket money
for the three minutes of adrenaline rush. I never rode anything more exciting than the Ferris Wheel, after embarrassing my sixth grade self when I could not navigate the vertigo house with the floor that kept sliding away while traversing uphill, and the laughter of boys outside trumped the ambient noise of the midway. Sixth grade girls are funny that way.

The fair was a great place to go with a date who could win a large stuffed dog decades ago, and from the look of things, that hasn't gone out of style. Today's prizes, however, look a bit more aggressive and hip with their Jamaican hair braided-stuffed-five-foot- long yellow bananas being all the rage this year. A few booths and tents had some - I'm not kidding here - rather charming and personable folks who used to be called barkers. There were some who might be called a little rough around the edges, but there were guys quite colorful and engaging and local folks there too. Jo Nash and her husband have been coming from Brandon for years, turning out one patted and homemade cinnamon apple pie after another. If I do not come away with anything else, I have a little bag of Jo's pies, never one to turn away a good cinnamon apple anything. We got a kick out of the banter between the very agreeable, winsome weight or birthday guesser ("What we doin' here, Lil' Man?"with a smile so big smile he would disarm even the most skeptical visitor) and his folks who stepped up to see if he knew their secret. He just needs a break and he'd be on Last Comic Standing! We just had to pause and smile.

I caught the delight of the little four year old girl in pink who held the sledge hammer and pounded the bell three times in a row and won herself a prize, though she never saw the young man operating the kiddie arcade manually lift the weight each time she struck it so that she would ring the bell. We took the time to see - really see some of the sights I might have missed in that sea of humanity had I not been looking to enjoy the gladness of the night. The old car show is still there though we didn't make it inside. Now I would probably remember
driving some of those cars. They used to be old.

We saw candy apples, funnel cakes, cinnamon rolls, fried twinkies, fried oreos, blooming onions, Jo's apple pies, roasted corn, homemade biscuits with syrup, Pronto Pups, Penn's chicken on a stick, taffy dropping down the chute into red and white boxes, and - this was a new one for me - Fried Krispy Kreme doughnuts surrounding a cheeseburger with bacon. I am serious. Comfort for health enthusiasts: Fresh Never Frozen on the sign.

And the music scene fills the air at night with headliners a bit past their prime, shall we say. A few years ago, Big Al, Ben and I enjoyed Peter Noone aka Herman's Hermits (google them) from front row seats in a not-so-crowded Coliseum, and I still have his plastic guitar pick from that Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter evening. The Grass Roots also played that night, with the lead singer in tight black leather pants (not unexpected) recovering from hip replacement surgery and leaning occasionally on a cane (unexpected). Time does move on. Last year Ben and I heard Credence Clearwater Revisited (new name for a split group) playing to a bigger audience of middle age people on the Geezer circuit of state fairs. I suppose ours will be the generation that has Motown playing on the Musak in the nursing homes, and we'll still be saying, "man, that was good music!"

I heard all of this and more as we strolled the midway last night. We had a delightful walk down memory lane with Billy and Frances. The lesson to me: be open to seeing something new even though it's been in your own backyard for 83 years. I am thankful for this simple pleasure of seeing the joy and gladness in something I have often found dirty and distasteful. Perhaps it is all in how we look at a thing...I keep learning that lesson day after day.

Blessed Lord, Thank you for giving me eyes to see from another point of view sometimes. Let me love the world and its people you made, and let me not think of myself any better than another. We are all your children who try to find love and satisfaction in the wrong places sometimes. It is You "who satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness." Psalm 107:9. We labor in vain when we try to fill it with Krispy Kreme burgers and other options just as ill-suited to satisfy our needs. Forgive our foolish choices and set us on a right path. Amen

(See photos from the night below at bottom of site.)


  1. Thank you for giving me my own trip down memory lane. I could even smell the familiar smells i associate with my memories of attending the Tupelo Fair so many years ago. I remember vividly one year in particular where as an excited, wide-eyed six year old I saw a very young Elvis Presley return home to perform for screaming fans! Your descriptions are so like the memories I have. Thanks Dear Friend Love Anne

  2. What a wonderful post to read! Hope your day is great.

  3. i wish i could have stayed for that!! i can smell the smells just reading them mmm :-)