Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It's fair time in all the states, but our hearts turn to Minnesota, the state of the best fair in the US. The MN State Fair Historical Society is collecting Fair stories, and I wrote one and it actually got published on their website. Here it is in its entirety (under my pen name, Meadhbgh Olcan McGillicuddy)

Fair Memories
Story By: Meadhbh O. McGillicuddy
Place: Utah
Date: 9/4/08
The Minnesota State Fair! Other state fairs are only carnivals. Garrison Keilor said it was "like Manhattan, only with more livestock". We've been to Manhattan, and it's true! Mom started looking forward to it in January. We saved up our money for months in advance, and then Dad wouldn't let us spend it until the very end, because he said he wanted us to see everything there was to buy before we made our purchase. Really, it was because he didn't want to carry those purchases around for the rest of the day!

We were always so cold walking into the Fair in the morning, so we kept all our coats and blankets, but as soon as breakfast was over, things had warmed up and Dad had to take them all back to the car again.

It's a big place, the Fair. Easy for a kid to get lost. Every year Mom drilled us: What do you do if you get lost? We chanted back: find a Fair worker, tell them you're lost, they 'll take you to the lost kid booth, and pretty soon Mom and Dad will show up to claim you. One year Tommy got lost on purpose, just to see if it would work. (It did.) One year Betsy got lost 12 times in one day.

One year we got there early on Goat day and got to milk a goat.

Parking was always . . um . . . exciting. One year Mom parked the car near the footbridge, not realizing there were two footbridges, and at the end of the day when we went to get the car, it was gone. The golf cart guy took Kathy round the whole parking lot until she recognized our car still parked near the other footbridge.

We found that if you station yourself strategically between the milk bar and the brownie booth, you can drink a lot of milk. One year Dad won the "Who Can Drink the Most Milk" family contest by drinking 26 cups of milk. It was a long time before he could drink milk again.

One year we counted how many things on sticks you could find at the Fair and got to 57 before we stopped. Even the map was on a stick!

One year we took the bus out, just to hear the Beach Boys sing "California Girls", and got there just as they were ending it. One year we flew to Chicago and drove through a tornado just to be there.

Some things happened every year: watching the draft horses get exercised up and down the street near the horse barn, trying to keep Sandy from climbing on ALL the tractors, trying to keep Dad from buying a hot tub, eating deep fried cheese curds, watching the cows get milked but watching also where you stepped, being bored to death by all the sewing and knitting that Mom had to look at, trying a different argument to get Dad to let you go on some rides, and dragging him away from the radio booths. (He was listening to them on his Walkman, anyway? Why did he have to BE there?)

The Minnesota State Fair is a rich experience.

Meadhbh O. McGillicuddy is from Salt Lake City, UT

Daughter #1 also wrote a Much Better Story under her own name. She wrote hers first, so I couldn't very well write Rose from SLC again, cuz they would think it was the same person, which is one of the reasons I used my pen name.

A Family Affair
Story By: Rose
Growing up in Minnesota, the fair was a bigger deal than Christmas. My family, which at that period included my parents, myself, my little sister Cat, and in later years an extra piece of luggage known as my sister Bethe, went every year with all due pomp and ceremony. We drove into the Cities absurdly early in the morning; my sister and I slept under our baby quilts in the backseat of our old white Isuzu Trooper. Then we stumbled blearily through the quiet gray fairgrounds to have breakfast at that place with the bendy mirrors outside -- to this day I'm not sure what it's called, but it's full of nice church volunteers. (The mirrors were the best part, though.) Then, as the fair woke up, so did we, hiking through the endless colorful sea of animals, advertisers, people, landmarks, vendors, and attractions. My parents always went on Ye Old Mill and made me watch my siblings. We always begged and pleaded to be allowed to go to the Midway, and learned from my dad the many secrets of why you can never win at carnival games. Then there was the DNR Building with its zoo of native animals and its blessedly cool theater where you could sit down for a few minutes. Those were exhausting, amazing, unforgettable summer days.

Then we moved to Utah.

Though I've been coming back to Minnesota every summer, it wasn't until 2007 that I managed to stay in my home state through to the end of August. When I informed my dad that I wasn't coming home until the end of the season, his immediate response was, "We'll come pick you up."
So up from Utah came my parents, my littlest sister (now not so little) and my baby brother, who is a Minnesotan by birth but who had been six months old at his first and only fair. We did it all the same old way: the soft silvery early morning, the loud and cheerful breakfast, the baby pigs, the racially supremacist sheep (I defy anyone to walk into that sheep barn and not have KKK flashbacks because of those hoods all the animals wear), the giant fishpond, the single-piece tree sculptures. It was all new to my little siblings. What was new to me was really opening my eyes to appreciate what the fair did for my family: how my dad got to teach all his kids about probability math at the carnival games, how my siblings got to connect with Cat and me by copying all the things we used to do, how my parents got to flirt and tease each other (I can't remember the bet, but my dad lost something and had to buy Mom a funnel cake), how we all became so close when we flopped down on the grass next to the go-cart track to rest our weary feet.

We're back out in Utah now, but we'll be back to the fair again, never fear. I don't understand how families manage to stay together without it.

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