Each fall, I look forward to strapping on some comfortable shoes and stretchy pants to head to the fair. Not the carnival parked in some random lot for a week, but THE FAIR. The kind that requires a “fairground” and livestock area. Growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, this meant the Mississippi State Fair. Held downtown at the coliseum with the horrible yellow and orange paint job, and always attended at night, that fair set the standard for me. It seemed huge, full of lights, music from the rides competing to be the loudest and always a little seedy.
We would have to park some distance from the fairgrounds, and that walk from the car always added to my excitement. I could see lights flashing and hear music punctuated by screams echoing off rides I had no intention of ever going on. It wasn’t enough just to be outside after dark with a bunch of strangers, but to be doing this with the promise of stuffed animals and fair food – what a night!
Fair food is the HOLY GRAIL of junk food. Cotton Candy. Pronto Pups. Biscuits with cane syrup (that may have come on a stick). Penn’s chicken on a stick. Hand pies. Funnel Cakes. We always went hungry and came home sick. I was pleased to learn as an adult that the fair was actually open during the day, and they served these delights during lunch. This came as welcome news the fall I spent in Jackson pregnant, hungry and working downtown.
I was never much of a ride person. I couldn’t ride many of the rides because of motion sickness and a general fear of death, but I could wander and watch and eat. I could beg my mother to allow me to play the game that gave away goldfish for the prize. I remember one year, my brother won a Fry Baby. He really hit the jackpot that year! I usually managed a stuffed animal or two. These would quickly find a place in the corner of my room to be forgotten about all too soon. But the excitement of winning them never faded. Every year, I would hand over a fist full of dollars trying to win that stuffed prize. To pay $10 for that $.50 stuffed animal was absolutely worth every penny!
Now, I love taking my son to the fair, but it seems unfair the role an adult has to play. I go, but I bring with me so many burdens. The dire warnings of eating too much before going upside down on some ride. The financial reality of those stuffed prizes. The calories – my God the calories. These sad realities haunt my fair time, but they can’t completely overcome my excitement. The lights still capture me. The competing music still drowns my ability to think too much. For about thirty minutes I am 10 again with the fair at my feet. My son is fourteen and would rather go with his friends instead of Momma. That’s fine, because once my fair food fix is had and the animals are seen, with feet sore and dusty I return home – usually in under an hour. Ah, but what an hour!