July Nights

Dear old friends of the blog have been after me to write more here. I’m writing a whole lot in real life, by grace — wrapping up the edits to the second book in my series, which hopefully will find a home with a publisher soon. Julie and I both are quite excited about that. But the blog is here, too. We can dare to hope that perhaps some new readers are seeking it out — are you there, new readers? — if they’ve run into A Green and Ancient Light and come looking to find out, “Who is this Frederic S. Durbin guy?” If you’re here, new readers, welcome! Pull up a chair and stay! Or at least drop in often, whenever you’re in the neighborhood. We’ve had a lot of fun on this blog, and I think we can again, talking about stories and writing, art and numinous nature and life. And for any old friends here, welcome back! As the old song goes, “Make new friends, but keep the old: one is silver and the other gold.” Let us hear your voices! I can’t do this alone, not when I have Facebook to compete with.

So it’s a hot night in July, the most magical of times. (Are you reading your Millhauser, Enchanted Night? Are you reading your H. P. Lovecraft? ‘Tis the season!) I think it’s time to share with you a passage from my most summery of unpublished short stories. This one almost made it into Cicada, but it was a bit too controversial. After several requests for rewrites, the editor (whom I still admire and respect profoundly) simply stopped communicating with me about this story. I think that was the gentlest of all ways to say, “I love you as a writer, but this story just isn’t going to work for this magazine for teens.” I won’t get into the controversial part. I’ll leave that to your summer imaginations, for what is more summery than a bit of scandal?

But anyway, here’s a passage from the story “Glory Day,” that two of my friends always remind me about. They like it. The scene is a county fair. In my hometown, which is the county seat, the county fair happens at about this time each summer. It’s probably going on now. Here we are:

*     *     *     *     *

With a roar and huff of diesel fumes, the Ferris wheel hoisted its cargo to the night sky. Girls squealed; lanky boys rocked the cars although beside the entrance ramp, the hand-lettered sign said “Do NOT rock the car’s!”—which prompted John to cup his hand toward Emily’s ear and murmur: “Do not rock the car’s what?”

Emily didn’t smile. She hardly ever smiled these days, even though it was summer, and the horror of high school was finally behind them. She’d only shrugged when John had suggested the Ferris wheel. The ride’s driver, bleary-eyed and pot-bellied, had only one arm, covered with tattoos. As he took your ticket, he growled something unintelligible, then slammed a bar across your lap and stuck a chained pin through the lock. When he revved the engine, you lurched backward, the footrest suddenly free of the metal deck. Your chair teetered whether or not you encouraged it. The green-black, trampled grass fell away with its nests of electrical cables. Above the multicolored lights, the striped tent roofs, and the sea of people, you were rising, rising into the cool sky where only the stars and the wind lived. But if the girl beside you didn’t wriggle closer and want you to protect her from the dark and the height, what good was it?

“When do you think we can get together again?” John asked as they stopped, halfway up, the driver letting more people on.

Emily scowled, playing with her sleeve, seeming not quite sure whether to roll it up or down. “I don’t like always worrying about next time,” she said. “When we’re together, that’s what we talk about—‘next time.’”

“You’re right,” John answered quickly. “Let’s enjoy being together.”

“Hon, I’m tired.” She rubbed her eyes.

He was grateful she’d called him “Hon”—any romantic talk from her these days was like water in a parched land—but he didn’t like the sound of “tired.” Did she want to go home already? Experimentally, he bounced his knee sideways against hers.

She didn’t return the playful bump. “I don’t like lying to my mom,” she said. “I don’t like myself when I do.”

“You shouldn’t have to lie.” He gnawed his lip. They’d been down this road often, and it never led anywhere. Without a certain degree of truth-bending, they’d never see each other outside of school. And now school was over.

