over, at least that’s what they say here in the northeast. Labor
Day is the unofficial “End of Summer.” Autumn actually
begins at 11:06 p.m. on September 22. The Full Moon on September 2
was not the Harvest Moon, but rather the Fruit or Barley Moon. The
Harvest Moon won’t arrive until October 2, so there’s
a little summer remaining. Hailing from the farm country of the great
midwestern prairie, the end of summer causes me to think of harvest
and harvest time always fills my head with thoughts of county fairs.
The county fair out on the prairie is quite similar to the Columbia
County Fair. There’s a harness track and a demolition derby,
sometimes the Joie Chitwood auto thrill show. The biggest event out
there these days is the tractor pull.
I remember saving up my change all summer in a Mason jar, so I’d
have money to spend at the Fair. There was a lot of cotton candy and
popcorn, corn dogs and salt-water taffy and Fay’s pork chops
(a local favorite) to be consumed and I planned to do my share. I
loved the livestock and horticultural displays, perfect bundles of
rye, oats, barley and 300-pound pumpkins, but the rides and games
of the carnival were always a powerful lure.
I loved the carny guys. They all had tattoos and were from the southern
states; my ear listened with relish to their accents and carny jargon.
There was one old fella who went by the name of “Red”.
He was an ornery shrunk down little guy pushin’ eighty who was
probably mean as snot in his day.
My friends and I would hang around Red’s Crazy Ball stand. He
had this old microphone wrapped, nearly covered with black electrical
tape. He’d press it close to his mouth and using his tight distorted
voice he’d encourage passersby to step right up and take a chance,
“Aaaaaaaaaa dime,” he’d call out. “Craaaazy
Ball, Aaaaaaaaaa dime, Aaaaaaaaaa dime,” and people would begin
slappin’ dimes down on Red’s counter. Every so often we’d
holler, “Hey, Red, how much is it?” And every time with
exacting precision Red would squeeze out an, “Aaaaaaaaaa dime,”
just for us and we loved it.
We all made up stories about Red’s past, how he’d been
to prison for bank robbery or counterfeiting or murder, murdering
some smart-alecky kid at some carnival somewhere for taunting him
a little too much the way we all too often did. When we got on Red’s
nerves he’d tighten down his voice, “Hey, scram, beat
it.” The look in his faded blue-grey eyes told us to git, and
off we ran. One year, Red’s Crazy Ball stand failed to show
at the fair. It was then we realized how much we missed our tough
As I got older there were girls to meet and chase and sneak a kiss
from on the Ferris wheel. Things haven’t changed much really.
County Fairs are for farm people, those who work long hours undaunted
by the elements. It’s the place they bring their quiet pride
and the products of their labor; the men their crops and livestock,
the women their handmade quilts, baked goods and jam.
I wandered around the Columbia County Fair, eyeing those fine Holsteins
and Jerseys and a small section of powerful Angus steers. I watched
Ryan Brousseau, his cousins and friends wrangle a six and a half month
old sheep he called number 18. Next door there were ladies busy spinning
I stopped at the OK Foods booth for a roast beef sandwich. Kenny Van
Allen’s even built on a back porch this year for fryin’
French Fries. Kenny told me he’s had one weekend off all summer.
Good to see he’s busy.
I strolled through the Exhibition Hall, delighting in the Fair Play
Art Contest, passed the political and sportsman’s booths over
to inspect the cages of hens and roosters and rabbits and ducks. The
antique farm machinery exhibit always catches my ear; sounds emanating
from another time. Blacksmith Bob Engel was just finishing up a lantern
stand for a Civil War reenactor when I wandered in for a chat. John
Clum’s nimble fingers weave a fine basket; an amazed crowd looks
I always felt a tinge of sadness every year when the Fair closed;
cool evenings, summer vacation over, it was back to school and soon
winter would blanket the land. It was that county fair celebration
at the close of summer I carried with me into the shortened days and
cold winter months ahead.
As I write this, it’s closing day of the Columbia County Fair.
It’ll all be history when you read it, the fairgrounds will
once again be quiet, a peaceful landscape that comes to life but once
a year to the great delight of so many. The sights, sounds and smells
of the county fair surround me, but it is the memory of it all we
will carry with us, both you and I. August 29th, 2002 will be here
before we know it.
We’ll talk next time From The Road.
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