I should start by saying that I love county fairs.
Like, I really — really — love county fairs. I’m not sure why, but I brought this love with me to The Goshen News when I began work last month, and everyone said I might get burnt out on the Elkhart County 4-H Fair just because I would be there so much.
They said I just might not love county fairs anymore.
Yet, I honestly say that I think that, if possible, I love the idea of a county fair even more after spending so much time there this past week. It may be the delicious fair food, or the amazing 4-H members and projects, or even possibly the Midway and all of its rides and games, that continues my love affair with this icon of Americana.
On Thursday I was given the chance to walk around the fair just like any normal fairgoer. I got to take in the sights, smells and sounds from the “normal” perspective, and the experience was wonderful.
Race to the finish
Thursday began with a rainy start, but the rain had lessened by the time Sam Householder, the Goshen News photographer, and I got to the fairgrounds. We began walking around, looking for ongoing events.
Cheers and clapping coming from the Activities Pad drew our attention, and we arrived to see small children competing in Pedal Car Racing.
The best part? The pure innocence of the competitors.
“Are you ready?” shouted the flag waver to the racers.
“Yes!” came the high-pitched response from a little girl in the middle lane.
From the sideways glances at the competition as they flew down the lanes, to the tears of those who didn’t win their heats, these kids showed true emotions and genuine interest in what some may overlook.
Sometimes the little things, like the pedal car competition, get lost in the big swell of the fair, and it was nice to stop and see these kids in all their happiness.
I have been planning these little “fair vignettes” all week, and I knew I wanted to sample some non-traditional fair foods in my day at the fair.
Every day I’ve walked past stands that have sold “deep fried Kool-Aid.” My curiosity got the best of me on Thursday, and I showed up at the window of a stand selling five balls of deep-fried Kool-Aid for $5, which was the best price I could find for them.
They were very warm when I first bit in, but they were also delicious. They reminded me of fruity, sweet hush puppies covered in powdered sugar, and I could only eat two before I was overwhelmed. Sam took care of the other three.
Also purchased were two fried pickles. Now, fried pickles are my favorite fair food, next to the creamy contents of the Dairy Bar. But I can’t eat a full order, which is normally around six or seven spears.
“Is it possible to just get two deep-fried pickles?” I asked the food vendor selling the pickles.
“Well, I don’t know,” he said with a smile. “But you’re lucky you’re talking to the boss — I think we can do that for you.”
This, along with a peanut butter ice cream cone from the Dairy Bar, proved to be a good lunch-time snack. I normally don’t eat this unhealthy, but hey — it’s fair week.
Pulling their own weight
My final stop before I had to return to fair coverage was the tractor pull. It had started to drizzle, so I popped under the grandstand roof to wait out the rain and watch the pull.
Sitting in the crowd, I was able to take in the fair. The tractor engines belched their black smoke, the audience cheered when a tractor pulled well.
I looked around me and realized that this is why I love county fairs.
I was surrounded by people who don’t normally have the freedom to take off work in the middle of the day to watch a tractor pull, or eat sweet and fatty foods. They had to take vacation off of work, or make a special trip out to celebrate this once-a-year occurrence.
I saw people eating Dairy Bar ice cream, footlong corndogs and giant hamburgers.
I saw men and women taking in the sights themselves, looking relaxed and happy to be out and about on a Thursday afternoon.
I saw neon earplugs in childrens’ ears, their eyes wide as the tractors bounced down the track.
I realized that I saw what we know as small town America, even if it’s just a snippet. In times like these, it’s moments like those found at the 4-H Fair that make life interesting. Despite all of the bad news and bleak economic outlooks, we can still gather and find happiness at special places like these.
So, no, covering the fair for The Goshen News didn’t ruin my outlook on it at all. You can be sure I’ll be there next year — probably in line at the Dairy Bar to get an ice cream cone.