Coming over the top of the Ferris wheel was like cresting a wave. Then the car plunged down again, down toward the hats and balloons and stuffed animals, down toward the twelve-year-olds trying desperately to look nineteen, and a few fifty-year-olds trying to look twenty-five. The crowd wore the summer fashions of a Midwestern town: T-shirts, tank tops, jeans . . . a few cowboy hats (though this was Illinois) . . . spaghetti straps and too much makeup; cans of snuff bulging like hockey pucks in hip pockets; bill caps advertising seed, fertilizer, and farm machinery . . . flip-flops and high heels impractical in the midway’s mud. Guys clung possessively to girls’ hands or waists. Younger teens stood in tight, sulky circles, eyeing passersby and forming their judgments while one or two girls did all the talking, the rest breaking their pouts to bray with laughter at the right times.

John wondered when the county fair had stopped being magical. He’d come every year—the fair was a fixture of summer, a time when school was as far off in either direction as the poles of the Earth. But it was so much smaller now than it had been when he was six or ten. Had there always been so little of it, spread out between the grandstand and the ranks of parked cars?

The Ferris wheel seat swooped backwards over the ramp again, past the stoic driver, and up at full speed. John reached for Emily’s hand. She laced her fingers between his but didn’t scoot any closer.

For John, life would be perfectly simple and good if only he could go through it with this girl beside him, if only he could hold her at the end of each day and put his face in her fragrant dark hair. Everything else was a triviality: college, career, money, a house. . . . John had found everything he really wanted at the beginning of their junior year. That “everything” was Emily—but she didn’t see it that way. Maybe girls in general didn’t see things in such simple terms.

John wanted her to look at the fair’s lights, nestled in their bright array among the endless dark fields. He imagined it as an oasis, a glowing kingdom of enchantment that only appeared for a week in the deep summer and then was gone. But when he said things like that, at the best of times, Emily would push her palm against his chest and gently say, “You’re silly.” At the worst of times, she’d shift her eyes impatiently and her knee would begin its nervous jumping, a subtle vibration powered by her ankle, up-down-up-down like a little jackhammer.

Emily was driven, and John knew he was no more than a convenience. There’d never been a doubt in Emily’s mind or her parents’ that she’d be a doctor like her father. Toward that end, she wasn’t allowed to date. John couldn’t call her; he’d never had dinner with her family, or she with his. According to the laws of Emily’s house, he did not officially exist. He represented only potential derailment. He accepted all that gladly, as long as Emily exchanged letters with him nearly every day at school, hers folded into neat little triangles taped or paper clipped shut, decorated with smiley faces—as long as they could steal moments like this, when she was out with a group of girl friends. He could accept whatever he had to do, because during Homecoming of junior year, Emily had whispered to him “I love you.”

The treasure of those words had gotten him through chemistry, physics, trigonometry, and calculus—abominations that existed solely to make life harder for people who had words and feelings, not numbers, in their heads.

John was a way for Emily to have a boyfriend despite her uncompromising parents. He doubted any other guy would put up with a mostly inaccessible girlfriend; but John looked at the big picture. Time would pass—things would change. It was Emily he wanted, and someday she would be free.

But in his heart, John had begun to realize the truth. He read it between the lines of her notes; he heard it in the way she criticized his clothes (“You could look so much nicer if you tried”). He saw it in her eyes now. She wasn’t just looking out at the winking lights of distant towns—she was looking at the future, and her knee was jumping. It was a future in which John had no part.

Already the driver was starting to unload the cars, the short ride nearing its end, like summer, like life. John had the sudden sense that he was hurtling through hyperspace, the stars like lines around him as he rocketed toward old age without having drawn more than a single breath of youth. Graduate, marry, work, raise kids, retire, die.

John and Emily were parked momentarily at the wheel’s top, high above the illumination and the calliope music and the crowds, under the breathtaking canopy of stars. The scene was the stuff of which dreams are made. Feeling a wave of sad desperation, John took Emily tenderly by the shoulders and kissed her long and slowly.

Here in this airy car, suspended in the holy summer darkness, it should have been a kiss to remember for a lifetime; but Emily’s heart wasn’t in it. A kiss unmeant was nothing but suction, a jarring of tooth on tooth.

