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The joys of a country fair

08/14/02 12:00AM By Henry Homeyer
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(Host) Commentator Henry Homeyer is looking forward to one of the traditional end-of-the-summer pleasures: going to the fair.

(Homeyer) I've never lost my love for a country fair, and hope I never do. Once a year I need to eat fried dough and watch oxen the size of my car pull a sled with thousands of pounds of concrete a measured distance. I want to buy a raffle ticket - or sometimes six - to win a quilt or a cord of wood, thus supporting a good cause. I am fascinated by the men - and sometimes women - who can fell a fat pine pole with an ax in two minutes, driving in a peg set 15 feet out in front of it.

And of course there is a midway, with hucksters calling me to take a chance and win a prize. There is cotton candy and colorful Italian ices and buffalo burgers and sausage and pepper grinders made by the Blow-Me-Down Snowriders Club. I'll never forget the year they had a greased pig competition - catch it and keep it - and how they hosed down the pen before it started. And one year they had a traveling zoo, and my octogenarian mother, a cat lover, got to pat a Siberian tiger cub. She still purrs thinking about it.

Every year on the third weekend of August, throngs of people arrive in Cornish, New Hampshire, my hometown, for the annual fair. Among them are hard working farm families who bring their best livestock, and often vegetables, flowers, jams, and pies for judging.

For their children, the fair is the high point of the summer, a break from the routine of weeding, milking cows and haying. The teenagers wear their best jeans and get to flirt with other teens whose sneakers also smell of the barn. The 4-H still encourages youngsters to grow vegetables, raise sheep and chickens, or learn to do fancywork and sewing.

Children preparing their sheep for judging speak of their animals with love and pride as they wash and brush and sheer them until they look good enough to take to church on Sunday. When the time comes for the competition, the shepherds dress all in wool, despite the heat, and try to look cool. First prize is a blue ribbon and $15.

After dark, rides light up the sky, and screams of fear and glee come from young people in love as the ferris wheel spins, stops, and spins again, going higher than the top of a silo. After the crowds have gone home for the night, the farm children settle down in their sleeping bags in campers or tents, and a few lucky ones get to sleep in the barn with the cows and their friends, talking late into the night.

I hope you'll take your children or your grandchildren to a country fair this summer. They're New England to the core, they can be great fun, and they offer some of the best lessons around in excellence and competition. And go ahead and get those onion rings, calories don't count at the fair.

This is Henry Homeyer, the gardening guy, in Cornish Flat, New Hampshire.

Henry Homeyer is a gardener and writer. His new book is "Notes from the Garden: Reflections and Observations of an Organic Gardener".


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