Unbelievably, I finished my counted cross-stitch projects for the county fair two whole weeks early, unlike my typical schedule of reaching the deadline with only a couple of days to spare. I used those extra fourteen days to wander around in my brain and my life.
For regular fairgoers anywhere, the county fair they grew up attending remains the standard by which to measure all other fairs. My former student and current Indiana resident, Lisa Siegenthaler Turner, still considers the Champaign County Fair “one of the best fairs ever.” Lisa, who years ago won a blue ribbon for her German chocolate cake, now lives with the annual disappointment of her local Hoosier fair being completely devoid of any baked goods competition!
A county fair is a homey blend of traditions we count on year after year with just enough new to keep it all interesting. The fair schedule through the years is a case in point.
Nowadays the fair lasts twice as long as the 1930’s version of the county event. According to my aunt, my father’s family attended every day: opening day Tuesday, which began after noon; all day Wednesday and Thursday; and the final half-day on Friday. And Grandma Scott always spread a tablecloth on the ground for the family lunch of chicken, beans, and potato salad – brought from home, of course.
For many Champaign Countians, the fair serves as the last milepost of summer before school starts. Thus, families have been posting happy vacation selfies on Facebook with the Bahamas, Alaska, Disneyworld, and beaches galore as backdrops.
However, the coolest vacation photos came from Kurt and Susan Traylor’s driveway during their annual Gran’s Campout Weekend. I saw water balloons, tents, a campfire – and S’mores, of course. But there was also the Human Hungry Hippo Game: people, on scooter boards propelled by “drivers” holding their ankles, collected plastic balls with overturned laundry baskets. What a riot! My favorite picture, however, was the one of the entire clan sporting the broad smiles of a family with a thousand new memories added to their treasure trove.
The juxtaposition of two other sets of Facebook photos induced severe Boomer whiplash. The 1995-96 class pictures from Graham South Elementary popped up, while the GHS Class of 1971 shared photos from their 45th class reunion.
Several of the Graham South kindergartners in those pictures graduated from college four years ago. And the 1971 alumni were seniors the year I began teaching; some are now retired, and many are grandparents. My head swam after I calculated how many years have passed since we spent any classroom time together.
My sewing-free hands made liberal use of the TV remote as I checked in on both political conventions for brief, sanity-preserving periods of time. Although a couple of speeches truly inspired me, these televised extravaganzas basically featured party leaders preaching party propaganda to the party faithful, who responded by waving thematically-appropriate signs on cue.
The confetti-and-balloon-filled affairs unfortunately no longer serve the dual purposes of actually nominating presidential candidates and kicking off an official three-month campaign. The 2016 campaign, between candidates who arrived at their conventions as nominees, has been slogging on for an interminable fifteen months.
Pageantry in a different form from another venue will soon be beamed into our homes. I eagerly anticipate the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics from Rio – although I will probably doze off during the dances representing ancient Brazilian history and wake up long after the U.S. team has entered the stadium.
As for the Games themselves: I still cannot quite appreciate beach volleyball as an Olympic sport, but I will watch most of the track-and-field events. I look forward to watching Michael Phelps swim one more time, and I plan to take in every back flip and beam routine by the American ladies’ gymnastics team.
Sadly, I have also recalled some very sobering moments. Fifty years ago this summer, I was a new high school graduate preparing to leave for college. Retrospective news reports reminded me of that long-ago summer – and the two mass murders that occurred then.
On July 14, 1966, Richard Speck killed eight student nurses in a Chicago rooming house. On August 1 that same year, Charles Whitman killed 14 people and wounded 32 on the University of Texas campus, eventually using the college clock tower as his sniper vantage point. Such occurrences were almost unheard of back then, in stark contrast to their current, sad familiarity.
I will close with a message for Facebook friends recently posting photos of stunning sunsets. I am assigning a collective title for all your appreciated efforts. A painting by Scottish artist Joseph Farquharson depicts a winter landscape; but its title, which I am borrowing, is more than appropriate for your pictures: “When the West with Evening Glows.”
Flash from the fairgrounds: I received two seconds and two thirds on my cross-stitch pieces. I have yet to receive a blue ribbon, but there is always next year!
For now, let’s enjoy the fair and other late summer activities still on the schedule. Let’s encourage and support the youngsters in our lives and their teachers as they all head back to school. Let’s remain calm as the politicians slug it out until November. And let’s remember to savor as often as possible that time of day “When the West with Evening Glows”…