When she pulled away, John sat back with a terrible knot of grief in his throat.

*     *     *     *     *

I’m back. Yes, it’s a little sad, but isn’t summer a little sad in its extreme brevity, and because of the memories it evokes?

Do you have memories of the fair, or a summer carnival? Let us hear them! Whether I was with a girl or with a family member, I’ll always have clear in my mind that amazing view from atop the Ferris wheel, that endless warm, dark land, with the glows of towns here and there; the stars above, dazzling; and that musical, pungent, noisy spectacle of the fair, so small, really, in the perspective of things.

What are your memories? Les Calvert sold “Indian Bread” from his secret recipe — the food of Heaven! Lemon Shake-ups. Corn dogs. The demolition derby. The Miss Christian County pageant. One strange, awkward, teenage summer night, my friend R. and I had the honor of escorting the new-crowned Queen herself — I can’t for the life of me remember her name, though she was blonde as the sun — across a patch of mud after the pageant. She asked us for help. She was the Queen, but she was alone (no family, no entourage), and she was glad for two ordinary guys offering arms, so that she could keep her shimmering dress out of the mud as she tottered on her heels. We walked her all the way to the safety of her car. I wonder if R. remembers that.

Some kid got electrocuted once, stepping on one of those high-voltage cords that snake through the mud at county fairs, in the shadows between the calliope and the funhouse. Death at the fair.

When I was really little, My mom loved to play the game where you put down a coin as a bet on a color, and a ball came down a net-chute onto a spinning color wheel. Doing that, she won me a large purple teddy bear that we always called “Fair Bear.” My dad was a good sport, taking me into the haunted house on the back of a trailer. I loved the haunted house, with its shrieks and latex horrors.

What are your memories of the fair?


31 Responses to July Nights

  1. i am mr brown snowflake says:

    Indian Bread/Elephant Ears for sure, along with corn dogs and lemon shake ups. The demolition derby was always a highlight for me.

    Didn’t a bunch of us all go as a group once, maybe in jr. high? I remember Mary Ann kissed me there 🙂

    The county fair where I live now is kind of a big deal, I guess, but I don’t go. Somehow, as I have gotten older, I can find better uses for $40 than to blow it at a fair.

    I can recall one time when G.J. and R went on the Ferris Wheel together and rocked the daylights out of their cart. The carnie skipped past several carts to get to theirs and immediately booted them off, which made them ‘cool’ for the night.

    Did you and Q, and Jill and I, all go as a double-date one night, or am I conflating that with another situation? I know Jill and I went a couple of times in high school and once, among parked cars, were caught, as they used to say, engaged in ‘heavy petting’ by a county deputy, who advised we ‘break it up and move along’ which we did — briefly. Hee hee. Such fun!

    • Mrs. Spamman says:

      Growing up, the County Fair grounds were about a half hour away. It was not a place that the “city kids” hung out, so I don’t remember it that way. But my dad, as a farmer’s son, always took his family. I don’t have any specific memories, but I do remember it as an enjoyable time. Now that I am married with a daughter of my own, we go as a family, often meeting my parents at the fair grounds. In fact, we will be heading out there this Saturday. My favorite part now? Watching my daughter interact with the animals. She loves the horses, rabbits, and goats, and she especially loves the petting area where she gets to hold puppies, kittens, bunnies, . . . This year my in-laws are visiting, so Spamgirl is looking forward to eating corn on the cob with Grandpa Spam. That is a memory she has from a few years ago and looks forward to it again. As far as great fair foods go, no trip to the Fair is complete without a cream puff. And, of course, there is also the cotton candy — a great reliving of childhood — as well as popcorn — always a delicious snack.

    • Shieldmaiden says:

      My memories of the fair are numerous and multifaceted. I remember going to the Del Mar Fair as a child and standing in front of the sheep with my parents and four brothers. I was transfixed by a lamb and stood there a long time, seeing every detail. Every detail except the fact that my family had moved on and I was standing there ALONE. I was about six or seven, and shy doesn’t begin to explain the way people overwhelmed me. I hid. People saw me tucked between something or other and pointed. I was horrified. A nice man offered me candy (they did that back then) but I couldn’t talk or take the candy. A lady finally came and got my paralyzed-with-fear self to move, somehow. We were on our way to a booth for lost kids when they found me. Of course I wanted the candy THEN, but it was gone.

