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  • Mj Pettengill

Meet You at the Fair

Vintage Merry-go-Round, Public Domain
Vintage Merry-go-Round, Public Domain

There are many reasons to come home. Every day, with or without our complete awareness, we add new layers of memories to our collection. The best ones are cherished and revisited while shifting and glowing in the light of what we wish to remember or forget. Some details fade, while others are brightened, tucked away safely. Going way back, in dreams of wooded hills and endless children’s laughter, they wait, stories begging to be remembered. They come from our hearts first and then the mind. Always guard them, for they will be where you once were, rooted, in your place of truth and belonging. I often crave that time of innocence but accept that it remains in the past as it should.

When I close my eyes, there it is—the Sandwich Fair—then a one-day event. “The Biggest One Day Fair in the World” was proudly announced on posters and bumper stickers. For us, being the only anything in the world was huge—at least in a small town like Sandwich, NH, back in the 60s.

Unlike now—sprawled throughout the woods and open fields—the fairgrounds were initially set up in the ball field. This is situated in perfect view of the school and my childhood home. How excited we were when the trucks and equipment began rolling in. The teacher often gently scolded us when we were distracted, gazing out the window as the fair assembled before our eyes.

Every year, my parents and their friends in the Boosters’ Club had a booth. The proceeds went to the school band and sports programs. I know that whenever my father was involved, there was an element of fun mixed in somewhere. One vivid memory was of a stormy fair day. The Boosters were selling corn on the cob. The wind got ahold of the tarp that covered the booth, causing it to fall in on itself. Watching it from a safe distance reminded me of a Lucille Ball moment. They fixed it and sold a lot of corn. As kids, we all saved money for the fair. It was imperative to plan on who would accompany you to the fair. It was an opportunity for boys to win something for that special girl or for you to win a prize for yourself. Of course, the food is the food. Everyone has a favorite. Very little has changed in that sense. I have always enjoyed the displays by local farmers, artisans, and craftspeople. Back when it was a one-day event, many of the exhibits were held in the school auditorium. For some reason, I always made several terrariums and won a few blue ribbons. These were small scenes in a pie plate—a world within a world.

Humazoo, Vintage CC0
Humazoo, Vintage CC0

There was a man who came to town with the fair. He knew my Uncle Bob. Apparently, he sold humazoos, now more commonly referred to as kazoos. They are small, plastic, and round. Being a young musician, I couldn’t really get excited about them. Those, along with a huge plastic horn that reminded me of a herald trumpet, were popular items back then. It was underwhelming to me because I had a real trumpet. However, my younger sisters were all about them. Great. What was my mother thinking? Then there was the parade. From Junior high until graduation, I marched with the school band, trying to stay in a straight line while avoiding cow and horse manure in the road because the livestock is in the parade too. And remember a recent story where I mentioned the horses that used to get loose? Stuart Heard was the marshal, and he rode one of his horses (Babe) to lead the parade. When the fair packed it in, we would hop on our bikes and search for random treasures left behind. I once found a rabbit’s foot. Being me, it wasn’t a great find. There is something gross and unnatural about carrying around the foot of an animal. Where is the luck in that? Here’s a link in case you’re interested. For many years, I returned to Sandwich to attend the fair. It became a long weekend event and grew in size. It was a moment of pride when the original Carter Mountain Brass Band (named for the mountain where I lived in New Hampton) was featured in both the parade and performed on the stage. Coming from a long line of farmers and being one for many years, my favorite part of the fair is the horse and oxen pulling. I am always humbled and in awe of the strength of these magnificent beasts. Over a decade ago, I moved back to Sandwich. I usually meet up with family and friends and spend time at the fair. The leaves are turning; some would say that foliage is at its peak. We have all experienced unprecedented changes in our community and on the world stage. What does it look like? Will you overeat or win a prize for your sweetie?

It’s time for people to go out, bringing their best pickles, fattest pumpkins, and finest piglets to share and show the world. This is an essential event for farmers to be acknowledged and celebrated. It is an opportunity for the community to set aside fear, trauma, and politics. Embrace open-hearted kindness. Remember who you are within this hustle and bustle of fairgoers because soon, the silence and stillness will be back. Appreciate what we have to offer ourselves and each other. These stories will show us the way before becoming another layer of cherished memories.