Friday Filler – Small Town Charm or Stuck in the Past? It’s a Fair Question!

Thank Grog it’s Firday!!

As someone who grew up in the suburbs of the biggest city in my state, I admit that until I was old enough to know better, I always had a “well…isn’t that cute…” attitude about small towns and small town life.  While we deemed ourselves “too sophisticated” for the silliness of most of the traditions found in small towns, I realized that even in my youth, when we would “lower ourselves to the novelty” of going to the State or County fair, I found myself envying the kids in their 4-H jackets,  who got to spend the nights at the huge show barns, taking care of their prize livestock.

While just a “city slicker,” even I could tell for the most part, why one horse or cow, or even a type of chicken or rooster, was worthy of the blue ribbon that separated the champions from the also-rans.  And I clearly longed for a day when I might be one of the judges in the baking division, as I walked through aisle after aisle of cookies, pies, and pastries (that were all frozen in time with a handful of slices removed by the judges).

But it wasn’t until Deb and I took our epic, 9,600 mile cross-country trip last summer, that we truly understood what our “modern culture” may be missing in regards to true civic pride, small town culture, and a sense of community that is all but lost in the cities, as we all become addicted to our electronics, 24-hour news, and politics that are settled by Facebook, rather than face-to-face conversations.

You decide…and then let us know your favorite “Fair Memory,” after you read on…

I won’t reprint the entire post from my CrankyOldGuy.com blog  But, I think some selected passages and a few pics from a REAL county fair, are necessary…

The following is an excerpt from the full article (which also included some political observations that aren’t included here).

There is an allure to small town life that is irrefutable. Even the most “hip, sophisticated, urbanite” is drawn to Normal Rockwell’s portrayals of small town life. The pace of life, the constant bombardment of noise and outside stimulus changes people fundamentally. If you doubt me, simply drive across the country and feel the difference between an Interstate Highway and one of the smaller US State highways. As you get closer to the cities, the number of assclowns on the road increases exponentially by the mile, and you are suddenly thrust into a battle for yards, feet and inches…that defies reason.

The events of the past week (The Dallas  Police Officer Shooting…only one of tons that have happened since…flaming 2nd ammendment debates nationwide) have made me appreciate small town life in ways that I could never have imagined, and sadly, reminded me of the great chasm that exists today in ideology and ways of life.

Welcome to the paradox that is small town America in the 21st century.

After sitting in a freeway parking lot for almost an hour, when we got a chance to pull off and take an alternate route to our destination of Greensville, Indiana, we were almost instantly rewarded with visions of expansive, beautiful farm fields, tree-lined lanes, and small, bucolic towns that dotted the two-lane highway that took us North. While it added a half hour to the journey (according to Siri and the Maps App) we knew that with the pileup on the main freeway North, we were likely shaving some actual travel time, while our bodies slipped into “chillaxed travel mode” in our “time capsule.”

There is really no better way to describe how we have come to know our trusted Toyota Highlander at this point. Because every time we exit our vehicle, we are transported to another time and space. When we finally rolled into the outskirts of Greensville, Indiana, we landed squarely in the middle of the 1960s.

The Decatur County Fair was in full swing on the edge of town, and knowing that the radio station client that I had in Greensville was likely broadcasting from the fair, we decided to pull in.

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Immediately we noticed the difference between “big city fairs” like the Lane County Fair in Eugene, and this smaller, rural fair in the heartland of the country…no admission price. None. And parking was a mere $2. When was the last time you were able to park at a huge community event for $2?  Probably the mid-1060s.

We got there just as the “Fair Parade” was winding through the fair, on its way through the town.  Parades in these parts are mostly cars and trucks loaded with cheerleaders, 4H winners, sports teams, and assorted winners of “beauty and talent” contests, including the real, Miss Decatur County. There was also a flatbed trailer loaded with the staff of my radio station clients, who were all waving excitedly and throwing gobs of candy. The final part of the parade, right before the “pooper scooper carts” was a section of the parade loaded with current and hopeful politicians of every make and model from County Commissioners, to a standing State Senator, and even…wait for it…a POTENTIAL VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE and standing state governor. More on that later.

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There was one High School band, tooting and drumming earnestly, the number of dancers and majorettes far outnumbering the number of players in the band. But it is Summer, and the allure of dressing up in spangles and tassels over heavy, uniforms with wool hats, in 85 degree heat, is probably an easy one.

