Samantha Lee Lemmerman
My Home, My Fair
The smell of ethanol, cows, and deep fried food floats through the air as I walk down the smooth gravel pathway, in my torn up green paisley patterned flip flops. The buildings stand proudly next to the other, each of their tin roofs sweat off the bird droppings as the day goes on and the sun beats brighter. The Stevens County Fair, in my opinion, just happens to be the best fair around. To me, it is home.
The dry grass crunches beneath my feet as I stab the impenetrable ground with white flags to mark the parking lot for the daycare moms, the hockey moms, and the 4-H moms. One must be weary of this grass; taking my eye off it for a split second could lead to a bleeding battle wound; it is a sign of a dry summer almost gone by.
As carnival workers hammer together the rides in a near impossible amount of time, they work hard like the crew of a television show that remodels your house, but with half or less of the thanks from the riders. They wear matching tee-shirts with the logo of the carnival on the right breast, it has faded with years gone by. As rides like the Ferris wheel and the merry-go-rounds almost begin to assemble themselves, the sun gets lower in the sky, and more fair board members make their way to the grounds.
Many wear the new flesh colored button up shirt with the Stevens County Fair logo sewn just above the pocket, while others, like myself, dawn the violet polo-like shirt with a brightly contrasting turquoise logo. The men wear the flesh or camouflage colored hats along with this year’s button pinned to the side, except for our resident cowboy, Les, who I have only seen without a hat once, every other time a cowboy hat has been perched atop his head.
Air conditioned cars line up along the pathway to unload projects and people. Wednesday night is always a big night for the fair, the kick off night if you will. Frail, white haired, hunched over ladies drag their husbands and grandchildren to the sweltering Open Class and Homemaker’s buildings to enter the projects they slaved over. The flowers stand majestic from their vase as a toddler who just went potty by their selves for the first time. The youngsters Lego projects are given over to a stranger with slight nervousness, before being reassured it will be taken care of with utmost priority. The sweat drips down our necks, soaking our shirts, as we wish the absent breeze would make its way into the door.
The bingo stand sits empty anticipating the time it may be filled with exciting gifts and quarter filled pockets. Until then, it sits alone, under the ginormous, leaf covered, Cottonwood with its windows closed up tight.
Towering behind it, the Grandstand looms over all the buildings with waiting doors and many open seats, the arena of activity. The place where the Enduro cars speed around the slightly muddy track, flinging its deposits at the excited children and the unenthused teen girls dressed in white. It is also where the Demolition Derby takes place, a place where mother’s fear for their husbands and sons as they crash their newly painted cars; where I stood nervously shaking as I sang the national anthem to sixteen hundred people; where a flag referee severed part of his finger when the Enduro race was over; where my father, only three days after breaking his foot, hopped down each stair in a boot at such speed it would have made healthy-footed people look slow. It is a place where children sit and stare at the booming fireworks in awe as their mothers and grandmothers hold their hands over their tiny ears.
Back outside sits the best breakfast spot one will find during the fair. With the letters V-F-W painted in our nation’s colors, one can find livestock 4-Hers and fair board members, including my own family, sitting on the chipped blue benches drinking mind numbingly cold milk and biting into the fluffiest pancakes.
On the other side of the patriotically painted V-F-W booth sits another booth partially painted in our nation’s colors, the Dairy Queen booth sits inviting everyone to come and have a nice cold ice cream cone or two, before suggesting to visit the FFA Kiddie Barn to its left. With the red walls, a tin roof, and the smell of a mixture of animals, it feels just like grandpa’s barn with the addition of being able to color and win a prize. Small animals wander around their temporary home, occasionally being picked up to be petted by a small child. In the back corner used to be the home of Eddie, the heaviest pig in the state. He was so heavy that the owner did not want to haul him to the state fair. With the fat rolls smashed up against the rest of his body, it was hard not to giggle as a child until it was time to move on to the food court.
The county famous pork producers stood sweating under their white cover as they served up the best pork chops-on-a-stick in the world. The chop covered in just the right seasoning and cooked just the right time, made even a vegetarian’s mouth water. The deep fried potato skins beckoned to a hungry fair goer from there. As one moves on down the now paved path, the Ray Stork Band shell is relaxed against the show cars parked ever so perfectly on the grassy hill leading up to the ample horse barn dedicated after two 4-Hers that perished while at the State Fair.
