Friday, July 23, 2010

Quintessential Summer

Photo credit: Sunlitdays

The fair's in town this week, but we're not going. Somehow, it's lost some of its quintessential summer magic for me. Maybe it's the $7.50 per person entry fee, or the cigarette butts all over the ground, the nickel and diming of the midway barkers, or the way shoestring french fries seem more disgusting than delicious these days. When the kids clamored to go, we made our (valid) excuses: it's hot, it's dirty, it's as expensive as a day at Legoland.

But I remember the fairs of my youth and the love I had for it when my eyes were too young to notice things like cigarette butts and excessive grease. Back when I held out my hand for my entrance fee from my parents, and they were the ones grudgingly forking it over. Back then, the fair started for me at dawn, when I'd wake up in a tent next to my horse's stall and go through a hot, sticky day in Wranglers and my favorite cowboy hat, my hair in French braids to keep the dust out. I'd ride in events, sit astride the arena fence with the sun in my eyes, eat donuts and pizza, and generally run amuck. When I was older, I'd roam the midway with my friends once the sun went down in my cut-off jean shorts and my cutest tank top, secretly hoping some boy would spend too much money trying to win me a bright pink stuffed animal I didn't want. It was all very Charlotte's Web.

And despite the sticker shock at the gate (and then again at the midway...and then again at the snack stands), I look back fondly at the few fair experiences I've spent with my kids, too. The begging for frozen lemonades. The standing anxiously against yard sticks marked at 42', fingers crossed for a two inch gain from the year before. The odd, foam lizards on stiff leases sold at every other booth that every kid under age 12 covets (and then leaves somewhere between the midway and the car at about 10 pm). The impromptu dancing to local cowboy bands on the makeshift stages (or is that just my kids?). The thrill of the Ferris Wheel, the Sizzler, the House of Mirrors. The cotton candy, and of course the shoestring fries.

I took a photo several years ago of Calvin eating a soft-serve vanilla cone under the lights of the midway. I remember my state of mind while I took it: exhaustion from too much sun and noise and stimulation, irritation at paying for extra ride tickets a moment before, regret that we hadn't left just a bit earlier in the evening. But none of this was evident in the photo: this was back when our kids were young enough to rarely be out and about after dark in summer, and the joy on Calvin's face was tangible. His profile was back-lit, glowing even in the light of the blinking neon, and the unnatural white of the ice cream was cast in sharp relief. His eyes were downcast, focused on a single drip sliding down the sugar cone, and you could see a ketchup stain just below the neckline of his t-shirt from earlier in the afternoon. I can't find that photo now, and it breaks my heart.

Maybe we need to go re-create it?

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