The County Fair

The beginning of the end of summer in my hometown (and maybe yours too) is marked by the annual County Fair. Ours is a bit hoity-toity in that it’s called “MontanaFair”, rather than “Yellowstone County Fair”, which means people often are confused when they learn it’s not the actual state fair. I suspect the initial organizers probably had high aspirations for it, considering we are the largest county in Montana, though not home to the state capitol (which is Helena).

I also suspect they were trying to find something shorter than “Yellowstone County” to print on banners and tickets, which is understandable.

In any case, a great many of my childhood summers were partially spent not just attending the fair, but also preparing exhibits and occasionally animals to show. I was a 4H kid, so everything from my first dog to model rockets to baked goods to rabbits to sewing was “fair” game for contest entries. I spent many long nights before the entry deadlines finishing projects, sometimes not finishing until an hour or so before they had to be dropped off for judging.

It was challenging and fun, but also very…stressful a lot of the time, and while I’ve toyed with the idea of entering items in the fair as an adult, I’ve so far resisted the idea due to the inevitable late nights and stressful days required to finish projects in time to meet the deadline.

I mean, if I were organized and disciplined about it, it wouldn’t have to be a rush-rush thing. Alas, in all my years of fair entries, not once did I manage to learn that particular lesson.

But 4H entries weren’t the only reason to go to the fair. There was the carnival, and the games we knew we couldn’t win (but seriously, how could I resist throwing money away trying to win a Spuds McKenzie plush (I never did win)?! The rodeo and so many tight-jean-cowboys strutting in fancy boots & hats. And when I got older, the concerts and just walking the midway with my buddies to check out the boys.

I loved the lights and the action and the August night air, the smell of corn dogs and cotton candy, and the feeling that something different and magical and crazy might happen as we strolled under the midway lights and waved our hands in the air on rides.

Once, when I was in college, I even left a friend’s wedding in the state just south of us to come back to a night at the fair, and I brought a very handsome fellow-guest back with me. It was just after the reception, I was the maid of honor (though I had no idea what that was actually supposed to mean until years later – I never was much of a “wedding” girl), and she never spoke to me again, understandably so.

I was an old soul even then, and not normally prone to spontaneous acts, but the stupidity of youth and the intoxicating scent of certain men still caught me in their charms occasionally.

Needless to say, the fair was always the culmination of hard work and anticipation, as well as the promise that the heat of summer was on its way out and crinkly leaves would be floating on the breeze again soon. I loved it, and while we’ve skipped the last few years for practical reasons (okay, this year we’re skipping because we’re just so tired of the heat), I hope to make it back again eventually.

I think the ending and beginning nature of the annual fair is partially why I chose that scene as a starting point for Lauren in the draft I’m working on (I really need to figure out a working title for that). She’s ending one portion of her life and starting another, and the county fair is her marker for the intersection.

Is there a local fair where you live? Do you go? What’s your favorite part?

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