Sunday, July 29, 2007

Notes From My Knapsack 8-5-07
Jeff Gill

Fairly Good Times, Deep Fried

These are the times that try men’s . . . digestion.

Pork chops on a stick, twinkies on a stick, batter-fried oreos on a stick, batter-fried pickles on a stick. Someone no doubt sells fresh vegetables somewhere at the Hartford Fair or Ohio State Fair, but not before they’ve been dredged in flour and dunked in hot peanut oil.

Zucchini and tomatoes are often a bit worse for wear by the time they’ve been awarded ribbons in the gardener’s “best of” competition, but not enough to make you walk on the other side of the lane past the steak sandwich booth.

Food is necessarily at the heart of fairgoing and fair judging, since the roots of our American fair tradition are deep into the soil of our farms. As the bumper sticker says, “If you ate today, thank a farmer.” Somebody grew, raised, or cultivated everything you threw on the grill last week, unwrapped from the freezer last night, or will purchase from a vendor at a fair.

We’ve put miles and plastic and logos between our imaginations and the reality of planting, tending, harvesting, picking, sorting, packing, shipping, processing, and preparation. Think about the gap from Chicken Little to Chicken Mmmmiii . . . never mind.

At the fair, you can bridge that gap. C’mon, the jump’s not so far, and it doesn’t have to be scary. Milk a cow, or watch one be milked, peel the shucks off an ear of corn, fresh roasted and picked in this area just that morning, watch the cattle parade through the barns and imagine your favorite steak coming from . . . ok, so you don’t want to do that part. But as the fellow said, “Parts is parts,” and that’s where them’s comes from.

Our Hartford Independent Fair runs through this week, and if you don’t get out to Croton (yes, I know where the dickens Croton is; guys, get a new town slogan, please) you miss a chance to see where your future lies.

No, not so much in food – though I’ll bet you’d like some good, healthy, edible food in your future – but in youth. The Junior Fair Board is a great crew that works like the dickens for weeks before and surely the week of the Hartford Fair, and they with hundreds of 4-H presenters, with livestock, club presentations, and The Band are the best side of our future. You can read some bad news about a handful of area youth, and that needs tending, but the good news, this week, is out in the far northwest corner of our county.

The Ohio State Fair has already launched, and runs beyond this Saturday’s end of the local fair. You can hear about the acts from “American Idol” and Weird Al elsewhere, but the evening at the fair isn’t a time I think about for going inside an arena, but for walking around the midway as the lights, many already on, seem to grow brighter and more compelling with the gathering dusk.

You get these long, slow, low sunsets in August, with the haze making a red rubber ball in the west easily visible (I know, you shouldn’t) for a long stretch before it disappears into tomorrow, with the scraps of today picking up enough purple glow from below the horizon to make a dreaming backdrop to the strings and wheels and arcs of lightbulbs across the fairgrounds.

You will no doubt see some of those aforementioned 4-H youth from Licking County competing with their projects and animals over in Columbus, since they regularly do well enough to pick up a ribbon or trophy or two against the other 87 counties of Ohio. And the drama of the final auction is triumph and a touch of tragedy that reality TV can’t touch.
Go. You know you need an elephant ear to make your summer complete.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; his sister won a State Fair grand prize (actually, a couple), but he’s been to more different State Fairs than she has (4). No ribbons. You can brag on your favorite fair participant to him at

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