      In my twenties the Fair became the place I saw some of my favorite concerts and where the OH YEAH song played to synchronized fireworks. Those memories are crystallized in my mind and no firework show ever comes close to the glorious display of that summer night. Later, as a parent, the Fair became wonderful in a whole new way. Seeing them see it was marvelous indeed. The magic of a butter sculpture and hatching eggs held new wonder and learning to navigate the booths without buying marshmallow shooters, every time, became the challenge. My most indelible memory is The Great New York State Fair. We went the day Hurricane Katrina hit. The surreal experience of walking through the day, enveloped by the sights and sounds and eating fried dough while people sat on their roofs waiting to be lifted by helicopter was jarring. It still is.

      • Shieldmaiden says:

        I completely forgot the ferris wheel! And after reading “Glory Day” it seems impossible that I could. I love that story Fred. It takes me to the top of the wheel and back to all the memories I made going round.

        My first ferris wheel ride, I remember how big it felt as I swept upward. It was fine at first because we were stopping to load cars. I saw boys rocking their car and couldn’t imagine wanting to make mine move, I was frozen. Once I was at the very top and the cars full, it really got going. I still remember the sensation of
        that first rotation, and feeling like the wheel was going to roll right off onto the ground and keep on going. It was frightening… and I couldn’t wait to do it again.

  2. i am mr brown snowflake says:

    I was never one for the animals. While appreciating the hard work involved, etc. to me they were just never something of interest. At least, not farm animals — zoo animals are a different matter.

    As for games, I always like the ring-over-pop bottle rip-off and the pop balloons dart game … don’t remember playing many others.

    He has not expressly said so, but I am sure part of Fred’s attraction to the fair was that it always seemed to be ungodly hot and muggy whenever it was in town. While this created plenty of pleasant views around the midway, the sweating-just-standing-there was a bit uncalled for.

  3. Shieldmaiden says:

    I can’t think of the fair without thinking of the movie Meet Me in St. Louis, that starts in the Summer of 1903, and spends a year with the Smith family leading up to the opening of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. This movie and its series of seasonal vignettes have been discussed on the blog many times, but have we talked about The St. Louis World’s Fair? Did we ever get past the perfection of the Halloween scene or the relish with which Tootie delights in the macabre?

    Aside from that movie, two books jump immediately to mind. First one is, The Night Circus. And yes, I know it isn’t technically a fair, but the magic of food and activity perfectly captures that same feeling like nothing I’ve read. The first hundred pages were difficult, but once the circus showed up I was enchanted to the end. The other book is Charlotte’s Web. Two quotes in particular come to mind. The first was my favorite as a child and still comes to me when I think of the wonder of fairgrounds and the other became a favorite as an adult while reading this story with my children:

    “It is true,” said the old sheep. “Go to the Fair, Templeton. You will find that the conditions at a fair will surpass your wildest dreams. Buckets with sour mash sticking to them, tin cans containing particles of tuna fish, greasy paper bags stuffed with rotten …”
    “That’s enough!” cried Templeton. “Don’t tell me any more. I’m going.”

    “When they pulled into the Fair Grounds, they could hear music and see the Ferris wheel turning in the sky. They could smell the dust of the race track where the sprinkling cart had moistened it and they could smell hamburgers frying and see balloons aloft. They could hear sheep blatting in their pens… The children grabbed each other by the hand and danced off in the direction of the merry-go-round, towards the wonderful music and the wonderful adventure and the wonderful excitement, into the wonderful midway where there would be no parents to guard them and guide them, and where they could be happy and free and do as they pleased.”

    I have it on very good authority that since the fair only comes once a year children should go off by themselves armed with two dimes and two quarters… which can be made to last all day.

