We’ve been busy these last couple weeks getting ready for our move, and this last week was rough. (More on that on my Instagram, if you follow me there.) But I’m trying to make the time to do the things to keep us alive, like the writing that I need for sanity, and the new experiences and fun the boys need so that they don’t tear down the house in boredom.
So we went to the county fair.
It started off in a worrisome manner, when I told Eliot that we were going to the fair and he immediately started running around the house yelling, “THE FERRY!! WE’RE GOING ON A FERRY!” “No, sweetie,” I said, “the fair. Not a ferry.” He looked confused. “It has animals there!” I said, to salvage the situation. “Animals!!” he yelled. “I love all the animals!! I love elephants and tigers and giraffes!”
For some people it would be hard to recover from the letdown of having those incredibly high expectations, but Eliot is the sort of boy who is just excited about everything that happens in general. He’s pretty good at letting go of expectations once he sees what’s actually in front of him. (He has skills at two that I don’t have at thirty.) So the first walk past the pigs and he forgot all about the possibility of a ferry. And giraffes.
His outlook on life is the sort of outlook that county fairs embody. They take his exuberance and some remnants of circuses, street fairs, Midwestern food, an old dirt field, and bottle it all up. Then they shake it all until all the glitter and lights and the smell of oil frying come together, and then they open it up and it all zooms out.
You see, it’s all about transformations of the ordinary. It’s a plain dirt field (maybe a few buildings) until the music and the lights start. It’s lemonade that is actually a cup of sugar dissolved in ice water with the lemon thrown in as an afterthought, but because its sold out of a red and white striped cart by extraordinarily happy people, you think it probably actually is something special. (I know my boys do.)
It’s tractors, farm tractors, used in the long nights, carving out those muddy rows or planting before the sun comes up, now polished, shining red and green and blue in calm clean lines.
It’s games and rides and contests sprouting up out of thin air, off of semis, out of pickup trucks and trailers, unfolding into tents and small metal buildings. It’s walls of cheap prizes and walls of balloons just waiting to be popped. It’s yellow rubber ducks and small kid’s roller coasters.
It’s livestock. Actual livestock, that is out for the fanciest days of their life, hosed down behind the tents, brushed, dried, and decorated.
It’s 4-H, a new wave of kids doing things that have been done for generations; practical things like sewing and baking and wood working. Life skills that once meant survival, and for some families still do. But here, it’s quilts draped over tables instead of beds, and bread arranged on pretty plates, and it is judged not on how it keeps your family alive, but on appearance and taste.
And it’s not a put down of the ordinary, it’s not saying that the normal days of tractors in fields and food that gets made to keep people alive are not enough. It’s just a re-showing, it’s a different light, it’s a week when everything normal becomes something that is extraordinary. It’s a taking of the country life, of the small town life that most days is hard, and long, and smelly, and making it into something it is normally not; jollity, dancing, with a good dose of ridiculous food.
It’s sheep being put in small pens so children can gaze in wonder. It’s the first time a little boy pets a horse’s nose.
It’s a funnel cake, something that no one else would ever think of making or eating except at a county fair.
There aren’t elephants or giraffes or ferries.
It’s just a slightly prettier real life. And life, especially this life, this small town farming life, is hard enough. Sometimes it deserves to be dressed up.