Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Excerpts for a New Book

Welcome to the Nevada County Fair

On a sweltering August day in 1981, I went to the Nevada County Fair for the first time. It was an act of faith; a friend insisted that I would like it, but I had my doubts: I have never been attracted to concessions, milling crowds, and mass confusion. Furthermore, cigarette smoke in public places has always been a trial for me – but I went, and I liked it.
The setting: tall pines and marigolds. The people: everyone greeting everyone else; it was like a reunion of thousands. The events: animal shows, music, displays, demonstrations; I did not want my children – who were school age at the time – to miss out on a single demonstration, even though they were drawn to the rides, instead (of course). The food: corn-on-the-cob, baked potatoes, barbecue, goodies, and . . . and . . . all affordable and sold by various non-profits.
In the succeeding years, my children became involved in the fair through 4H. In 1984, Gregory entered a goat, a sheep, a pig, and rabbits in the fair. He won Best of Show for his dairy goat as well as a Showmanship award for his goat and his sheep. His pig won a blue ribbon and sold at the auction for a nice sum. Ben and Elisa Jane also showed pigs and sold them at auction. I will never forget that fair – not just because of the animals but because Gregory, along with a cousin and a friend, put on a break dance show, which, because break dancing was new and different, attracted the largest audience of any performance at the fair. Their three performances were energetic, true to the music, obviously, rehearsed, and, yes, cute. The audiences were enthusiastically receptive.
The point of this narrative is to tell you that I still go to the Nevada County Fair; there is no place where I feel more welcome. I begin by going the morning before the fair opens when the competitors are bringing their animals, and there is a chorus of animal and people voices, when the air smells like hay and resin and dust with a hint of vanilla. When the atmosphere is charged with expectation and busy-ness. When my children are children again, and I am young - in memory.
I return to see the 4H goat show before the fair opens in the early morning – after coffee, wearing summer clothes and sandals, even though the morning is cold. I watch the competitors grooming their animals and raking pens. I say “good morning,” a lot. The sounds and scents take me back to the early mornings at the fair when my children camped overnight out behind the pens with other 4Hers, remind me of how the fairgrounds became for them a huge place to work, compete, and play; a dream of freedom and responsibility, a childhood paradox.
Before the shows begin, I find a place to sit in the sun on the grass out behind the food booths. There, I enjoy a plate of pancakes and a cup of coffee. I watch people, and I try not to become too nostalgic for past times. I anticipate the exhibits, the shows, the food, and greeting friends. The old feelings of excitement, anticipation, and happiness wax and wane. I remind myself that those days are not lost; they happened, after all; though they are past, they are as real as the present time and this reverie – watching my son, Greg, accept his Showmanship ribbon and shaking the hand of the judge; such a lovely memory, intense and sharp with love and pride. If my thoughts are quiet, my heart open, and the air is summer air, I have lost nothing.

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