August 14, 2012

Childhood Fair

     As an adult (okay, a sort-of adult), August has always been my least favorite month of the year; the heat, the smoky forest fires, the longing for fall...but growing up, late August and early September meant one thing only. It was time for the pinnacle social event of the year in our rural farming community: The omnipresent Eastern Idaho State Fair.

 courtesy my hubs:
     Some of my most sensory-rich childhood memories come from this time of year. Eating a hot, flaky Tiger's Ear scone drenched in honey butter, sitting in the shade of the spruced-up shabby grandstands, smelling the Best in Show animals (who couldn't care less if their ribbon-bearing stalls were soiled) and the bone-dry, end-of-summer dust. Feet sweating in my sneakers, licking butter, licking dirt, licking I-don't-want-to-know-what from fingers trembling in excitement. Fingers itching to spend the few, scraped-up dollars in my pocket. Fingers that, on one lucky year, were attached to a stamped hand that hung from a wrist strapped with the neon orange ultimate symbol of cool: The All-Day Unlimited Rides Wristband. It was an expensive, unreasonable indulgence. A want, not a need. But I still remember the glow on my mother's face when she gave one to me, one to my older sister, and announced, mischievously, that, just this once, we would be allowed to cut school. I still don't know what she did, which bills she juggled, whose shifts she volunteered to take to get them for us, but I know she knew how much it meant in our tiny preteen world.
     I'm not a Mamma in small-town Eastern Idaho like my mom was. Here, in bigger Missoula, the much smaller Western Montana Fair seems a passing note in the lives of most of the residents; more important to those who live on the outskirts or in the surrounding ranch and farm towns. Those are the kids who wear their best boots, their new hats, their ironed jeans. I love to watch them and remember the place where I lived and the MOMENT the fair used to be. But more than that, I love to go to the fair with my husband and watch our own kids trudge through the dust, and up-and-down the barns, touching every single sheep and lamb; honking to the geese and snorting to the pigs. I love seeing them count their carefully saved coins and their wrinkled dollar bills onto a sticky counter for a cotton candy or caramel apple. I loved the moment that came for the first time this year, standing outside the Fun House, hand-in-hand with Brian, waiting for kids who are finally tall enough to go on their own to make their way out and tell us all about it, shouting with unconstrained glee.

          The Missoula fair came last week, in the summer, the mark of an urbanized community where there is no need to wait for the harvest to come in, so I will probably not ever have the opportunity to give my kids permission to cut school and go ride the rides. But I hope I will always have the memories of my most exciting early September days (oh! to be on the fairway after dark!) and I hope I will add to those memories, over the next few years, watching my own little ones experience their own childhood fair.
Now go have a cherry lime-aid and a corndog or two :-)

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