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July 08, 2024

Taking Memories to the Fair

By Lydia Manx

My eighteenth year was pretty busy and exciting by way of the typical high school dramas and traumas. Very shortly after graduation my mom asked me when I was going to get a job. Since I had only been out of school for a month I was a bit surprised. Stunned at the carefully arranged plans of various beach parties supplemented with babysitting being blown far away I went about finding my first real job with FICA and Social Security taking out money. And of course there would be also the lovely dips into my checks from the Federal and the State taxation departments to look forward to in my life.

Not really wanting to work 'that hard,' I figured that I would head out to the local fair grounds and look for a quick job. They hired teens and college kids -- pretty much sight unseen -- I had been told. My sister wanted some ready cash, too, so off we went. We both were hired by a cotton candy and food vendor with a trailer on the main strip. Cute little aprons and orange kerchiefs were the extent of the 'uniform' but that was enough to brand us. We were employed, and I learned how to spin hot sugar into a treat. Mom climbed off our backs and I found out that promised easy jobs never end up that way.

On and off over the years I picked up various jobs for the twenty days the fair came to town. I worked in the concessions stand, sold makeup to ladies, and lost my voice on more than one occasion calling out to passing-by victims. It never was quick and easy money but always interesting. The work was hard and the hours brutal, but the people were both fascinating and irritating. (A small accurate microcosm of the real world in many ways, I have found.)

When I was a small child and teenager, I was an exhibitor. The local fair is where you can bring in your best recipes, hand crafted art, the most beautiful flower in your yard or the animal the family had raised for a 4-H project. And as an exhibitor, I always got at least one free day admission to the fair. Because of that my siblings and I usually had something we wanted to enter in the fair, and at one time or another we took home a ribbon or two.

The fair was well known stomping ground to me from all the years of exhibiting, working and playing. The fair shows up every year around the second week in June and leaves the day after the Fourth of July. The line up of live music and talented people on the stages has been pretty extensive over the years. Local bands and well known bands are booked into the fair months in advance and can be seen all around on the various stages during the days and into the nights. I have seen Smokey Robinson, The Tubes and other bands at the Grandstand stage. Local dance troupes show up with the cute kids in their sparkly outfits and brightly-colored dresses dancing and tapping out for their friends, family and the casual passerby.

The last few times I went to the fair it was as a visitor, not an employee, and this year I decided to head over by myself. Usually I go with friends or family and end up doing what the majority wants. I wanted to see some things this year on my own without an agenda or to have to rush to a temporary fair job. My friend is a local jeweler and had shown me his exhibit in various stages of readiness over the past few months. I wanted to find his piece and enjoy what the fair had to show me this year.

I arrived from the nearby parking lot on a double-decker bus. The careful slathering on of my sunscreen had already been put to the test during the drive over. It was a hot day. Every year they make a theme for the fair and this year it was "Ride the Tide to Fun." In keeping with that feeling, the use of waves and ocean as visuals was immediately noticed when I walked up to the main gain from the shuttle. Thanks to heightened security now, visitors had to pass through a metal detector and allow their purses and backpacks to be searched. Knowing this ahead of time, I stripped my bad down to the bare minimum and walked quickly inside. Since it was a Friday I was handed a value days coupon booklet. Most the coupons required spending a specific amount of money or buying multiple items so I wasn't able to redeem anything.

That was fine because I knew where I wanted to go. As a teen and college aged kid I had always headed for the fun zone first. My friends and siblings are all ride junkies and we spent more than our fair share of allowance and hard earned money riding and tossing coins.

My youngest brother and I brought home boxes of pressed glass ashtrays and glasses we won tossing dimes, later quarters, in the air and landing on the right dish. He and I were good at flipping the coin just so, and it would land dead center of whatever we wanted. The carnival barkers tried to run us off but we liked winning. The trick we both had figured out was that the slick shined glass was not resistant to damp coins. Not saying that the carnival folks oiled the glass, but whatever they sprayed on to clean them definitely made the surfaces a bit more slippery than expected. My younger brother and I would either lick the coins or spit on our hands before letting the coin make its way up in the air. I don't even want to think how filthy that practice was but we were happy with our prizes.

Those years are long gone. The Fun Zone now holds very little appeal to me. Growing up meant no longer was the carnival the only rides I could go on to explore the dangerous side of engineering and gravity, something kids seek. It is always crowded down in the Fun Zone and the carnival barkers annoy me with their cajoling and shouting to come try 'your luck'. I never thought luck had much to do with the booths and how to win stuffed animals and dishes. I pretty much based it on physics -- and knowing the proper time for licking coinage.

