Fair to middlin’

2010 Douglas County Fair

Growing up in southeast Kansas there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot to do, but each year when the fair came to town it was one of the biggest highlights of summer.

The scene usually went like this: my sister and I would stay with our grandparents for a week, who lived on an 80-acre farm 30 miles north of my hometown of Baxter Springs just outside the former mining town of Weir. It was always a treat going there. My grandparents had a pond out back that was always open to fish in, provided cows weren’t in it cooling off from the summer heat. I had all the things a young Kansas boy was suppose to have: freedom to roam and explore, a vintage Red Rider BB gun to shoot, and vegetables to pick from grandpa’s garden.

Somehow it managed to be awesome, even without air conditioning.

After a glorious week, we’d load up into their ginormous, four-door Mercury Grand Marquis, riding in style to the Cherokee County Fair in Columbus where we’d meet up with my parents and head home after some fairtime fun.

It’s been moEmber rides the ridesre than 10 years since I moved to Lawrence and through I had heard of the Douglas County Fair, I never once ventured out to see what it was like. My experiences of my youth were so much fun and still so vivid, I didn’t want it to be tarnished by anything else. I didn’t think it would compare. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and as Will Rogers once put it: “Things ain’t what they used to be and probably never was.”

Oh, how wrong I was.

The Douglas County Fair was awesome. It had every bit of dirt, animal, farm smell and – dare I say it – redneckishness I had enjoyed in my youth. There were more Daisy Dukes there than a weekend marathon of The Dukes of Hazzard. They had airbrushed license plates for sale! Pictures of men in Speedos lying on air  mattresses that can be hung on the wall of your home (which my wife informed me was NOT attractive)! The ever-classic Playboy bunny icon mirror! Cotton candy, fried Oreos, turkey on a stick – everything you could expect in a spectacle like the county fair, and it was GREAT.

At the risk of sounding like some cheesy dad line, one of the best parts was seeing Ember (the oldest daughter) bounding from ride to ride. It caught me off guard; she isn’t the type to get on rides. I can’t even get her to ride the mechanical horse at Hy-Vee. Yet she wanted to try everything anyone over 36 inches could write and didn’t even blink. As she rode each one, I sat on the sidelines: part of me wishing I was young again and part of me deliriously happy to watch her smile from the same experience I once had.

There’s something about the fair, isn’t there? It’s intoxicating. It lulls you in. It wants you to enjoy yourself, empty your wallet, have some fun and forget about normalcy.

Sometimes, that escape from normalcy is exactly what we need.

Go have some fun.