Tuesday 06 Dec 2016

The Agricultural Fair
AJ Robinson

Out in West Tisbury, on Martha's Vineyard Island, there still sits the old Grange Hall. For those of you who don't know, the Grange was a political movement aimed at helping farmers - something like a hundred years ago - and now consigned to history. The hall was used for all sorts of things: arts and crafts shows, farmers' markets, an old movie house known as the "Movie Museum," well-known for showing old movies, and the annual Agricultural Fair.

Every August the fair took place over the course of three days, and it was your absolute stereotype county fair and carnival. There was the Midway with the games of chance, the rides, the animals and vegetables for the judgings, the stalls full of knickknacks to buy, and the food!

Did I mention there was a lot of food?

This was the one event I could go to each summer and truly pig-out without my mother going thermal. While not a fan of cotton candy, I did indulge in just about everything else: candied applies, popcorn, pizza, you name it!

I also got my first ride on a Ferris wheel and other rides - although I avoided the whirl-o-go-'round - it made me puke. My Mom was always great about helping me deal with some of the rides that made me nervous; she was at my side on that first Ferris wheel ride, and for a five-year-old that was quite an event - going wayyyyyy up in the air like that.

The volunteer fire department always set up a dunking stool, too. You got three balls for a quarter. Me, I was never good at aiming a ball at anything; so I pretty much skipped that. Although, I did enjoy watching others try. Of all the games and events at the fair, it always seemed the most fun - a ton of people would gather around to watch, and it seemed to be more of a social gathering than a game. Here again, I didn't understand that most of these people knew each other - and they were all bound and determined to drench one another!

The games on the Midway were always a mixed bag. At the time - as a young child - I had yet to learn about some of the carnival workers; some of them were intent on separating me from my money, and they did a good job of it. Yeah, I was always too trusting. The balloon break was no good for me nor was the ring toss, but over time, I learned to aim for the simple games set up by the locals; they were the fair games with decent prizes. In one, I paid a quarter for a dart and threw it at a wall covered with posters; whichever one I hit, I got. I was lucky; I hit the "Sgt. Pepper's" poster that I wanted on the first throw!

One of the best games - the one that truly stands out in my memory was a simple game of numbers. It had digits from 1 to 6, and you bet a quarter on which number a small ball would land on - sort of like roulette, but it had a slanted board with nails scattered across it and the numbers at the bottom. When all the bets were down, they dropped the ball in at the top; it plinked and rolled down the board, and came to rest on a number. If you won, you got a drinking glass with a Coke logo on it.

Ah, but that was not the best prize of all - oh no. If you won two glasses, you could trade them in for a stretched Coke bottle; now that was major cool! It looked like an old-fashion glass Coke bottle, which someone heated up and stretched out the top. It was about three-feet tall. To make the bottle truly special, they filled it with coloured water. I was rather lucky - it only cost me 75-cents to win one. Of course, I hadn't thought ahead on this issue - there was the little matter of getting it safely home! Fortunately, dear old Mom once again came to the rescue. She gingerly wrapped a beach towel, always in the back of her VW Squareback, and we got it safely back to the cottage.

For the next several summers, that stretched-out Coke bottle stood proudly on a shelf of our playroom in the cottage. It was quite the conversation piece, but - other than that - completely useless. Yet, I didn't mind - it was something that I had won, on my own - and that made it truly special. My Dad pooh-poohed it every time he saw it - what a complete waste of money it was - as far as he was concerned!

At some point - I have no idea when - it must have got broken because it eventually disappeared. The thing was, while a little disappointed, I wasn't that upset. You see, I'd pretty much moved beyond it. Looking back, I realized that - at the time - it was important to me, it was something I'd won - on my own - and it was part of a happy memory. Too often, parents do exactly what my Dad did. He belittled these little mementoes, these little "trophies" of childhood, much as they overlook the trials and tribulations of children. After all, a fight on a playground means nothing, does it? Not getting the lead in the school play or people laughing at your performance in a recital didn't mean anything - does it?

Actually, they all do. The little victories, the little tragedies, all the tiny events of childhood; these are the small threads that weave or psyche together and build us into the adults we will become. The next time your child is at a fair and wins some silly little toy that means nothing, he happy for them - you might just be building a wonderful memory for them.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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