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It was amazingly simple, sweet, and at times hilarious experience. The hilarious part came from a guy who could have been pulled from Central Casting in Hollywood to play “Howard Sprague” in Mayberry on the Andy Griffith show. He stood at the edge of the fair, in his Sunday Farmer Best, tall, lanky, gray and slightly stooped, a perfectly trimmed mid-west mustache over a set of huge white teeth…the “Heckler” did his job. As every single local politician drove slowly by, he screamed out some personal insult in a deep, booming baritone voice that kept the entire crowd (most likely, long suffering family members) wincing in apologetic grimaces.

It took me a while to get close enough to understand what he was saying…but mostly, it was the tone, and the way he waved a boney, crooked finger as he bellowed. “So…you ain’t at the front now, are you Bill?” was one taunt. “You better get things straightened up” was another…and “You trying to win again?” directed at what must have been a perpetual loser of local elections.

Everyone seemed to know him. Except for the State Senator…and the Governor, also known as Trump’s presumptive VP, Mike Pence, who both stared at him with that kind of painted on, toothy grin that seem to come with becoming a long-standing political celebrity.  Several people came up to shake the old guy’s hand and clap him on the back…his job apparently completed with valor.

The rest of the evening was spent at the fair…just soaking it all in.

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The Tractor Pull was a tad bit loud and polluting. But, a crowd favorite. For the uninitiated, contestants were clocked in how fast they could pull a huge weight with their tractors. Fastest time up the “track” wins.

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Miss Decatur even got into the action in the Hot Dog Eating Contest. She ate one…in two minutes…trying to watch her figure, no doubt.

The winners were these guys who powered down six in two minutes with Deb chanting, “don’t choke…don’t choke…don’t choke!”

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Is a traditional small town county fair corny?  Ask Deb. The $2 ears of sweet corn were her favorite treat. I am more of an elephant ear, or Funnel-Cake kinda guy.

I get the allure of small town life. I have never felt so relaxed, and in control of the stuff that matters, without the fear of being run off of the road by a semi on the freeway. But there is a trade-off. You have to smile, and nod politely…and then destroy some people’s perceptions of reality.  You have to tell them that the world is passing them by, and that they need to get their news from more than one source. And that if they don’t get up to speed, the entire generation of young folks will find them irrelevant and ignore their messages (as I had to do with my radio client, who still didn’t have a Facebook account).

I saw it. And the people talked about it. “The kids are different today, with their phones, and their weird clothes, and their music.”  I know. It sounds like our parents in the 1960s. But the evidence was there, that things really had changed. The lack of entrants in the 4-H barns left them almost empty. Kids walked around with faces buried in cell phones, just like their big city counterparts. And there was a clear sense that most of them were dying to “kick the dust off this town” and get out.

But, I hope I am wrong. America needs small towns. These people CHOOSE to be here, and we need them. They grow our food. They prop up our basic values of family, and community in ways that are lost in most cities.

The takeaway here is simple… Small town life, and the isolationism that happens when you are miles away from “progress” has its penalties…and rewards.  But the thing that is evident, is that when you take the time to talk, one on one, and listen…change may in fact take place.

So Addicts…When was the last time you went to a county fair?  Have you EVER been to one?  What were your impressions…your thoughts…your favorite memories?

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38 responses to “Friday Filler – Small Town Charm or Stuck in the Past? It’s a Fair Question!

  1. Just took my daughter to the county fair a few weeks ago. I don’t do rides myself since they make me sick but luckily she found one of her friends and they rode together for hours and had a blast. Was worth standing around doing nothing for hours to see how much fun she had. I’m still kicking myself for not indulging in a funnel cake though…mmmmmm, funnel cake 🙂