  4. i am mr brown snowflake says:

    Wow, I guess I was an old curmudgeon at an early age. The fair just never “did it” for me. Over the past day or two I have taken some time and tried to figure out why.

    Perhaps it was because I never seemed to have as much money as the other kids. Maybe it was that I just hate heat and humidity that much. It might be that, aside from horseback riding, I was never interested in ‘farm’ animals. Most likely it was a combination of all those things.

    I think, also, that the first few years I was old enough to go without a parent was in junior high, smack when my folks divorced, and my memories of 7th and 8th grade, while quite clear, are not pleasant. That is probably it.

    I am eager to hear more from others. Where are the rest of the gang? Do they need to be prompted via facebook or email or text that the blog lives (see the danger of letting it lie so long?).

    I will be doing something in two weeks I have not done since, if memory serves, 2001 — attend the Iowa State Fair, but I do so only for a concert, not for the fair itself. We’ll see how it goes …

    • Shieldmaiden says:

      I enjoyed reading your ponderings of accumulated resistance to fairs, heat, and farm animals. You have a way with words. You know I want an update after the concert. Who are you seeing? And try a lap through the fair while you’re there, just give it a shot 🙂

      I hope the gang shows up, otherwise they are going to hear a lot of us.

  5. i am mr brown snowflake says:

    My brother-from-another-mother and his wife are coming up from Illinois and we are going to see KISS. A full report will follow after I recover hee hee.

    Calling: Jedibabe. Marquee Movies. Tandemcat. Haggio. Scott. Swordlily and others — you are missed! Jump back in!

  6. SleepySheep says:

    I have no idea what name I used to use on here but…oh well. I was happy to hear from Shieldmaiden that the blog would be making a comeback. =) I used to be more of a lurker then a commenter. I’m gonna try to contribute more this time around! x)

    For me fairs are usually all about the animals… bunny rabbits and sheep are probably my favorite cuddly creatures out there so any chance I get to spend some time with them is a blessing. ^^

    One of my most recent fair experiences was pretty fun overall…it was a farm show so we got to see and pet plenty of animals which was awesome. =)

    The best and worst part of it was they had about 10-15 rabbits all lined up so you could pet them. But they set this up in a very…odd…way. At the beginning of the line they let you pet like three pelts and then at the end they gave you a little bit of meat? What I didn’t realize because, like the ditz I am, I didn’t ask, was that it was rabbit meat. T~T

    Anyways I was very happy to get to pet all the bunnies. I was mixed on whether or not to feel guilty about then eating a piece of one…=_=” And of course now I get endlessly teased for this. ;-;

    Overall I love the experience of being at a fair. Despite my extreme dislike of the heat I tend to enjoy being outside in the open air and getting to walk around and see all that there is to offer. Also growing up in a large city I don’t normally get to experience the rustic beauty that usually comes along with a county fair. It’s only made more enjoyable by its rarity. The closest we get here is a medieval festival held in a large park. It’s nice…but it’s not the same as going to a fair in a less populated area.~

  7. Jedibabe says:

    Ok Shieldmaiden, thanks for the link. I won’t let myself out of bed this morning without reading the blog and posting something. Just about any reading I do these days is work-related. I’m a ways into A Green and Ancient Light and love it, but I only manage a couple pages a day. Still the grad school trauma continues. I gave my 9-year-old nephew a copy as well and need to check in with him and see if I can convince his autistic spectrum self to talk about the story with me.

    Fairs weren’t something I really loved until we moved to Montana in my ‘tweens and I had 4H projects to show. I won the Best Vet Science category one year and had fun showing my horse and my pony. I always made a few bucks on a sewing project, my drawings and baked stuff I entered. I’m competitive in that way and I really enjoyed beating the old ladies in cooking. Evil child.

    Now, I’m once again looking to get back into working in University Extension and I’ll be the one encouraging kids to enter their 4H projects in the fair. It’s fun, but a lot of work scrubbing animals and staying on schedule so you don’t miss your class in the ring. I hate watching sobbing kids sell their livestock at the action, knowing they’re sending their animal friend to its ultimate fate and feeling like traitors.

