When the middle of summer and on into the fall is the time for the county fairs to be taking place. In its time the county fair was the social gathering of the year. If it was important enough to happen it happened at the fair. As a boy and as a young man I attended the fair with no ifs ands or buts about it.
As a young boy I recall my mom packing us a basket of fried chicken and side dishes and we would spread out a blanket and eat a picnic lunch at the fair. I thought this was the one and only way the fair was to be attended properly. Later I learned that by mom doing this we saved money on all the great once a year foods that was offered for an inflated price.
My sister Peg and Brother Ben were 4H members and being such we seemed most of our time was spent around the livestock barns as that was where all their friends were. This of course was ok with me as I loved the animals and all of their friends. To me it was a win win deal. As I grew I became a member of the FFA and I displayed my tobacco, corn and wheat. This was great to me as I got blue ribbons for my crops and a gate pass for the week. I also learned that there was some of the best french-fries and waffle cones I had never before tasted.
Later in life my dad and I became partners in real estate and for many years we would attend the livestock auctions and buy a steer for the freezer or bid on kids we knew animal’s to help them get a higher price for their animal. I really enjoyed going to the auctions and listening to the auctioneers cadence as the animal and its owner would enter into the ring and walk them around so all the bidders could see what they were buying. As much fun as it was to watch there are some rules that must be adhered to. Once when I took my daughter Meghan to the auction she asks me where the auctioneer’s voice was coming from. I pointed to the speaker that was over the center of the ring., That was when I was ask if I was bidding on the reserve champion Steer. I said no I wasn’t and they advised me to keep my hands down. I quickly agreed as the bid was up to 8 dollars a pound! My dad would have skinned me alive I think.
Time moves on and so did our trips to the fair. It seemed that Meghan and I were the main ones to go to the fair for a few years even though one year my mom decided she needed to attend with us. Even though she enjoyed the racing pigs and thought them entertaining she didn’t see why we needed to buy pork tenderloin sandwiches. (Too costly to her liking.) We still enjoyed the evening as we always did.
But the year that has always stuck firmly in my mind was the year when my daughter Meghan and I decided at the last minute on a Saturday to go to the fair. Since that is the last day of the fair the livestock have already been auctioned and removed from the fairgrounds and many of the booths on display had left. It really didn’t matter too much to us. We went by Rousters Apples and bought a gallon of fresh apple cider and a funnel cake along with some of the best tasting and very greasy French fries. Yes we were having a very good father daughter Saturday afternoon.
For me that was until we began to explore the midway. For those not familiar this is where all the games of chance are centered. I figured since she was maybe seven years old that if she became interested in a game I didn’t like I could probably talk her out of it. This was a great plan until the unexpected happened. As we got about a third of the way down the midway and I was feeling like it was going to be just a casual walk a boy a little older than her approached her and held up a baggie with water and a gold fish in it and ask her if she wanted to have the fish. You see one of the games was a table filled with little fish bowls and each bowl holding a gold fish. If you tossed a ball into a bowl you won that fish.
This kid must have been a dead shot as he was holding at least four bags with a gold fish in them and his father was holding another half dozen. To this day I don’t understand why the boy didn’t stop much sooner or his dad had said enough but that hadn’t happened and here was this boy looking at my daughter with a sad look asking for help. She turned to me and asks me please could she have it as it didn’t cost us anything. Right here is where I will ask you just how do you tell your child no? Of course I didn’t and as that boy walked away one less gold fish to care for we now were the owner of the newly named fish. (GOLDIE!) Original to say the least.
On the way home from the fair the free fish cost a fish bowl and a castle to put in it along with fish food and some kind of chemical stuff to keep the algae from growing. Yes that gold fish was free alright but in the eyes of my daughter I was a pretty good guy. That lasted until Goldie died the next day. She took it well as her mom took her to a pet store and bought her another gold fish and then she became the hero. I could have made it with the small loss that year but come the next year my son Brendan let me know it was his turn to go to the fair and get a gold fish. Nobody gave us one that year but after more than a few tries we won a fish and all was deemed equal between my children.
So when they say there is something for everyone at the county fair they are telling you the truth. Just remember that what is there for you might not be what you were looking for or expected. The odds are that when you look back on it you will enjoy whatever it was. I do hope your time was grand.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.