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  2. I have a love/hate relationship with our county fair. I love going but I work across the street from the fairgrounds and hate the traffic and rude fair goers. I have lots of good memories from going. My daughter is 15 and I don’t think she has missed a year. This fair has not changed much since I was a teenager. The year I was 7 months pregnant her father and I walked the 4 blocks to get food and I ate it all while he tried to get the fastest pitch. I loved the pig races, where 4 small pigs who have silly names run a race (no riders, Patric) that includes swimming. I was watching one year and eating a pulled pork sandwich and my niece commented to me how rude that was. Unfortunately, the pig races have been gone for the last couple years. The year my girl was 10 and had a broken wrist, she couldn’t ride most of the rides so she opted to sing kareoke, got up on stage and sang her heart out! The year her friend asked her to ride some rides and she said, “no, I’m riding with my mom today, this is our day!” A good friend of mine (she travels with the fair now) has been friends with some of the carnies for years. A couple years ago I went with her and got on a couple of rides for free. We jumped past the lines and the carnies set the rides to “holy crap”. This year I went over after work one day to get dinner. I thought I haven’t seen the baby pigs. I always go look at them because they’re so cute. They never do anything but, this year a couple of them were running and playing, I actually lol’d! Those are my favorite fair memories of the county fair, which is actually in a city, although one of the smaller cities in the county.

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  3. Anyway; This thread was about state fairs & etc & favourite memories. Next week The Royal Melbourne Show starts here in Australia.

    My favourite memory of this event was from when my 3 girls were little – all aged under 5yo. Tickets to get in cost about all we could afford back then & we went by train (the showgrounds has a station) So broke hubby & I took a cut lunch & hid it in the youngest’s pram – along with juice drinks & etc. The food etc there was very expensive & beyond our means back then. Though the kids ate many free samples of yogurt, cheeses & flavoured milk from the dairy selling tent.

    We couldn’t afford the rides; So tramped the kids through the crowds to see all the animals in various display sheds (all free to see). Ate our cut lunch watching the noon parade of show winning animals @ the main arena.

    I thought we were having a great day out until Miss age 5 said “Haven’t we seen enough animals?” ” I just want a showbag!” They are sampler bags that cost money. Back then anything from $1 each to over $50 each!. We got the “3 for $2.50” offer on $1 showbags – chocolate & snack samples inside. The only ones we could afford. ! for each girl.

    Then hubby looked down in the crowded area & found a $20 note stuck on the sticky wooden floor! Using this money; Each of the girls got a Merry-Go-Round ride (one of the old steam driven ones) & 2 sets of 3 for $5 showbags to share!

    Recounting this brings a tear to my eyes! There was no way to know who the money belonged to; It was so manky from being trodden on for hours; But the finding of that money made all the difference to our day! 3 tired girls rocking off to sleep on the train ride home!

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  4. Reply for those above / below depending on where my post ends up.. I was born in London England nearly 60 years ago “Penny for the Guy” refers to Guy Fawkes night 5th November (or bonfire night) Where a stuffed effigy made by children sat atop the bonfire as it was lit. (Google Guy Fawkes for the full history of the event) – It was a failed plot to blow up the English Houses Of Parliament by rebels.

    In the weeks leading up to the event kids would roll their dressed & hatted handmade effigies around on little wagons, in pushcarts, or old disused nanny prams (depending on how rich or poor they were) Their cries were :- “Penny for the Guy” a way of begging for money for their efforts. Money was collected in hats; tin cans etc to buy fireworks for the big night.

    The bonfire was made from old rubbish, unwanted furniture, scrap wood, rags, & such – also collected by the kids. They would go house to house collecting stuff.

    My own memories are of a group of 5 storey high walk up flats (cheap apartments for US readers) that surrounded a rectangular “green” in North London. The “green” wasn’t big & most of the year went untended & unmown & was used as an unofficial rubbish dump; Until Guy Fawkes Night rolled around. It was mown, & the bonfire set up in the middle – burnable junk went on the fire.

    All the dwellers of the flats came out to celebrate. Sometimes it was very cold or snowing. The bonfire was lit; Fireworks set off, food & drinks shared & so on….. A great old British tradition.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. There’s a local fair around here called the Middletown Grange Fair. 4H stuff, judged arts & crafts, local performers, all of the yummy fair food, tons of vendors and carney rides. As kids we would always enter our crafts and hope to win blue ribbons. I remember it used to be a $5 cash prize if you won blue. Hadn’t gone in years but we went this year and it was everything I remembered with fancier tractors! They added this show called Dancing Diggers where a bunch of construction vehicles do choreographed driving to music. We got a kick out of that and enjoyed our corn dogs and fried perogies.

