“If you ever start feeling like you have the goofiest, craziest, most dysfunctional family in the world, all you have to do is go to a state fair. Because five minutes at the fair, you’ll be going, ‘you know, we’re alright. We are dang near royalty.'” (Jeff Foxworthy)
The county fair opens today! I can’t wait to go and see all the exhibits, the 4-H project displays, the prizewinning quilts and zucchini and baked goods, the cows and pigs and sheep and rabbits and chickens, to eat my annual elephant-ear (known elsewhere by its much more elegant name, palmier) and listen to bluegrass under the trees.
Fairs are an ancient tradition dating back millenia, although the word “fair” (or its more archaic form, “fayre”) has only been used since the Middle Ages. Wikipedia defines a fair as “a gathering of people to display or trade produce or other goods, to parade or display animals,” temporary in nature. Some fairs have carnivals and concerts with them; others are more sedate. In the U.S. state and county fairs have their roots in an earlier agrarian economy,and agriculture remains the main focus in many places. The fair was–and remains–a place to gather with friend, neighbors, and family, admire one another’s work of the year, purchase farm animals, eat bad-for-your-body-but-good-for-your-soul food, and for kids to run around like a pack of hyenas before the start-of-school lockdown.
If you’re wondering about how fairs used to be–and, in some bucolic places, maybe still are–watch the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical State Fair with Jeanne Crain and Dana Andrews (or the earlier 1933 version with Janet Gaynor and Will Rogers), or read E. B. White’s beloved classic Charlotte’s Web.
Fairs may be a lot different these days than they used to be. But some things never change. If you’re within weekending distance of a state or county fair, it’s worth the trip to take a step back in time.