We used to look forward to the county fair every summer. We didn’t have a local festival as many towns did even then, much like Beef Days and all the other “days” we now have to choose from every summer. I can think of Corydon’s Old Settler’s Days, Britt’s Hobo Days, and Pella’s Tulip Time, to name a few. The best we could hope for, besides the fair, was that a traveling circus would come to town. These weren’t always accompanied by carnival rides, and they were often rather small affairs– sometimes only a few acts and some caged animals to view. There may or may not have been a big circus tent, although there were always refreshment stands selling cotton candy, caramel corn and sno-cones, and several games with prizes displayed to tempt you to try to win one of the giant teddy bears or elegant costumed dolls when the most I ever won was an ugly plaster figurine, plastic jewelry or a paper hat. I supposed these acts were part of a larger circus, as they were always advertised by colorful posters that usually claimed we were going to see the fabulous Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus– even when we didn’t.
The county fair, though, was largely a local affair. The exhibits and judged competitions involved local businesses, farmers, gardeners, jam makers and pie bakers. I remember lettering signs and price tags for a local photography studio that had an exhibit of photos and cameras for several years. My sisters and I were not involved in 4-H, though many of our school friends were. There were always stock car races– what else would you expect in Knoxville, which is now the home of the Sprint Car Museum and known far and wide for all sorts of auto races during the season? The races were always on the track at the fairgrounds, and there were other entertainments there, too, during fair week. I remember rodeos and music shows, particularly one that featured Zelda Scott and Jerry Smith who sang western songs on WHO radio every weekday after the noon news broadcast. Their theme song was “You Are My Sunshine.” I often wondered if Zelda had chosen her name as a stage name. Combining Scott and Zelda seemed just a bit too contrived to be a real name. Or maybe her mother had been a Scott Fitzgerald fan.
We usually went to the fair after supper, for several obvious reasons. First, Dad worked until five-thirty six days a week and Mother wouldn’t have taken us to the fair by herself. Second, we had just finished eating supper and would not be begging for hot dogs, ice cream bars, popcorn and bottles of pop the minute we saw a refreshment stand. Third, it was too hot during the afternoon and, even though we kids seemed to tolerate the heat without complaining, it still made us uncomfortable and cranky. Fourth, we’d be tired and getting sleepy by about nine o’clock and we believed Dad when he told us, “they’re getting ready to close down, we need to go before we get caught in all the traffic leaving.” That one cinched it for me. I hated sitting in the car in slow traffic, if I was going home, or anywhere else, I wanted to get there as soon as possible. A history of being car-sick after twenty minutes in a car was enough to send me hurrying off to the parking lot.
While we usually were treated to a cold drink and maybe some popcorn or cotton candy, we mostly wanted to go on some of the carnival rides. Dad liked the rides, too. He was always willing to go on the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Bumper Cars with us, as well as some of the other wilder inventions that came and went over the years. Mother usually ended up sitting on the sidelines, waving at us each time we went past on the Merry-Go-Round, or swooped down out of the sky on the Ferris Wheel. I don’t remember her ever riding any of the rides except for hitching a ride on the Merry-Go-Round to hold on to our little sister as the big, wooden horse lurched up and down. I managed to do the same thing with all my own children until they got so big the operators wouldn’t let me go with them any longer. I’m sure my kids were relieved that their friends would no longer see them riding the horses with their mother hovering protectively beside them. I do love Merry-Go-Rounds, though, and will still ride one if given half a chance. The first summer we were married, I talked my new husband into a ride on the one at Arnold’s Park. He was laughing and half-way enjoying himself when he caught sight of one of the men he worked with, sitting on a bench watching his own children whirl past. After that, I was never able to talk him into any carnival ride for the rest of his life.