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  6. MydadlookslikeFlanders

    I like watching frog jumping at the fair

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  7. I haven’t been to our County Fair in quite a while, but it just passed, always the last week in Aug. Pretty large for a County fair I guess. From what I’ve heard it hasn’t changed much over the years. Still plenty of livestock, rides, vendors, bands and food, ohh the food! I love the deep fried twinkies, ice cream, snickers bars, oreos, and of course the classics like fried dough, corn dogs, and cotton candy. Come to think of it, it’s probably a good thing it’s just once a year!
    ~MIB🕵️

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    • The Games! How could I forget to mention the games and thier unliscensed versions of characters they give as prizes?!?! Always have to drop at least $10 trying to shoot the entire star out of the thick pulp paper!

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  8. The only problem I had with your post was you got the town’s name wrong, Patrick. It’s Greensburg!!! I live about 5 miles from the fairgrounds you were writing about. Glad you had a good time.

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    • Also, tractor pulls are not timed, the winner is the one who pulls the sled the furthest.

      I grew up on a farm outside a town of 100+, and went to a school in a town of 1000+ — Would I want to live there now? Not really. Do I love to visit there? Yes, I do. Am I glad I grew up there? Absolutely.

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  9. In the summer it was the best way to see you high school friends from other small town around. But more importantly met girls from other high schools and people that were on a trip .

    I remember a kiosk from the police where we could use an alcoolmeter. At 15 years old just before I got my driver license it gave me a sense of what was an illegal amount of alcool in the blood. Because it was a small town the officers were not even asking where we got our beer and caribou shooters(mix of porto, vodka, xeres and brandy but regional recipe modify it)

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  10. Oh man…the Texas State Fair!! Just moved out of state and it’s the first time I’ll miss opening day in years. My mom and I always got there early to check out the livestock and walked in the gates right at ten for the first Fletcher’s Corny Dog of the day. So darn yummy. I always love the exhibitions and the Creative Arts building was my favorite. I entered a quilt last year and was tickled to win a ribbon!! (My modern quilt against a bunch of beautiful traditional quilts…I was happily shocked!)

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  11. I think you’ve got some nostalgia in your eye. You’ll go blind if you don’t wash it out.

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  12. As someone who grew up near a forest (I mean, thre’s one just behind the fence of my back garden, that’s how close) in a small village but still close enough from a middle sized town, I can see the benefits from both. One is cheaper and quieter but the other have a faster internet speed and you don’t have to use your car to go anywhere thanks to the buses and the proximity of the shops.
    But that’s only small towns, as I discovered during my college years on the other hand, big(ger) cities sucks. It never takes a break, it’s noisy, smelly, stressful, expensive, the drivers are crazy, you cannot drink the water from the tap and I lost my favourite bonzaï during this period… Never again.

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  13. Ain’t a ‘Fair’ memory, but small town.
    Summertime Vacation
    Visiting my cousins and Aunt in Barnes City, Iowa, where, according to my Aunt, there were two streets:
    Main and Plum, get off Main and you were Plum out of town.

    Anyway, City Park had an empty bucket hung on a wire strung between two poles. Volunteer Fire Department practiced their hose play by spraying the bucket from one end to another. And in the process spraying the spectators with cool water.

    Grandma lived in town as well. Send her Christmas presents addressed simply to her name in town, because there were no street numbers and everyone gathered at the Post Office to drink coffee and exchange gossip every morning. “Martha, your grandson from California sent you something.”
    Sales Clerks refused to mail gifts without a non existent address, so I’d make one up.

    Small town life is slow.

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  14. Recently celebrated the 139th annual Arkansas Valley Fair in Rocky Ford Colorado. It is the oldest continuous county fair in Colorado. Admission is free. On watermelon day everyone takes home a free watermelon.

