Here it is, August already! And we're thinking about school supplies, Labor Day and the State Fair. I suppose I could come up with several perfectly acceptable reasons (or excuses) why I've attended the Iowa State Fair a mere half dozen times during my fairly long lifetime, but that doesn't mean I've been unaware of it or that I don't value it as an important Iowa tradition. Let's just say that I've always been an observer, not a participant, and I think not being personally involved makes attendance seem less important.
As a child, I went to lots of local fairs, carnivals and circuses at the Marion County Fairgrounds. That fairgrounds is still next to the Knoxville Raceway which is more famous for it's sprint car races and the National Sprintcar Museum. My dad would take our family to the county fair and at least one circus performance every summer, but I don't remember him ever taking us to the State Fair, though I do remember being there with two of my sisters once, so he may have. I'm pretty sure the first time I went to the Iowa State Fair was with one of my school friends and her family along with another neighbor and his family which included one of my classmates and his older brother. I still can't think of how four adults, three teenagers and my girlfriend's little brother managed to fit into that one family car. (It was a new Kaiser-Frazer, as I recall. Funny, isn't it, how our memories work to retain some things in vivid detail and others are only blurred fragments.)
I doubt if I was ever there without first making the tour of the Conservation Commission building. Since it was near the entrance and our energy was freshly on tap, we felt we could take in everything on the fairgrounds. Later, after we were wilted from the heat, had blisters from our new sandals and had spent most of our saved-up allowance, we became more selective. The butter cow and the working hive of honey bees were definitely a must, as was the pioneer farm equipment display. If we could snag an empty park bench, we'd sit and watch any stage shows that happened to be going on - even if just for the chance to sit in the shade and rest our feet.
The big dilemma was whether to spend our money on a lasting souvenir such as a sailor hat with our name embroidered on the brim, the immediate gratification of a foot-long hot-dog or giant puff of cotton candy, or the once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience the newest thrilling ride on the midway. For the most part, the souvenir or the food would win out. After all, Dad would have already taken us to Riverview Park in Des Moines at least once already that summer, and our spending money went a lot further there than it did on the midway. Also, the most thrilling rides were the most apt to make me queasy, thus putting a damper on my enjoyment of the rest of the day. Even though I was prone to motion-sickness and half an hour in a car was enough to turn me green around the gills, I was always optimistic enough to hope that things would be different the next time and I would find I had out-grown this weakness, or had found a simple cure.
Like most young girls, I had some romantic notions about horses - maybe it was the Pegasus myth or the elusive unicorn that took my fancy. Most likely, it was my life-long affair with Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, those wholesome, heroic singing cowboys that drew me to the horse barn at least once during my day at the fair. I am still overwhelmed by the massive draft horses and remember riding on the backs of my grandpa's work horses - their backs so broad that my short legs stuck straight out when I sat on their backs.
I liked the domestic rabbits and poultry exhibits too. Such fancy chickens! It was hard to relate them to the plain old barred rock and generic white chickens I was familiar with. Any rabbit besides a wild cottontail or fluffy white \Easter Bunny\ rabbit seemed exotic. So many different colors and types of markings. And so many varieties of ears. I couldn't get over the droopy-eared ones whose faces reminded me of sheep. In spite of their gentle and cuddly appearance, I had discovered that, as pets, rabbits are no match for dogs or cats.
After I was married, I found that my husband was interested in entirely different exhibits from the ones that attracted me. I trailed along after him through the swine barn and the cattle barn and even marveled at the gigantic new farm equipment on display before I escaped to a bench under a shade tree within earshot of the outdoor stage. But then, there's something at the fair for everyone.