In 2019, I fell in love with the Allegan County Fair.
One morning I was at the Needleworks end of the barn when the large door was raised open for me. There, outside the barn, were all the people beginning their day at the fair as well. The sun was shining down through the trees, the smells of the food trucks were already strong, the laughter of friends gathered in groups walking off or around a table over coffee was the music of the morning. I fell head over heels in love with the fair at that moment.
I had never really been one to go to the fair. It seemed very “people-y” to me and quite overwhelming.
When our oldest son was maybe 5 years old, he showed a rabbit at the fair. Even the group we were with wasn’t an active group, and as stated, we only did it once.
I did not grow up at the fair. My younger brother and sister were active in 4-H, but my older brother and I never did any fair things growing up.
But in 2019, I was asked if I was going to put anything in the fair… canned goods or knitting. I never had even considered entering anything into the fair. My husband became obsessive about canning the perfect jars of tomatoes, green beans and pickles. I had some knitting to add. Eli added some crocheted hats to be judged. And then I was asked to help work at the fair. For some reason, I said yes. It surprised even me.
Probably it had a lot to do with the fact that the person who asked me to help is someone I trust greatly. If she tells me I will have a great time and she needs me, I am there. She wasn’t wrong. I was asked to help in the Home Arts part of the fair, taking in people’s needlework and crafts. I. Loved. It.
I loved hearing all the stories of the creators of their masterpieces. I kept the bits of their stories in my memory and shared some of the stories when I later worked at the barn and pointed their work out to others who were admiring the craft. All the stories. I loved all the stories!
I worked together with a group of women putting up all the needlework to be best displayed. It was hard work and so very much fun. Also, I don’t think we could have possibly laughed more. We were so proud of all the displays we put together that year.
Adding to the fun was the fact that my dad was working at the fair. He had stopped by to check out the Farmers Barn in the Historical Village side of the fair that year and ended up offering to help clean up that barn. My dad is a natural teacher and his knowledge of farm equipment never fails to amaze me. This year he has poured so much of himself into that Farmers Barn, working to showcase how the machines in there work and how they were used. If you have an interest and the time, my dad is the guy you want to see and learn from.
In the morning, my dad would stop in the driveway to pick me up in one of his old vehicles. I would have a backpack filled with drinks, food and knitting. Then dad and I would be off to the fair, sharing our stories from the day before. He would drive to his barn and I would tell him goodbye and take my walk to the barn I would be working at. I greeted strangers as though we were long time friends. I had heard of people saying the fair became like family and I could see how it would happen. I would work my shift in the Home Ec barn, answering questions or dropping a story. I wanted to shout to everyone who walked in “Do you see all the incredible talent here?”
But words like that are lost on those who don’t want to see it. Just like my dad’s history lessons are lost on those who are just walking through the barn he works.
I would return to my dad’s barn and watch him share his knowledge while I ate my lunch. Sometimes the boys and my husband would come down to the fair and we would all go to watch the rodeo or a demolition derby. The longer I was at the fair, the more I loved it.
When the fair was canceled in 2020, I was devastated. I have been excited to be back at the fair this year. The dates have long been on my calendar. Through unexpected schedules this year with our kids’ sports and other commitments, I won’t be working in the Home Ec barn this year. I missed hearing all the stories as the items came in. I am itching to get back, to tour all the hard work people have put into their needlework, photography, canning, baking, cooking, growing, and all the things. I can’t wait to sit a bit in the Farmers Barn and hear my dad teach interested individuals how the old things worked.
I know some go to the fair for the rides and the food, but there is a whole other side of the fair that my life is all the better for knowing now. I hope you get a chance to experience it as well.
Tell me, what is your favorite part of the fair?