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    • When I read comments like this, I feel sorry for you guys in the “new” world with your whole 200 years of history…. As I’ve said before, the town where I live has been known by it’s current name for over 900 years but existed before that.
      Trouble is…thanks to TV and horror films we’ve adopted American traditions like “trick or treat” which didn’t exist in England till about 1990 and forgotten our own traditions like “penny for the guy”

      🇬🇧😃🏈

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      • Congrats ! on the 900 years of history. Though, as we progress into the future, 5000 years from now, not much difference in 5000 years vs 5900 years of history. A small price to pay, for freedom that is. 😉 (And even less siginficant with each passing millenia, if we don’t exterminate ourselves before then!!.)
        With that Said, I do think its super cool to have such rich history where you are from, and
        Britain as a whole. I hope to visit one day soon, I love the nolstagic old buildings and countryside. Hope to trace my heritage back , and explore the roots of my family name. Now that I think about it more, you guys are pretty lucky! 😚🇬🇧🇺🇸🎃

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        • My home town is roman, and about 1950 years old, mind you there could have been a Stone Age settlement here some 9000 years ago, so you’ll need a few more millennia to get less significant difference 😂

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      • I’ve spent a great deal of time in your country…and there is a HUGE difference between London or even Stockport, and Cold St. Aldwyns where my relatives came from. So..small town/large town exists everywhere.

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      • Lee, you gotta tell us more about “penny for the guy”!

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        • We were never allowed to do penny for the guy when I was a kid, my parents thought it was begging. I haven’t thought about it for years, I haven’t seen kids doing it for ages. Mind you, back then it was only offline and non-electric entertainment for us. 😂

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      • The youth of America is our oldest tradition!

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    • Cool!! That is so fun…and free watermelon? They MUST have a watermelon seed spitting contest!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I will never live in the city. It’s loud, confusing, and claustrophobic. There’s too many people and too many jerks. Yes, there are jerks here too, but they’re spread out. Our fair is free, including parking. I love the fair, the tractor pulls, the corn, the exhibits. Best of all are the pig races. Demolition derby isn’t my thing. Rural life rules.

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  16. Its tradition to do the lake county fair here in crown point IN….went as kids now we take ours and laugh at stuff we didnt see as funny when we were kids….and our kids just roll thei eyes. Lol. If we don’t get a family pic around the biggest pumpkin, its not a full night!!! Love the fair!!!

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  17. I grew up in a town just short of 3,000 and ours was tiny. No rides, just get yr face painted and cotton candy. Not much food. The weirdest thing was a demolition derby. For those not familiar, it’s like bumper cars but with real cars. Not reinforced for safety or anything, not professionals. Just local guys in piece of crap cars, I’m assuming drunk, just slam into each other. My sister tells me they still have them. I think they’re illegal in most states.
    My greatest fair memories were the State Fair. The big one. Rides, bands, lots of food and the overpowering stench of livestock. Great kid memories and I went back once. It was fun but mostly for nostalgia.
    I hold a certain appreciation for small towns. That’s still where I go to visit family. But I could never live there again. I don’t feel that loss of community though living in the center of the world. From the 4th of July when the whole city celebrates its pride to the Burroughs to the neighborhood. They all have their own celebrations and I find the community pride just as strong. Even within neighborhoods you have street fairs all summer. In Manhattan they tend to be just crap to buy and lots of food but in the Burroughs, you know where like 80% of the people live, they have a very strong sense of community. Bounce houses and such for the kids. Local bands. Dance parties. Instead of vendors brought in to sell food it’s barbeques in the streets. Hanging out on building stoop. The one around the corner from me has chess tables set up in the streets and it’s mostly teens playing. Not even sure they’re sanctioned by the city. Not the usual police barricades just someone’s car parked horizontally blocking access but the cops leave it be.
    Anyway the point to my ramble is I think community pride runs deep in both. Fireworks are a good example. Living in New York and knowing every channel in the county is showing this and you just walked half an hour and you’re at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge on New York Harbor with the Statue Of Liberty in the background. You can feel the pride in everyone crammed up next to you. Last year though I was with my family on the 4th and I sat in the back of my brother in law’s truck and watched from a retirement home parking lot, complete with their own cranky old guy yelling at people for driving too fast and blocking his view. But that simple, quaint little display was just as moving. Plus they have the ones that just flash followed by a sonic boom. Those are so cool.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I still go to the State Fair every few years…and our County Fair is huge…but expensive… But, it is where you can go to see “old rock groups” and up and coming country acts, sharing the same stage on a single afternoon.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Went to the Hendricks County Fair in Danville, IN this summer. Pretty much the same cast of characters!😁👍
    Thanks for sharing!

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  19. Epic? Was it a run/walk or drive?
    LOL… I think you meant a 9,600mi epic trip?

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