This muggy late August morning, with a slowly simmering sunrise, I discovered it was specifically August 24th. The date seemed important. Did I forget someone’s birthday? Probably. There was something else about the date that sent my memory back to my childhood. When I was eleven or twelve the date would have meant the last hot days of a New Hampshire summer and the looming approach of another school year. Time for a few more bicycle trips to the brook to catch trout. Only a few more days to use the tire swing that flung us over the river to the deepest part of the swimming hole near the old bridge abutment.
The greatest memory surrounding August 24th of those years is that of the coming Fair. The small town stopped and everything was focused on the Fair. It seemed everyone in every surrounding town drove by our house to the fairgrounds just a mile beyond. On good weather days cars lined the road from the entrance all the way to our house. Our neighbor even parked cars on his lawn for a dollar a day. He only had room for six or seven but he claimed it paid for his beer for the weekend. That ended when a new parking lot was built.
My family eagerly awaited the annual rite of consuming the Fair Donuts. They were ten inches in diameter full of greasy, sugary, yeasty delight and worth the price of admission.
Going to the Fair was great but even greater to me was the preparation during the days before. For more than a week trucks brought in livestock, midway rides, cattle, and horse trailers full race horses. The horse racing was later replaced by tractor pulling and the tractor’s arrival on garishly decorated trucks was eagerly anticipated. The busyness of preparation was the engine of anticipation. Even older kids who deemed the Fair uncool talked about it endlessly and lined up for the midway rides. My sister and I usually had 4-H exhibits so we were able to enter the night before the fair opened. We had a sort of privileged access, behind-the-scenes, and could do everything but enjoy the midway. We toured the livestock barns, walked through the farm equipment displays being constructed, and sat on bales of hay outside the horse barns. Dinner was a cheeseburger and a bottle of Coke at one of the church eateries.
The fair tradition still exists and even in this era of distraction, the four days of the Fair and the days leading to it provide one of the greatest diversions for the area’s small towns. August 24th was full of anticipation and excitement. I’m sure it is someone’s birthday too…