Growing up OC – sights and sounds of the fair

Every summer, the Orange County Fair comes around and most summers I attend. There have been a few summers that it just didn’t work out – like that summer I was on crutches and in a cast. Yeah, that would have been fun! There have, however, been many, many summers that found me at the fair. One of my favorite memories as a youngster was going to the fair because my Dad would spend a lot of time with us in the stock barns telling us stories about his younger days on Granny & Poppy’s farm in upstate New York. Sometimes we’d sit and watch a cattle auction, or see a milking exhibit. I can recall being afraid to touch a cow, and my Dad reassuring me it would be okay as I tentatively reached out my little hand to its bristly side. I knew it would in fact be okay because Daddy said so. These introductions to livestock helped me and my sister understand “where” our food came from and that animals, produce, and the people who tend them are to be respected and not taken for granted.

And on every visit to the fair, we would get an ice cream bar – the square kind on a stick – dipped in chocolate, maybe dipped in nuts. It was such a treat and I secretly didn’t want to share mine, but I did anyway because that’s just what we did. Maybe one of us got theirs with nuts, so the rest of us might have a small bite if ours were plain. See? We ate dinner at the Chuck Wagon barbeque place and it was a million times better than it is now, just because we were all there together. My Dad travelled a lot when we were little so these family times are really wonderful memories.

We also were each allowed to choose one and only one ride on the midway. I don’t really recall the specific rides we selected, I just remember the intensity of the lights after dark, the sounds of the rides and the riders, the various smells emitting from all the food vendors – popcorn, cotton candy, hot dogs, peanuts. One time I picked a dark ride and regretted it, but other times I picked things like the funhouse for the crazy mirrors and spinning tube thing. We rarely bought anything in the shopping pavilions and we always enjoyed the displays of handwork and photography.

Many years later, in 2002, my sister and I had the great priveledge of escorting our great Uncle Bob to the Orange County Fair while he was here visiting from Delaware. He was one of my Dad’s uncles, and he also worked on Granny & Poppy’s farm, 24/7 because they were his parents. Uncle Bob taught my dad to drive the tractor when he was about 8 and always took little Bert (my dad) with him around the farm. A number of very precious moments took place during this visit. At one point, Uncle Bob excused himself from us and went over to a couple of Army Reservist who were standing off to the side but fully in view for all to see (this was almost a year after 9/11). He chatted with them privately for several moments, and when he returned he told us that he was just thanking them for their dedication to America. Uncle Bob had been at the Battle of the Bulge during World War 2. This deeply touched me that 50-some years later, he was still affected by his experiences and felt kinship with these soldiers who he had never met before that moment.

The second memory I wanted to tell you about from this fair visit is from the oxen display. As I said, Uncle Bob grew up on the farm, and when we wandered over to the livestock, there happened to be an oxen display going on, showing how Bill & Bob (the oxen) could be driven to perform certain types of activites such as pulling the cart and the sledge. This resulted in a story of how Poppy used his oxen on the farm in the early 20th century. At a certain point the oxen were replaced by tractors and all that was left was the ox bow either in a corner of the barn or behind a barn door. And, as things go, at some point, the ox bow left the farm somehow too. My dad assumes it probably was sent over to the dump. They carted loads of old harnesses, oxen equipment, farm implements off as junk. Anyone who has seen the inside of a Cracker Barrell or antiques store in Orange will know that this junk fetches a pretty penny these days! 

Over at Centennial Farm, there was a display of tractors and farm equipment, those ones with the 4″ belts and gigantic wheels and steam and smoke and loud noises, and Uncle Bob talked about which ones were used for what, and which ones were similar to the ones Poppy had used. My dad always took us to these displays when we were younger and I can remember the pop it puff it pop it puff it rhythm of the engines and the feel of the vibration in my feet and chest from some of the engines that were very loud. All this combined with the smells of the farm, the engine fuel and exhaust, the warmth of the sun and almost garish colors of John Deere green and yellow make this a cherished moment from my childhood. I look forward to sharing it with Melody one day soon.

The Orange County Fair has transformed over the 30+ years I’ve been attending, but I still love it. Each visit is made more wonderful because of memories such as these. Share one of your favorite memories of the Fair – Orange County or otherwise – in the comments. This year the Orange County Fair runs from July 10 through August 9. We’ll be there! Will you?

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