Have you ever noticed that carnivals and fairs have a smell? You could bottle it without a label and ask people to take a sniff, and they would immediately say “County fair?”.
It’s a mix of stale sweat, buttery popcorn, vomit, and cotton candy. As a kid, you would happily wait in line for an hour to climb squeaky metal stairs only to plop down on a potato sack and fling yourself down a giant metal mountain. Tickets and stamps meant the world was your oyster, and they came magically from the pockets of parents like gifts from Santa.
As an adult, the fair is slightly less ideal. You eye every Carny and wonder what he’s really drinking in that travel mug. The teeth-clenching noises being sighed by the Zipper are more frightening than awe-inspiring. You refuse to ride, not because of safety suspicions but, because you are quite certain those never-washed-forty-year-old handles are the source of all flesh-eating bacteria. And you firmly believe the ticket booth is manned by Satan’s spawn when they charge your toddler $3 to ride a mini plastic horse for 30 seconds.
The pictures are priceless right?
Last week we spent an evening at the Old Settlers Reunion in our town. The steamy 99 degrees seemed downright cool compared to the daily high of 108 degrees. We had no idea what this event was, only that everyone kept asking if we were going to Reunion?
As we turned into the dirt drive signaled by the signs to be the parking for Reunion, we were greeted with all the sights and sounds of a fair. The boys were abuzz in the back seat, pointing to everything they planned to ride that evening. We unloaded and set about scoring tickets, aka waiting for Andy to grudgingly part ways with his money, and deciding which parent was going with which kid to whatever ride. Slight problem, there are three kids and two parents, but eventually the older two gave the youngest one his own personal chaperone and we parted ways.
Andy and I could see that the majority of fair-goers were passing the carnival section and heading further back into the woods on dirt paths. When the tickets ran out, we convinced the kids to walk with us and we went exploring. The sun had just set and trees gave way to an Appalachian Mountain Margaritaville. Screened cabins heavily strung with Christmas lights filled every open space that would hold them. The left-over spaces served as competition courts for games of Washers, Horseshoes, and Redneck Golf. Hundreds of people moseyed from cabin to cabin in search of seldom seen friends and neighbors. Some of the cabins had weathered family names and dates painted across the gables.
The dirt path we had wondered down seemed to be some sort of portal to a simpler time. The cabin village was completely hidden and untouched by running water and high speed internet. We finally learned that Reunion began as a reunion of Civil War veterans and their families. Some of those families still occupy those cabins today. Being new to the area, witnessing this gathering from the outside was like secretly observing a foreign culture during a religious festival.
If this many people can take an entire week of their spoken-for time and devote it to reuniting with family and friends, well then, maybe things are gonna be okay. Maybe people really do know what’s important, and will brave skin-melting temperatures to grasp it for a short while.
And by important I do mean the cotton candy…