Meredith Bean McMath
When I was a little girl growing up in suburban Arlington, I read about country fairs in books. They always sounded richly mysterious — wonderful playgrounds where amazing things could happen at any moment. At a fair, a girl might turn a corner to find a pony ride, an enormous pig, a pie-eating contest, crafts, crumpets, or a carousel ride. I was convinced anything could happen at a Fair, and I couldn’t wait to get to one!
Now, as a grown woman, I treasure a thousand memories from the many fairs I’ve attended in Loudoun and beyond. And I can honestly say my childhood expectations have never been disappointed.
A few snapshots from my Fair memories:
The Angel Rabbit
It was an ice-cream-melting sort of a day at the Loudoun County Fair. Getting away from the heat, I headed indoors to the 4-H Exhibition. I especially wanted to see the rabbits, as I have an inordinate love of Lop-eared bunnies. Rabbits are highly sensitive to heat, so the planners had taken caution to set up huge fans in the rabbit room. I walked in to the room to see the Lop Rabbits, but I stayed for the rabbit with angel wings. Apparently there is a type of rabbit called an Angora. As you might guess, they grow long, angora-like hair. But this, as I said, was an ice-cream-melting hot day, so the blessed owner of this one Angora rabbit had done the decent thing and shaved the rabbit all over… except for her ears. As the fans in the room blew mightily upon her, this beautiful white Angora rabbit sat proudly in her spacious cage, as the hair on her ears flowed out from behind her like angel wings. That was the most charming rabbit I have ever seen, and the image still makes me laugh and smile.
Fairs are a place of wonder.
The English Fair
While in England on a college study program many moons ago, I stumbled upon a country fair replete with sheep herding, jarred jam contests, and a log roll. The log roll looked so easy. A horizontal, six-foot long smooth log on a pole set between two braces, so it could freely roll. I thought folks were going to climb on it and try to stand erect ala Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but, no, the object was to climb aboard and sit astride the log, then scoot yourself along until you reached the other side. Only no one ever, ever, ever reached the other side — which is why there was a nice deep mattress lying underneath the log.
Fairs are a place to act foolish.
The Romantic Fair
Ah, the Fredericksburg, Virginia Fair of 1979. Don’t ask me about the animals, the pie contest, the rides or the crafts. I can only remember the guy I was with: Chuck McMath. Oh, and I remember the photograph for which we sat: me in an oversize rattan chair and him beside me, looking ever so much like a couple on our honeymoon. And I have this look on my face? It’s the happy, goofy look of someone who realizes they’re falling in love.
Fairs are a place for romance.
The Cow of Many Colors
My husband, Chuck, has a cousin, Debbie Hardesty of Hardesty Farm in Berryville, and the Hardestys are always at the Clark County Fair. They are well known for a particular cow they bring with them every year: this Holstein is blessed with fewer black spots than his brothers which enables the Hardestys to spray this beloved bovine with non-toxic spray paint. Over the years, he has been presented as Ninja Cow, Chocolate Cow, Strawberry Cow, Rainbow Cow, and a host of others. Maybe it’s just me, but the Cow of Many Colors always seems irritated. But I imagine having hundreds of children yelling and screaming with delight at the sight of you every day for an entire fair week could become a tad annoying. I heard from a friend the cow was there again last year. He would be very, very old, so I hope by now that he is deaf.
Fairs may not be great for irritable cattle, but they are always a great place for children.
Every year Hillsboro puts on an Independence Day celebration up at the Old Stone School (FYI: no matter where you are, the Old Stone School is always located “up”). I’m on the board of the Hillsboro Community Association, and I can tell you that the people who’ve been managing this business the last couple years – Amy and Mark Ware – are saints. Hundreds of hours of volunteer work is involved in this old-fashion celebration, and the results are fabulous: a neighbor built the children’s games, there’s home-made baked goods and door prizes, fabulous folk and celtic music provided by The Community, the Ruritans offer melt-in-your-mouth barbecued chicken, kind neighbors and local business donate free ice cream (that’s right – free!), and at dusk the fireworks begin. An increase in regulation has meant a decrease in fire power over the years, but the Hillsboro Community Association is committed to keeping the Celebration down home and wonderful. I have a hundred wonderful memories from twenty years of Hillsboro Fourth of July celebrations, but my favorite is a photograph as well: the moment our one-year old son took his very first steps.
Fairs are a place for Family.
My son was around six-years old when we attended a Loudoun County Fair at the old 4-H Fairgrounds. We stepped up to a target shooting game, and he gave it a go. His aim was none too good, and he was getting disappointed when a thought occurred to me: “Hey, Palmer? Try with your left hand.” The kid hit the Bull’s eye four shots out of five times. So that was the day we found out our son was left-handed, just like his father.
Fairs are a place for discoveries.
The Scottish Fair
Our cousins, the Blairs, participate in the Scottish Games at Richmond, Virginia every year. They bring the Blair tent, in fact, so our family tends to enjoy that fair a little more than others as it enables us front row seats for the music of the pipes and drums. I have fond memories of my husband and son in the axe-throwing contest, but my favorite thing to watch is the Caber Toss, wherein grown men stagger around with an upright telephone pole in their cupped hands, find the right moment, and toss the thing end over end. These are the truly brave – those who can laugh at hernia belts and litigation.
Fairs are a place to show off.
Did you know The Waterford Fair is Virginia’s oldest juried crafts fair? This year’s Waterford Fair, to be held October 2-4, marks the 66th year! I have a lot of lovely memories from Waterford Fairs, and a lot of treasures purchased from excellent craftspeople over the years. But I especially enjoy the Colonial and Civil War living history camps. Actually, my favorite memory from the Waterford Fair isn’t truly mine: about ten years ago, I lent historical costuming to a friend who was to portray a Waterford Quaker during the Civil War: frock coat, brogan boots, Quaker hat – the works. My friend was so accurate in this portrayal, the Waterford Foundation received a complaint about a Quaker on the street proselytizing his religion (guess the bit about the evils of slavery and the Confederate Cause went a little over the visitor’s head).
But Fairs are a place for history.
Looking back at my Fair memories, it’s no wonder I love them. Street fairs, County Fairs, crafts, music and art fairs – there’s always something for everyone at a fair. A little mystery, a little wonder, and a few life-changing moments, as well. Who doesn’t love a good Fair?
Go to VisitLoudoun.org to find out about upcoming fairs (like this weekend’s Oktoberfest in Lovettsville!), and if you have a favorite Fair memory, I’d love to hear it.
MEREDITH BEAN McMATH welcomes comment and can be reached at Meredith@storyroot.com or via www.storyroot.com. Opinions expressed in STORYROOT are the sole responsibility of the author. Meredith Bean McMath is a published author, freelance writer, award-winning historian and prize-winning playwright. FormerArtistic Director of Aurora Studio Theatre, Inc. and former Program Director of Round Hill Arts Center, Meredith is the Marketing Director of Cranial Tap, Inc. (www.Cranialtap.com) and an MS candidate in Arts Administration at Shenandoah University. She and her family live in Birkett’s Tavern, Hillsboro, Virginia.