We survived the state fair

It’s that time of year again. The corn is getting dry, the nights are cooler, and suddenly the days are an hour shorter than they were last week. The kids are settling back into their school routine, and the chickens are finishing up their fall molt. It’s slipping toward fall.

And, as always, fall is fair season. The county fairs are the first harbingers, lead ups to the main event: the state fair. People from all walks of life have spent all year preparing for this: nurturing prize livestock, tweaking the perfect recipes, pampering prize-winning produce, and yes, even plying various types of needles and hooks to create textile masterpieces.

Of course, growing up near Hutchinson, the fair was always slightly passe for me. We went on free night every few years or so, but it was usually the same stuff. A few oddities do stick in my head though, like the rings that I simply had to have (that turned my fingers green in under 10 minutes), and the shark in a bottle I bought one year (shudder).

For the most part, the biggest impression the fair left on me as a kid was the increase in traffic.

Still, the sheer amount of space and things to look at, climb on, and eat is a heady thing for a kid. So, when the fair rolled around this year, I thought I’d try something different.

Since Darling Hubby was out of town and I was set to compete in the Fastest Needles in the West competition, I thought I’d take the kids to the fair during the day. I enlisted my intrepid mother to ride herd on the hooligans for the three hours or so it would take to complete my hat, and off we went.

They arrived right on schedule, Grandma looking rather frazzled. Barely had I finished when the kids took it upon themselves to tell me how mean Grandma was because she wouldn’t let them spend their money (or hers either).

Never mind that they were each toting huge bags of popcorn and had ridden the train, they were incensed that Grandma hadn’t let someone part them from their cash. With visions of bottled sharks dancing in my head (shudder), we set off to rectify the situation.

After what seemed like thousands of steps (and a proportionate number of “Nos” and “Come back heres,” we finally found what seemed like the holy grail. Aha, I thought. A toy that they both like, that I can (gulp) afford, and that may just be cool enough to forestall any pleas for any actual junk we had yet to encounter. They agreed. Victory!

Then, after detours through the poultry and rabbit barns, we headed for Kids’ Nirvana: The Midway.

For those of you who don’t have kids, trying to keep tabs on two very active grade schoolers on a state fair midway is strikingly akin to trying to catch one certain, precise minnow in an entire school of minnows in a muddy creek. It made me wish wistfully that kids came equipped with retractable leashes. After buying tickets—GULP, now I know why my parents always took us on free night—we set out on a search for adventure.

There were, of course, the same familiar rides, with a few new ones, liberally interspersed with try-your-luck games and overpriced concessions. And by now, the kids had forgotten that they were supposed to be carrying their own bags of stuff, so Grandma and Mom, the human pack mules, soldiered on.

Every so often, we had to explain to the kids that no, not only did we not need a 4-foot-tall Minion, but that Mom probably didn’t have sufficient funds to play the game long enough to get one (let alone the patience).

By the time we’d exhausted the tickets, we adults were exhausted. The kids seemed to be feeding off some sort of loose energy in the environment, and seemed even more peppy than they had when we first arrived.

Another first for me that year was paying for parking. In the past, it was always a badge of honor to drive around for an hour or so to see just how close you could get without having to pay. This year, I figured it might be nice to not have to trek back to the car on already aching feet.

It turns out that was the smartest thing I did all day. We got to take one last ride—on the tractor-drawn tram—and walked less than 100 yards to our car.

Grandma and I both breathed a sigh of relief. We had survived. We were ready to leave with the same two kids we had arrived with. I might have finished dead last in the competition, and I’m pretty sure I spent too much money, but it was a good day.

Now I’m officially ready for fall, even though I have the nasty suspicion that it will be busier than a day at the fair.

Shana Thornhill lives on farm near Marion. She can be reached at shotah76@yahoo.com.