Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Fair (and Wayne)

This time of year always makes me nostalgic for the Mid-South Fair. I lived all my childhood in Memphis, just blocks from the fair site, and going to the fair in September was one of the highlights of the year for my sister Joy and me. School would usually give us a holiday for the fair with reduced or free tickets, and we could hardly wait to start the walk to the fairgrounds.

Of course, in Memphis, even towards the end of September, it was usually very hot, but that didn't matter to us. As we got nearer the site, we could hear the sounds of the fair - and the smells. The first chore was walking past the farm animals, who were stationed in an arena with a roof but no walls and you had to pass them to get to the good stuff. You'd think, growing up city girls, we would have been fascinated with the animals, but that was not the case. The stink of mature and straw was just a minor inconvenience that we had to endure before we could get to the main attraction - the rides, of course!

Our funds were limited and our fear was infinite, so we stuck to our preferred time-tested relatively low-key favorite rides - ones that were cheap and not too scary - in other words, rides that stayed pretty close to the ground, like the bumper cars and scrambler. Dad took many home movies that showed how much fun we were having laughing and screaming. As a child, I was always fascinated by the Fun House, but that was more expensive to ride, scary in its own way, and it wasn't until I was an adult that I finally was brave enough to try it.

You can't have a fair without the food, though, and I was a sugar addict, so I bypassed the gyros and corn dogs and headed straight for the cotton candy. Our dad absolutely hated to pay for spun sugar. He knew it was bad for the teeth and considered it a total waste of money. But every year at the fair, he relented. Add to that an occasional snow cone, ice cream cone, and Coke, and I was in sugar heaven.

Forget those mysterious trailers with loudspeakers urging us to "see the Gorilla Man" or "feast your eyes upon the Half Human/Half Alligator Boy." We never got to partake of those opportunities. I did enjoy, though, seeing all the pictures of what was inside. Likewise, we didn't have the money to participate in the "win a stuffed animal" booths and other "games of skill," but it was fun walking by and seeing all the various ways you could empty your wallet quickly.

After we were exhausted from rides, or just wanted a break in some air conditioning, we would walk through the crafts building. This I could only appreciate when I was older, in high school. I was a seamstress by then, and I was really interested in the clothes and items that were sewn for all the fair contests. They all made me feel good - the ones with exquisite workmanship gave me inspiration, and the ones with shoddier workmanship made me feel better about my own skills in comparison.

The Mid-South Fair always had a star attraction giving concerts in the Coliseum. As these tickets were extra, of course, from fair admission, our family budget rarely allowed us to add this to the itinerary, but one memorable year, Joy and I got to see the Cowsills! Another year, though, was a real dud. The fair always fell around my birthday, and that year, for some reason, part of my birthday present was our parents giving us both tickets to the star of that year's fair - none other than Mr. Wayne Newton. Now Wayne back then was not the megastar he is today. He was not popular, not cool, and we didn't even like his music. There we were, two teenage girls, sitting in the audience watching Wayne's performance, wishing we were anywhere else. The audience was small, so Wayne didn't exactly have the biggest fan base at the time. To this day, I hope we kept our disappointment hidden from our parents, because it was a very sweet thing for them to do. Now I laugh when I read a ticket to go see Wayne Newton starts at $80 because he is in such demand.

As I grew up and became an adult, the rides no longer interested me. I still enjoyed the food and the fun of just walking around, but my child-like excitement had been replaced with being able to take our own small children to the fair, with the joy of watching them react to the sounds, smells, tastes, and atmosphere of one of my fondest childhood memories.

The children are grown with kids of their own now. I don't go to the fair anymore; Ed and I don't like to get in big crowds these days. But a whiff of cotton candy, a shot of a ferris wheel in a Monk TV episode, an odor of a hay-eating cow, or a picture of Wayne Newton as "The King of Las Vegas," and I am right back there in Memphis, Tennessee, enjoying the glorious, exhilarating, irreplaceable Mid-South Fair.

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