Some of my fondest memories from childhood involve going to the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Fair. As fairs go, it's pretty small potatoes (although, it did feature a Biggest Potato contest), but as a suburban girl, it was nice to get up close and personal with the livestock, it was always good for some delicious fair food, and I would spend hours walking the aisles of the exhibition hall perusing the quilts and the canned goods and the art.
I just got back from my second visit to the mammoth Kentucky State Fair. My tummy's full of Italian sausage, roasted corn, and lemonade. I pet some sheep and pigs. Walked til I had blisters. Bought a honey bear from the beekeepers society. I don't even do carnival rides, and two visits isn't enough to cover the whole thing. The fair is eleven days long, and you could probably find a way to entertain yourself for the entire stretch if you were so inclined.
My only complaint about the fair is how expensive a day it ends up being. $7 admission. $5 for parking. $6 for an Italian sausage. $5 for a lemonade (best deal-- refills are half price-- this time I saved my cup from my last visit, smuggled it in and got the cheaper refill... good thinkin'). $3 popcorn. $3 roasted corn. Plus I spent $16 to go to the horse show-- more on that in a minute. It's not often that I'm thankful that I don't have a family... but seriously, add kids to the mix and you've got the cost of rides, games, souvenirs. Or run the risk of being the weird, mean mom who brings baloney sandwiches to the fair.
There's not much left in these United States of ours that feels quite as unabashedly American as a good State Fair (ludicrous prices, included). Little old ladies with names like Agnes and Lily pitting their canned green beans against each other's. The Future Farmers of America displaying their business plans for dog breeding facilities or tractor restoration services. The Girl Scouts showing off their digital photography skills (a far cry from the friendship bracelets and pot-holder projects when I was a Brownie). The balloons, the rides, the cheesy as-seen-on-tv product booths, the fried things that shouldn't be fried, the bad karaoke and cover bands, the men in cowboy hats and boots, the women who's midriff-baring tops bare midriffs that shouldn't be, the children on leashes... America in all its wholesome, corn-dog, diverse, kitschy glory.
Last year, I cried as I watched a little 4-H girl sob when her lamb didn't win a ribbon. It was heartbreaking; I could hardly stand it. Even though I knew full well that widdle lambikins would probably end up as stew. You get caught up in it all. At least I do. I didn't leave wanting to belt out some Lee Greenwood, but I did kind of latch onto the sweet notion that the best parts of Americana still thrive somewhere-- somewhere in my little state.