The evergreen horse stalls line the walls, each with one largely intimidating horse in it. The 4-Hers had constructed posters of their horse at home to plaster on the outside of the stall, along with the name in large letters. The proud 4-Hers sit in their foldable lawn chairs waiting to answer any questions a small child might have, or even hold one still to let a day care look closely at it.
At the end of the grounds awaits the Lee Center, used for hockey in the winter and the commercial building during the fair. It stands there calling to the fair for a hint of air conditioning and free school supplies. In the odd time, it calls out like a beacon for safety when the rains and the wind get together and strike up one hell of an afternoon.
Back down the other side of the paved path sits the giant farm equipment. A spot where men stand and reverse back to their childhood as their tell their wives that’s what they want for Christmas, as the wives simply roll their eyes and walk past the large tank of water for the All American Log Rollers. A white dry erase board sits propped up on a log, no less, stating the time for the shows and even a kid’s camp where the young children can take a stab at log rolling. As the children run over the turning log, passing teens and adults wish they were that young to be able to get a splash of that water just before waiting in line for a beef producer’s sandwich.
The rickety old wooden benches sit under the white tent begging to be sat upon, to have a conversation with an old friend, a neighbor, or a new friend. They sit and wait being rather nice benches until the rains come and flood out the bottom. This is the point where people head for the newly made bathrooms until the rain ceases.
Others choose the Harvey Matheson Memorial Arena, sitting on the bleachers listening to the rain pinging off the roof. The pigs, all in their respective wooden spots, bellow their disapproval of the weather. Right along with the pigs, the heifers and their calves chime in as frantic mothers and fathers try to keep them settled down.
“You know, it’s worse when this happens at night,” one father says, “You should see the sight! Kids running all over to get the cows in the barn so they don’t go running off.”
Just when it couldn’t possibly get any louder than the jet plane like noise that was already there, the chickens, the turkeys and the geese have to have their say. Their forest green tin building makes it all the worse. A building that used to house show tractors, now is a piping hot temporary home for poultry.
The poor sheriff and his crew try to hold down the white, light weight tent as the winds sweep up under it, begging it to escape the chaos. This weather however draws people into the safety of the white 4-H Exhibits building, a building packed so full of projects, its bursting at the seams. As if the colors of each project is not bright enough, the blue, red, white, and green ribbons scatter the place with highlights of lavender and violet. As the fair goers finish admiring the various accomplishments, the rain ceases. Ecstatic children run out and jump in the newborn puddles as their mothers try to hold back the newly unleashed sugar high beast that is their kid.
Right next to the Exhibit Building stands the 4-H Food Stand, newly painted white with Kelly Green trim. The large doors slide open to invite all who desire a pie and ice cream. The future of America wanders around with a brown tray and a tablet ready to pounce to get the next order, and possibly a hefty tip.
As the pink cheeked, blonde baby cries for her lunch, her mother walks right past the command center of the whole fair, the fair board office, a little slice of heaven, an air conditioned three room building. The back room just so happens to be the best spot in case of severe heat waves, menopausal or otherwise; however, only a selected few gain access to this spot, only the fair board get to call this room a slice a heaven. At the end of the night when the garbage is all cleared out and the Grandstand is rid of the Kiwanis popcorn the few board members left take sanctuary in the room. Many sit around the large table in the back corner, while some sprawl out on the hard sofa covered with grandma’s old table cloth, and one lucky member gets to recline in the most comfortable cloud made into a chair ever seen by human eyes.
Once it’s time to turn in to the camper around three am, the fluorescent lights shine down upon the Homemaker’s yellow building, making it look much more pale than it actually is. Back behind the building, a dirt road divides the space of the fair and the campers. It just so happens to be a treacherous little road when it rains; puddles spring out like snakes in the desert. Once crossing the little bit of unexpected terrain, the campers are stretched out to the maximum holding a few more people than advised. Campers must memorize their camper before the night sets in or they could end up walking into someone else’s. As the numerous fair goers lay their heads down the bellering of the heifers turn into a lullaby.
The Stevens County Fair has been a home to me for as long as I can remember. As the Minnesota State 4-H ambassadors clearly state, “Our state fair is a great state fair, don’t miss it or even be late.”