The first fair I ever went to was in a town called Irrigon, Oregon. It was basically in the middle of nowhere, actually in the Oregon desert, which most people don’t believe exists. Even the major cities around Irrigon brought blank, frightened stares from generational Oregonians. For that reason, every time someone asked where I was moving to, it became a Laurel and Hardy routine.
“Where are you going to?”
“You mean Oregon. You already live in Oregon.”
“Here again? You’re moving here again?”
The night we moved to Irrigon, something amazing was happening in town. Although the population was only about 800 people, they were all streaming past our brand new house down to the city park by the river. The music was loud, the air smelled like hot dogs and pie, and I wanted to go so bad I started to cry.
The problem was, we had been driving for 12 hours straight and mom and dad were not interested in going.
The next year was a little different. By that time, we had established ourselves in the community and Mom, Dad, and I had been asked to participate in the festivities. I remembered the smells and sounds from the year before and was so excited, I couldn’t think about anything else for weeks leading up to it. I even wanted to practice the song we were to perform, which was very out of character for me at the time.
When the day of the fair came, I was giddy. Hundreds of watermelons were piled up in carts and in the backs of trucks. People started coming at 9am, walking by the booths that were set up by A.C Houghton Elementary School and the Elks Lodge, trying to get free key chains and spin for swag. There was an area where everyone’s dad (except mine – he was getting ready for the show) was strapping on twin mattresses for the mattress race. It was the only time in my life I saw an actual pie-eating and ice-cream eating contest.
Of course, the main event at the watermelon festival was the variety show. I didn’t really know that until I saw the people starting to find seats in front of the plywood stage an hour before the show was slated to start. In fact, all the other activities seemed to close down and vendors meandered their way towards the bleachers as the afternoon sun began to soften.
There was the local dance team from the middle school performing their favorite cheers, pom-poms flashing. The assistant principals got together and did a version of “The Dueling Banjos” called “The Dueling Dorks,” complete with taped glasses and toilet-papered shoes. One person, (I don’t remember who we was in real life), had a fantastic Gallagher costume on and proceeded to smash watermelons on the whole audience.
I performed my version of “The Boy From New York City” which I’m sure was very cute, my little 7-year-old voice getting lost in the depths of the crowd. This was followed by my dad’s high school choir and a lovely closing number, “God Bless the USA,” or something equally patriotic, I don’t remember.
Because, by that time, I was getting excited for the street dance.
Anyway, I danced and sang and ate and played and even tried to dunk my principal who was manning the dunk tank. Maybe no one knew where Irrigon was, but maybe that isolation was the reason they still knew how to throw a good old-fashioned party.
So, when we went to the City Fair, I wasn’t expecting mattress-pulling contests or sack races, but I was expecting to be cheered up. And, I was not mistaken. There are very few things in this world that a pulled pork sandwich, a corn dog, a snow cone and unlimited rides can’t fix.