When it comes to favorite childhood memories, the county fair is near the top of my list. The smell of corn dogs, funnel cakes and other goodies are hard to forget, and I equate those things with happy times.
It’s also fun to enter items in 4-H or open-class divisions.
At age 10, I decided to enter a cake in open class. It was 1962, and my contribution would be a “funny cake.”
For some reason, this cake was in a class of its own, and participants needed to follow the recipe exactly. The reason it was called a “funny cake” was because this cake had no eggs in the batter.
It was also the first time I had entered something in the fair, and I was so excited. It didn’t matter whether I won a blue ribbon or nothing at all, I just was happy to be a part of the fair.
The day of registration, my cake was one of more than 50 funny cakes. As I waited in line, I noticed that my cake looked similar to the others, which was good news because this was also the first time I baked something without help from my mom or dad.
I think the only advice my dad gave me was to pound the cake pan on the countertop to get the bubbles out of the batter.
To earn a blue ribbon, the cake was judged on texture (no bubbles), whether it was overcooked, taste and color. I was awarded honorable mention and that was OK with me.
I was so proud of that cake that I must have walked past it three or four times that day, just admiring my handiwork and my honorable mention.
The funny cake was the only thing I ever entered, and I am not sure why. In hindsight, I wish I had considered other entries.
The county fair is also a friendly place. It seems like everyone is in a good mood and enjoying time with their families.
My first job was at the state fair in Springfield, Ill. I got the job because my parents were good friends with a couple who had a booth in the dairy barn, They asked me if I would be interested in working for them.
The pay was $1.25 an hour, but at age 12, that seemed more than fair to me. My job would be selling chocolate and vanilla milkshakes, cheese sandwiches and a few other dairy products.
The hours were from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for a 10-day stint.
The downside of the job was that I needed to be up by 5 a.m. so I could get dressed and walk the three miles to the fairgrounds. Once at the fair gates, it was 10 minutes more to get to the dairy barn.
What kept me going was thinking about the money. Of course, I didn’t think about the fact I would be working 10 straight days, 12 hours a day, for a total of 120 hours and $150.
It sure was hot walking back and forth to the fairgrounds. By the fifth day, I was exhausted. I lasted another two days, but that was it, I couldn’t do it anymore—even knowing I would be paid $150. Fortunately, the booth owners were understanding and let me out of our agreement with no hard feelings.
I was also glad to be done because if I had worked the entire time, I would have missed out on the rest of the fair. After a 12-hour day, I didn’t have much energy left for fun.
Overall, working at the dairy barn was a great experience and I am glad I was given the opportunity to do it.
Last year, I enjoyed walking around the Marion County Fair, and was impressed with the talented people in our area.
This year’s fair is going to be another winner with the addition of an apple pie contest to go with this year’s theme. “Apple Pies & Family Ties.”
I am not sure if I will be able to top my funny cake by making an apple pie, but I will think about it.
Probably the biggest reason I enjoy the county fair, though, is remembering the people in my family who have since passed on.
My grandparents, who lived on a farm in Troy, had an old Rambler they would haul us around in. Even though they didn’t take us to the county fair, we sure enjoyed summers with them.
Whether it’s the lazy days of summer, county fairs or eating apple pie and drinking lemonade, these are the memories I will always cherish.
Hope to see you at this year’s fair.