It's that time of year again here in the middle of New York State (now that uncharacteristic earthquakes and hurricanes are behind us): goldenrod is turning fields to mustard, lawn mowing has become less urgent, nights are chilly with a promise of fall around the corner...and the state fair has arrived.
I toyed with the idea of going this year. Our state fair is in Syracuse, and as a kid traveling an hour north to the rides and the band competitions was the climax of the summer. The county fairs speckled throughout the valley were fun, but were pale sisters to The Big One, where throngs of people pushed through the midway; where barkers at the games of chance lured fair-goers to spend a quarter and win the giant panda; where there were horse shows and exhibits featuring art and enormous vegetables and prize roosters. For a country kid like me, the state fair was magic, a fantastic culmination of sensory input signaling the end of August and the beginning of school with its promise of all things future.
As I toyed with the idea of getting in the car and melting into the late-summer, fried-dough-eating crowds, I recalled a few of my state fair experiences. These recollections gave me pause:
There was the time my boyfriend and I forgot where we parked and spent two hours arguing and slogging through the muddy lot looking for the car;
And there was the time my friend Amy and I, in college then but with dreamy memories of childhood fun, arrived at the fair, went on the Paratrouper, were both stricken with motion sickness, and left immediately after, nauseated;
And more recently, when I went with my cousin. The temperature was just around a million degrees as we drifted from building to building to take advantage of the air conditioning. We never darkened the midway, didn't ride a ride, didn't play a game, and capped the afternoon with a viewing of the butter sculpture, a dubious highlight at best.
I suppose it's a good thing, the way the mind's eye remembers events. As early trees start to color my instincts are triggered -- like homeward-swimming salmon -- to return to school, even though actual school is a long-faded memory. In business, September is the time to tidy the office and dust away the cobwebs, to sharpen up the work muscles for another season. Coasting in between, for me, is the state fair. In some distant place I can hear bands playing and crowds cheering, can see myself as a teenager skirting through haunted houses and boarding buses for home, always too soon. I can still see the lights on the dive bomber and the Ferris wheel twinkling in the distance as we pulled away. In those days, air conditioning and nausea and butter sculptures were for the old folks, not for me. But time does indeed march on.
So I passed on the state fair this year. Maybe it's better this way (even though I'm not an old folk quite yet), to think back on the fair as it was when I was a 17-year-old girl in bell bottoms. Maybe rose-colored glasses are rose for a reason...to filter out the intolerances of aging, and to keep pretty those bright images of youth. No offense intended to the Land O'Lakes sculptor, but I'd just as soon remember the state fair another way: atop the roller coaster, shouting with elation and casting my eyes across the brilliant midway, no cell phones chirping, no tax payments due, no creaking knees. Only high laughter and long hair blowing in an end-of-summer wind...and spectacular life ahead.