You can see almost anything at the State Fair. Cakes that look like Chinese porcelain, fried butter (really), newborn lambs so wobbly they fall over, grown men carrying giant stuffed animals, Golden Driller bottles of beer… And more. Lots more.
People come to the fair I never see at any other time of year. It’s not as simple as class — if that were it I’d see these people at the Dollar Store, where both the need-tos and the want-tos shop. And it’s not as simple as rural/ urban, because I visit a lot of small Oklahoma communities. Never see these folks there either.
Nope, it’s something about the fair. People drive for two hours, as the young man & his mother sharing the table with us in Food Court told us, to get to the fair. “Three fairs in three weeks,'” he told us proudly. But most are local. The 45+ guy with us on the free ‘park & ride’ bus to the fair. I almost never see people of his age wearing old visors (not ball caps — that’s part of it), tattoos from the military, a sleeveless sweatshirt and low-rise jeans, all pulled over a hot & sweaty meat-packer physique. Where is he the rest of the time?
Something in me loves this weirdness. I respond like a child to the butterflies hatching, to the enormous Santa Gertrudis bulls, to the entire spectacle of our agrarian roots, our technological present, and the hunger that seems a key element of the whole experience.
On the bus, people behind me are planning what they’ll eat. Me too! (we split a gigantic home-made cinnamon roll, a plate of real nachos — complete w/ lettuce & tomatoes — and I had a bag of cinnamon roasted almonds) The little girl behind me as I wait in line for admission is planning what animals she’ll see. Me too! (the Percherons, the Belgian blue cattle, the paint horses and the Santa Gertrudis) An older woman passing by is extolling the virtues of the exhibits, and we join the throng of people from all over northeastern Oklahoma as they wind down the aisles of sugar art, waterless cookware and information on keeping bees. I’m in heaven.
My beginner’s heart is reminded: we need to feed ourselves. Not just the fair’s once-a-year orgy of eating (although it’s sooo much fun to eat like you’re 11 years old!), but experiences. Ones that bring our much-missed dead to life, at least in memory: my grandmother’s painted china, exhibited w/ much fanfare at each year’s fair. My mother and I judging the quilts as we strolled past, arm-in-arm, and she wondered aloud if she could do that, given time. My father, as I look at the massive antiques and guns he would have loved.
For me, the fair is a return to a past I remember clearly — when Oklahoma schools were let out a day for students to attend, complete with free admission. When entire families went to the fair together, all three generations. When life was no simpler, but there seemed no end to it in sight… I miss that.The state fair — for one brilliant autumn morning — gives it back to me. Complete with indigestion :).