On the shuttle ride over to the front of the fair we toured behind the grounds to let an employee out at the back gate. There were tons of trailers lining both sides of the road. More stuffed animals than on my nieces' beds (which is saying something) were wrapped in plastic in boxes overflowing the parked rigs. As the shuttle continued around there were mobile homes doubled up and nearly touching each other that the fair workers lived in while they stayed for the twenty some odd days. One of the riders made a comment about how closely they were parked and claustrophobic the living conditions. Some of them were quite nice looking.

The mural artist Wyland became part of the fair this year. Opening day, he painted a large mural, (his 95th) on the side of one of the permanent buildings by the entrance of the fair. There also was an entire building called The Wonders of Water featuring Wyland. Large stunning pieces of canvas framed the walls. There were his signature whales and other art pieces overwhelmingly displayed. Interspersed were rescued animals in natural looking habitat displays. A male bald eagle was impressive. I wasn't so thrilled with the turtle or the raccoon; I have seen them in the wild. A beaver nestled in a wood framed area half asleep.

Then I walked past some lovely works, pausing now and then to enjoy the lighthearted waterlife motions frozen in glass and bronze. I stopped. A huge canvas was hanging at the end of a dark platform. There were Wyland's whales.

Killer whales were in water dancing with the light and colors. A wet canvas was set on an easel with brushes and paints waiting an artist. I was told that he was at lunch and would be back later. So I wandered back to explore some more.

In the blazing sun I ate my four-dollar corn dog with mustard, and listened to someone's child singing off on a stage. A couple sat on the bench behind me and wondered if it was karaoke. I then went off in search of Steve the Jeweler's 3D art. My day grew a bit more challenging. I had been told it was 'sculpture' but the building with sculpture sign on the outside didn't have that display. Then I went through the gem and mineral building since he had used gems in the piece, but didn't find it there. I grew tired of the crowds pushing so I walked over to the exhibit halls and shops. Okay, so that wasn't less crowded but I always enjoy the booths since I had worked my share of them over the years. I laughed and enjoyed the spiel and fast-talking men and women trying to sell me things I didn't need or want.

There are things I buy only at the fair. A freshly made corn dog is usually lunch or dinner. This year I wasn't into exploring the ideas of deep-fried snicker bars or other exotic food offerings that only show up at the fair, but I did want to pick up a dress for the family luau later this month if at all possible. There are clothing vendors that only show up yearly and I remembered some of the nice ladies from Hawaii had booths with dresses. It took a few turns and aisles but I found exactly what I wanted. I could blather on about other found treasures but those were paid for in cash and aren't discoverable right? Fortified with needed purchases I went back to find my friend's entry.

I passed the high school year book exhibit and saw some blue ribbons but skipped flipping pages. Then I found a couple of kids at the table near another exhibit hall. I asked them about my friend's piece and the gal looked it up and exclaimed she knew it. The boy with her led me right to it. I think he liked it also.

It was sitting on a piece of glass and was about six inches tall. The top was an oyster with imbedded semi-precious gems. The golden tones were because of the light strobing on the flash over the display. There was a leaf structure that made the platform for the oyster. The oyster opened up with a small gold clasp that inside can be used as a 'pill box' or such. I admired the work displayed and wandered back around the hall looking at the competition. I really thought his was great and deserved a blue ribbon.

Finishing up my water bottle I decided to check out the floral areas and landscaping displays. Some of the most beautiful roses framed one area. I liked the use of wild grasses and plants in the other entries. Before I headed out of the fair I wanted to see if Wyland had come back to paint some more of his canvas.

Stupidly I had been under the illusion that he was an older gentleman. I don't know why I thought that, but it was something firmly jammed in my head. I was expecting a gray haired older man to be at the easel. Instead I was greeted with loud old time rock and roll from the stage and a man surrounded by kids and adults, walking, talking and painting. Wyland is vibrant and his work explodes with color and emotions. I watched him do the background and then decide that turtles were in the water. Off white paint or a heavy brush stroke to the canvas revealed the turtle. His seemingly effortless creativity was inspiring. And his choice in music was pretty good too.

I walked out feeling happy at the day spent at the fair. Of course I had to stop by the Mackinaw Fudge booth and pick up a box to go. Some things from childhood still taste as sweet.

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2006-07-10
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