    Mainly I like fairs now for the food. I always say I go to eat my way through. Shieldmaiden and I were both San Diegans and “the fair” meant Del Mar, which was fun because it was held at the horse racing track, which I always enjoyed because a childhood dream of mine had been to be a jockey and my friend’s mom would take us to the track and place bets for us occasionally. The track was also on the beach. Great combination that kept the heat at bay, usually. Best part of the fair was the fresh roasted sweet corn, but after going to college in Iowa I’m spoiled and only want really fresh sweet corn. And the Iowa State Fair was held before corn harvest and didn’t have sweet corn, a travesty no butter cow could make up for. I did see my last John Denver concert at the Del Mar Fair, so that is my final sweet fair memory. Of course, I had no idea I’d never get to see him again and I’ve loved that man and his music since I was a child.

    Fred, I remember reading “Glory Day” once before. I really enjoy the story, but I was always Emily, the girl no boy could convince to settle down, so it makes me feel a little uncomfortable and mean. It gets easier with age as I realize I made the right decision, but it’s really funny now to be friends with some of those old boyfriends on Facebook and occasionally wonder “what if.” Mostly I just find it odd to be so darned old!

    Thanks for luring me back in. It’s always good to apply the life brake and take a few minutes to reconnect. I hope you all get to go to the fair wherever you are and have a great time. Eat something gooey and wonderful for me since here in Zuni I can’t seem to agree with the locals on the definition of “yummy.” But I am off to camp next to a wolf sanctuary tonight and eat s’mores with a friend while listening to the wolves howl. It isn’t the fair, but it should work for me this summer.

    • Shieldmaiden says:

      Can’t wait to hear how you like A Green and Ancient Light. Thrilled your nephew is reading it. He’s nine just like the main character. Fantastic! My daughter is going to read it as soon as we finish this summer’s read of the 100 cupboards series.

      Thanks for such a great post. You’ve been missed! Enjoy tonight. S’mores next to a wolf sanctuary sounds amazing.

      • Jedibabe says:

        Thunderstorms nixed the s’mores and the campfire, but falling asleep to the sound of tens of howling wolves, thunder and rain was certainly a bucket list item!

  8. DayLily says:

    I am looking forward to the annual fair in the town of Woodstock, CT. This fair dates back to 1860! I especially enjoy the giant vegetable contest; the largest pumpkin is sometimes over 1000 pounds! I also like to see the quilts, the other handwork, and the ox pulling contests. Oh, and the large carved sand sculpture, different every year.

  9. i am mr brown snowflake says:

    S’mores while wolves howl? I am insanely jealous, Jedibabe!

    Jedibabe, you would not believe the “on-a-stick” foods they serve at the Iowa State Fair now. I know people who have eaten: bananas, Snickers, Butterfingers, etc. all deep fried and on a stick. They have some sweet corn (some here in Dallas County is ready), but, yes, it is usually Sept. before the good milk-and-honey arrives!

    SleepSheep: Welcome back/aboard. Great to hear your recollections! Rabbits happen to be a favorite of mine and of our host, although for me it is the hunting, the eating and, most especially, the Watership Down connection.

    Hooray! The blog is off and running again! O the Joy!

  10. fsdthreshold says:

    It’s fantastic to see so many of you back here and to read your memories of fairs! Thank you all!

    My memories of the fair are almost exclusively of the fair at night. We never went in the daytime; it was always at night, after 9:00 p.m., when they no longer charged admission at the gate.

    I loved how we would approach the fair on West Main Cross, sometimes driving, sometimes walking from my aunt and uncle’s house. Gradually, the music of calliopes would reach our ears . . . the boing and boopidoop of game booths . . . the growl of the diesel engines running the rides . . . the murmur of distant crowd-voices talking and laughing. The sky would fill with light, and there it was, the midway making its own skyline across the western horizon, an enchanted city of the summer night!

