Kentucky State Fair midway
The world is a different place than it was when I was a kid growing up in Pulaski County. Things I could've never dreamed of are just part of the fabric of life today. Memories of the county fair -- eagerly awaited every year -- are a blur of colorful lights, the smell of frying food and shrieks of delight piercing the night as teenagers clattered around on questionably constructed rides.
The fair was a combination of the world's best people watching, social affair, entertainment, dinner and dessert, and it meant, above all, that we were nearing the end of summer. School was right around the corner, but the fair was a last hurrah with my friends (because although my parents drove, I was far too cool to be seen with those old people out in public).
The last time I went to a fair marked the end of those years. My best friends and I were about to go our separate ways, with high school graduation behind us and the world stretched out ahead. We donned sparkly gowns and joined the parade of teased hair on stage in the beauty pageant, ostensibly to giggle at the other girls who took it so seriously, though I don't think any of us would have turned down the glory of that sash. After the girl with the most boisterous of the 90s high hairdos took her throne we swapped out our costumes for whatever passed for fashion in those days -- probably short shorts and midriff bearing tops -- and roamed the midway. A soundtrack of hustlers, screaming children and scratchy country music accompanied our gossip as we licked the funnel cake powdered sugar from our fingers and lined up for the rickety ferris wheel.
I hadn't thought about the fair in years, and only took passing notice of the state fair and all its riotous delights going on a scant couple miles from my home in Louisville. My husband and I moved into our home the week of the fair in 2005, strains of country music carrying on the warm breeze as we carried our belongings into our first house. I can't say why I finally decided it was time to go. Maybe the lure of guilt-free fried food, the promise of people watching 120 times better than my little county fair. Or maybe, just back from a five-country trip in 10 days' time I wanted to feel at home again.
The true magic of the fair isn't the deep fried Kool-aid, or the acres and acres of fascinating livestock (did you know the chicken is the closest living relative to the T-rex?), or even the wildly varied parade of humans on display. It turns out you don't even have to go on any of the rides: the fair itself is a time machine. I may have been walking alongside my husband of 16 years, smart phone camera clicking away, instead of the boyfriend of the week, a Kodak 100 Star camera in hand, but for all the world it could have been 1992.
Not a thing has changed since the fairs back then. The music, the shanty-looking rides, the food, the barkers, the colors, the smells -- it's all exactly the same. When keeping up with the changing and shrinking world feels sometimes like a Tilt-a-Whirl, it was cotton-candy flavored joy to relive the late summers of earlier days. I may go again this week, or I may not go again for another 20 years. Either way, I'm confident that the fair will stay just the same. And I'm glad.