This morning we're getting ready to go to the county fair. We go every year with Grandma and Grandpa. The following account is from an e-mail I wrote after our first fair visit in 2005, when the girls were 4 and almost 2. Imagine us this year in 100-degree heat. Mother.
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(Grandpa and Sparky, Fair 2007)
It's the little things you remember in life, I guess.
If my parents knew some of my most prominent memories from my childhood they'd probably flip. "WHAT?!" I can just hear my dad say with incredulity. "We took you to all those places, and THAT'S what you remember best?!" But you can't predict, nor can you really shape, what your kids will be most drawn to. You just do your best to expose them to beauty, history, and high culture -- you know, Benny Hill -- and hope to God they don't form any attachments to country music.
I was reminded of this last weekend more than once. Grandpa Dave called Saturday morning at 9:00 to ask if he could take Smedley in to the fair, which really meant "to hang out in the chicken exhibit and the dairy barns." I knew Smedley would love both of those locales, and I was thrilled to have her go with Grandpa (you have to look hard to find bonding rituals with grandfathers that don't involve baseball, football or "Wheel of Fortune"). Still, I could easily imagine her tugging on his hand as he marched her past the kiddie rides, quickly tiring of long conversations with local ag luminaries, and throwing a massive tantrum that would threaten future outings with Grandpa, so I asked if Sparky and I could go, too (I am more equipped to forestall a tantrum than Grandpa). My mom got in on it, too, and the five of us headed for the Glenn County Fair.
After an eternity in the chicken expo, which, fortunately, both girls loved, we checked out the tractors, the draft horses, and the baby animals on our way to the ultimate destination, the cow barns. I had several flashbacks to my own childhood, wasting away at the cow barns at the fair. We were stopped by every guy in a jiffy pop hat and Ben Davis work shirt -- they were all named Manuel or Joe, most had Fair Beers in hand, and they all knew my dad. When you're 8, 9, 10 years old and within spitting distance of the ferris wheel, the last thing you want to hear is yet another guy say, "Hey, Dave! They let you off the ranch for the evening?" Add to that the monotony of row after row of Holstein cows, undistinguishable from the hundreds of Holsteins waiting for us at home, and we failed to see the point. Where's the novelty? Show us wombats or three-toed sloths, and we'd be impressed.
So I was relieved that the girls were charmed by the cows, and the pigs, sheep, and goats. They both love farm animals; must be genetic. And they couldn't have had a better tour guide than Grandpa Dave, who obviously feels more at home in a cow barn than almost anywhere on Earth, and who sees fences and barriers as mere suggestions. Dad had no problem leading us through the manure (not much, but kids always step in it) to the on-site milking parlor to explain to Smedley how cows are milked. Then he opened the door to the tank room and opened the tank lid to show Smedley the huge vat of milk (quite small compared to what I grew up with, but impressive just the same). I noticed that no other grandpas were giving tours like this, but after almost 40 years, I'm used to my dad's aggressive curiosity.
Smedley did get to go on some rides, so she had no complaints. She waved to the carnies as if they were her adoring fans. Even Sparky went on two rides, and grimly enjoyed herself, too.
(Smedley and Sparky, Fair 2006)
Before leaving the fair we went to the exhibit building. Apparently half of the people from my childhood were encamped there, waiting for us to walk in. It was actually nice, but a word of warning to those who might not enjoy encountering their old bus driver, third grade teacher, Sunday school teacher, 4-H poultry leader, etc.: avoid the exhibit halls at the fair.
So, after all of this agricultural exposure and careful grooming by Grandpa, what did Smedley like best about the fair? The rides, of course, but something unexpected, too: she got to meet the Fair Princess, who stopped and talked to her. Wow, a real princess -- crown and everything. Smedley's been bitten by the royalty bug. Sorry, Grandpa; sorry, cows.