    I remember the crane game, which my mom liked to play, and I liked mostly because she did. (This is when I was little enough to go with my parents to the fair — sometimes both of them, but more often just my mom, because she was delighted by the fair, as she was by so much else in life. Mom knew how to have fun with the simplest things.) Her favorite game was the color wheel, where the carnie’s booth was surrounded by painted patches of different colors on the wooden shelf. You placed a nickel or a dime on the color you wanted to bet on. Then the fast-talking carnie would let one player toss the plastic ball into the large net at the booth’s center. It would spiral down toward and through the hole at the bottom, passing the event horizon of the fair’s own model of a black hole into which so many dimes and nickels and quarters vanished. The plastic ball would emerge onto the spinning color-wheel below, and if it finally came to rest on your color, you won. I think you could potentially win a bigger prize if you put down a coin of greater value.

    I remember having my cotton candy snatched once by big boys. One dashed past and grabbed the top half, and before I had recovered from the shock of that, the second came past and seized the rest of it, paper core and all. Yep, I was that baby whom it’s easy to steal candy from. I think that phrase is based on me. I will sign autographs upon request.

    I remember the years when fairs still had sideshow exhibitions. The one I recall getting a look at was purported to be “Bonnie and Clyde’s car” — a vintage roadster very, very thoroughly riddled with bullet holes — more hole than car, really. I appreciated it with wide eyes.

    Here’s probably the most poignant memory, and it will take some setting up. At our county fair, there’s always the Miss Christian County pageant, right? (“Christian County” is the name of the county Taylorville is in — it’s not a Christian beauty contest or anything like that!) Well, halfway through that contest, they used to have the Little Miss Christian County contest for girls about — what? — three, four, five or so years old, I guess. For several years running, back when I was in upper gradeschool / junior high and had my puppet business (I did folk and fairy tales at birthday parties, schools, community events, etc. — in its heyday, I had more requests for gigs than I could actually do), I had this gig of setting up my puppet stage behind the grandstand stage and doing shows for the Little Miss contestants while they were waiting to go onstage. My puppet house was hidden from the crowds in the grandstand. Back there behind the big stage, the little girls had to sit in chairs on the muddy track, and it was a battle for the organizers to keep them sitting still, to keep them from getting their dresses muddy. But the puppets would, for the most part, hold them spellbound. So I was providing a real service and got asked back every year.

    So, the line of regular, teen-age Miss Christian County contestants would pass right in front of my stage, and the big girls could peek in there and see me working the puppets, and I remember them giggling and whispering about the “cute little boy” back there. I was the cute, serious little boy with his puppets. I was also the boy who longed for romance, and dreamed of the day I would be something more to girls like that than the “cute little boy.”

    Years went by, and I moved away and could no longer do those shows. I guess they found other ways to keep the little girls out of the mud. I got on up into my thirties, and one year I remember going back to the county fair after a long time away. The fair hadn’t changed at all. It looked smaller, and I saw how seedy and chintzy it was, but it was still just as I’d left it. I passed by some of the teenaged Miss Christian County contestants out on the midway. They hadn’t changed, either. But now I was taller than they were; I was more than ten years older than they. I wasn’t the cute little boy anymore. I was the stranger who had shambled out of the world’s darkness, and if the girls glanced at me at all, it was nervously. They gave me a wide berth. I remember a profound sadness then. I had never met them on equal terms. I’d only glimpsed them first from one side of the age divide, then from the other, and now I was in that freefall toward Eternity; there’s no going back, not ever. I guess the closest I got to them was when R. and I walked that one strangely solitary Queen back to her car.

    It’s all right. Things got much better for me. I wouldn’t want the course of my life to be any different. Sadness is only for a season. It’s not our final state. Blended into the mix, it’s all part of the richness.

    • Shieldmaiden says:

      Thanks Fred. Maybe it’s just were I am in my own life (season) but this touched me and I really needed to read it. I loved: “Sadness is only for a season. It’s not our final state. Blended into the mix, it’s all part of the richness.”
      p.s. I bet you were the absolutely coolest kid! You know, in that nontypical “cool” way, which of course is the coolest.

