Rural Living

A Fair to Remember


by Margo Oxendine, Contributing Writer

Margo Oxendine

Last month, the cover story in this magazine was one that warmed my heart: county fairs. I have many fond memories of the Bath County Fair, which hasn’t graced a summer in decades. I remember the ribbons I won. I remember seeing my boyfriend kiss another girl on the Ferris wheel. I remember another boy, who’d eaten spaghetti for dinner, who threw up on me during a Tilt-a-Whirl spin.

Thank heavens there’s a venerable county fair nearby every summer, in Highland County.

If you’ve never visited the Highland County Fair, do yourself a favor and plan a trip to “Virginia’s Little Switzerland” the last weekend in August.

It is so pure, so true, so filled with nostalgia.  It’s life as many once knew it, and life as many should know it at least once.

Farm wives compete for ribbons with floral arrangements, hand-sewn aprons, homemade jams and fluffy biscuits. Gardeners exhibit gargantuan gourds. Lambs and piglets are in pens that accommodate petting, although that must be done surreptitiously. As you stare into the soulful eyes of a fuzzy Dorset, though, try not to think where it will be next week.

The biggest crowd pleasers seem to be the Thursday Demolition Derby and the Friday Tractor Pull. Need I tell you I’ve never seen either event? I can experience the vicarious thrill of the Demolition Derby just by trying to exit the Hot Springs Post Office lot. And I don’t want to meet the guy who’s big and burly enough to pull a tractor around.

I know a foursome of metropolitan fellows from DC who come down for the fair every year, just to get their “fix” of rural America at its best. Georgetown may offer gourmet tapas and tuna carpaccio, but the Highland County

Fair provides its own epicurean delights: cotton candy, corn dogs, and maple-laced barbecue.

As a reporter for The Recorder, which serves Highland and Bath counties, I sometimes get a fair assignment. When I do, I grumble to myself all the way to Monterey, and smile to myself all the way home.

The first year, I covered the sheep costume contest. Now, if ever an event begged for feature coverage, this is it. The question, of course, is this: Who is dressed like whom? Well, the farm kids who raised them dressed the sheep like people. I fondly recall “Lambo” – decked out in camouflage overalls and sporting a jaunty green beret, two ammo belts slung across his flanks. There was a “Geisheepa” in a kimono and obi sash, an ovine “Clown Prince,” even a Professor Charles Lamb, in a jacket with elbow patches, smoking a pipe.

Another year I, at the time the only childless member of the local press, had to cover the “Cutest Baby Contest.”

Now, why anyone would agree to the angst of judging one baby cuter than another is a question I can’t answer. The baby contest was a spectacle for the eyes and ears I won’t soon forget. They cooed, they gooed, they boo-hoo-hooed. They crawled, they squalled, they dribbled and drooled. Babies of every size and demeanor were trekked across the stage and held aloft by their proud mothers.

I especially recall the mother who had the, well, let’s just call it courage, to tote her four-day-old infant to the front of the crowd. The teensy baby seemed to weigh no more than 12 ounces. Its skin was purple. Its miniscule mouth gaped in a toothless, silent scream. I didn’t blame it one bit for being scared and angry.

One day at the fair, I had the unsettling honor of standing in a stall with a 2,000-pound Black Angus bull named Boomer. He was better groomed than I and, thank heavens, weighed more. At one point, his highly polished hoof strayed atop my white clog, in which rested my foot. Why I chose to wear white clogs to a livestock show, I cannot tell you. Why I’m still walking today is a mystery, too.

At one point, Boomer turned his massive, curly head toward me. I drew back, but since he took up most of the stall, there was nowhere to cower from the bull. Boomer rested his head on my shoulder. He sighed. He looked up at me with the biggest brown eyes I’ve ever seen, and fluttered the world’s longest black lashes.

I did not eat a cheeseburger for months.  


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