BY LES McCARTHY
August 19, 2015
Ah, the Fair.
Visions of cotton candy had been swirling in my head for two weeks when I realized the reason—the Whidbey Island County Fair was coming to town. I found my fascination odd, as I have to admit I’m not a “fair” gal, yet I couldn’t get it out of my mind, and I couldn’t wait to go!
So last weekend I walked over, those same cotton-candy visions still swirling in my head while I made a beeline to the cart selling clouds of sugary goodness. My destination was detoured, however, when I happened upon the Arts and Crafts building; this was one display I didn’t want to miss. I walked the rows of children’s craft entries—smiling over some, wondering over others—and as I stood looking at a little toilet paper roll sheep, 50-year-old memories led me back to my second-grade art project—Clara Barton.
She was the founder of the American Red Cross and I liked her gumption; I deemed her worthy of my artistic talents. The likeness I created, however, was a god-awful toilet paper tube rendering: some cotton for hair, scraps of cloth for her dress and a yarn mouth that resembled that of Mr. Bill’s (oh nooo). I remember it well; it was truly horrible.
This little TP tube lamby was so much better. No self-praise intended, but it takes a lot of guts to turn a toilet paper roll into art.
I say I’m not a fair gal, yet I attend them—I like the sounds, the animals, the people-watching. I remember I loved to go to our town fairs when I was a youngster. They were loud and thrilling (because I was a child) and it was exciting to stay up late and be out walking amongst the smells and sounds of All Things Fair. Those were steamy nights in Chicago; this night I had on a jacket. And as hard as I tried, I just couldn’t conjure up those feelings I used to have.
Darn. Time just isn’t fair. Things change…
Things like my love for amusement park and carnival rides. I would buy my tokens and stand in line and go on the Regurgitator 12 times before it affected my equilibrium or stomach. These days, as much as I’d like to get on one, I can’t even look at the tame Merry-Go-Round or Ferris Wheel without thinking I’ll get sick… No fair.
I used to be a Fair Food Fanatic…chowing down whatever my iron gut and pocketbook would allow: anything and everything as long as it was deep-fried, exotic, double-dunked, extra-chunked, bacon-wrapped and, of course, on a stick! Fair food was fair game! I walked around, sucking in the scents—fried Snickers bars, cotton candy, roasting corn-on-the-cob, sizzling whatever—savoring the aromas of foods that only appear at functions and festivals such as this.
I’d read that morning that Indiana’s State Fair boasted deep-fried sweet corn while Iowa’s touted a bacon-wrapped, jalapeño cheese-stuffed brisket on a stick. It was decidedly heart-attack worthy but, oh joy—gluten free!
The winner of the fair food fight, however, was clearly Wisconsin with its skewered concoction of deep fried-crispy alligator. I think it would take guts to try any of those treats—and not just intestinal fortitude, but actual courage! Our fair, to my knowledge, didn’t have any deep fried alligator. Perhaps that was a good thing or perhaps we missed out!
As I passed the curly fries kiosk and some guy carrying a bag of kettle corn larger than his child, I longed for the days when I wasn’t allergic to everything on the planet and when my insides didn’t revolt against anything wilder than a bowl of rice. Again, no fair.
Past the food stalls, I wound my way through the throngs of attendees milling about, munching down and listening to some singer up on stage chatting with the crowd. Again, I was on a mission—this time I was headed to pet some animals—and the goat barn was in sight. I’ve always wanted to, but have never lived on a farm. The closest I’ve ever gotten to being a farm girl was pretending to be Fern from Charlotte’s Web and living where I do now, with chickens next door. But there is something about farm animals that just gets me—they are sweet and innocent and it all makes me want to kiss their furry, little faces.
I walked the barns and talked to the goats (yes, I talked to them) and looked into their wide-set, cat-like eyeballs and baa’d at the sheep and moo’d at the cows and then apologized to the pigs for loving bacon as much as I do. And by the time I made my rounds I had a heartache the size of the island. How could these kids raise these beautiful creatures and then sell them—either as a herd animal or for consumption? I cried when my kids’ tadpoles died; I’d never be able to do what these kids do. They have guts.
I left the barns rubbing a glob of anti-bacterial gel onto my licked and dusty hands and silently thanked the genius who provided those bottles. I walked past more food kiosks where families stood huddled making important decisions while kids ran around laughing like goons.
As I made my way out, I passed the rocket ride—The Vomitor, I think it was called—and looked at the little faces waiting in line, their bodies electric with excitement, jubilation and sheer terror! Those kids had guts! Courage with a capital C. As much as I like rides, you couldn’t pay me to get on that thing! I wanted to stand and watch them go on and then come off, but I’m allergic to hay and my throat was feeling scratchy. I was more in favor of breathing and removing myself from the fairgrounds than having (even a cute) EMT do it for me. So, I started for the exit.
My night wasn’t quite like out of the movie “Pollyanna” or how I remember fairs when I was a child, but the faces of the kids I passed as I was leaving told me they felt differently. Glee and sticky sugar bits were on their faces and rapture shone from their eyes.
I stopped and looked at those beaming children, cursed hay under my labored breathing and turned on my heels and headed back for the spun-sugar vendor. If I was going to keel over, it was going to be with sticky fingers and in a cotton candy coma—it only seemed fair.
Les McCarthy is an author, entrepreneur and IPPY bronze medalist for her yearly “Healthy Living ~ Healthy Life: 365 Days of Nutrition & Health for the Family” calendars. She’s been a year on the island and in the NW and loves every gorgeous bit of it. She joyfully tends to her geriatric fur factory and is rethinking her stand on how cute the snails and slugs are!
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