  11. carolinaivy says:

    The “original” fair was in Shelby County, Ohio. I was a preteen, intent on scarfing up International Harvester farm equipment brochures at the stall of the dealer who had bought my grandfather’s business.

    It was at a later fair in another state where I was privileged to attend with a favorite person, with whom I held hands, and we did ride a Ferris wheel, which I remember chiefly as being by far the fastest Ferris wheel ever–no endearing comments were exchanged, and there were no kisses–except the ground, when we got off! The stromboli was superb, and there were pleasant views on the midway, but the best part was a night concert, by a pair of Christian artists–under the stars, with her–a unique experience in an entire lifetime.

  12. i am mr brown snowflake says:

    Like Fred, I only attended the CC Fair at night … I have no memory of being out there before 7 p.m. at the earliest.

    I liked giving the carnies hell. One time I was with some friends and wanted to win this mirror that had the album art to Judas Priest’s “Screaming For Vengeance” on it. The exact size of an album (kids, ask your parents) I still have it!

    To win it required popping three balloons, in succession, with three darts. Hey, if three darts were going to cost me a buck, I wanted three good darts.

    The carnie hands me three darts, and I immediately notice two of them have twisted shafts and bent fletching. I was, I think, 16 at the time, but much bigger and burlier than the carnie in question.

    Rather than throw, I just looked at him and said “one of these is fine, but give me two darts in place of these, two you haven’t screwed with.”

    My buddies thought I was nuts and laughed. The carnie didn’t agree, but I told him “you give me three good darts, and if I don’t pop three in a row you can have this other dollar” which I sat down on the ledge. That made him agree.

    It took 20 seconds. Pop! Pop! Pop!

  13. Tandemcat says:

    It seems that I have lost my cyan-hued avatar. 🙁

    However, I do recall a certain Ferris-wheel observation. It was not a county fair, but the Ferris wheel at Recreation Park, in Asheville, North Carolina, was powered by an electric motor, and I savored its silence compared to the diesel-engine variety.

    FWIW, if there is any interest, a link to the Mileposters site, telling the story of our July ride from Pittsburgh to Cumberland:

      • Shieldmaiden says:

        DayLily: So happy you are still here. It’s so great to see you again. Are any of the other gals still around? Morwenna? We had a small group, thanks for keeping it alive.

    • Shieldmaiden says:

      Tandemcat/Mileposter, who could forget! Great to see you on the blog. I have been away too, but happy to see everyone here.

  14. i am mr brown snowflake says:

    Avatars ARE important, methinks. It is what led to my name, and Shieldmaiden would not be the same if hers changed. Ditto Daylily.

    • Shieldmaiden says:

      Yes, many of our avatars converted, back when the blog changed over, I think. Several of us certainly lost ours for a while. Mister Brown’s snowflake was black for a while (and that just would not do!). Also, using a different email address will assign a new image. I know there is a way to get the original avatar back, but I am not tech wizardly enough to tell anyone how it works. Funny how it becomes something so associated. I know I am attached to mine. And all of yours 🙂

  15. i am mr brown snowflake says:

    I love that Fred’s avatar is the long-since gone barn. And yes, he and I (and Haggio) really did jump from the hay loft door onto the ground below (what were we thinking?!?). LOL

    Everyone will be able to see young Fred, young Haggio, young Mr. Brown and maybe a few others if those old 8mms in his possession are ever turned into a digital format.

    Oh the thrills! Haggio killed by Bigfoot and buried under a cairn by Mr. Brown, who slays the dread beast with a 40 cent smoke bomb!

    The stop-action classic “Komodo Dragon” painstakingly brought to life by Fred and Haggio, and so many more! Egads!

  16. i am mr brown snowflake says:

    Not bad, gang, not bad! We bandied this post about for 30 comments!

    Now, Mr. Durbin, we await the latest …

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