County fairs a family tradition

Published 4:20 pm Tuesday, September 10, 2019

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Last year was the 25th anniversary of the Isle of Wight County Fair. So is this year — seriously.

To be more precise, last year was the 25th anniversary of the fair while this year’s event is the 25th actual fair. That’s because, as you may recall, last year’s fair was cancelled in the face of the hurricane that almost hit the area.

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That’s not a criticism. The newspaper sponsors small concerts on Main Street every Friday of the summer, and this year we cancelled five out of 15 — one third of them — because of bad weather. It was a record number of wipeouts in the 34 years the series has been held. And out of those, at least one could probably have been held, but you wouldn’t have thought so an hour before concert time.

By comparison, the County Fair Committee had a huge, and costly, decision to make a year ago. Committee members chose to be conservative in the face of what promised to be a large and dangerous storm. They chose safety over recklessness, discretion over panache. Good for them.

It was disappointing, but it was the right decision. Now, that’s behind us and all who love the fair are holding their collective breath for sunny days and moonlight nights. Speaking of which, the annual Harvest Moon is Saturday, Sept. 14. Weather permitting, it will provide an appropriate atmosphere to this longstanding event.

I’ve been attending Isle of Wight fairs as a reporter, photographer, father and grandfather ever since the first one was staged at Isle of Wight Courthouse in 1993, and I’ve loved every one.

Having grown up on a small farm here, I’ve been partial my entire life to all things country, and it’s the country atmosphere of the fair that I find most enjoyable. (You might say I’m used to walking in manure, but that might be confused with what we often have to deal with as journalists.)

Anyway, the Isle of Wight Fair has managed to keep up with the times and still maintain a rural quality, and that’s not easy.

Among the most enjoyable exhibits always are the 4-H goat sale, the field crop competition, the rodeo events and the grain silo outfitted with educational material to acquaint the young and young at heart with the basics of farming and livestock husbandry.

The Western Tidewater Master Gardeners will participate this year as always, with a “plant clinic” at which home gardeners can ask questions. The Historic Southside Master Naturalists will also have an informational display. These two organizations do an incredible job of promoting gardening and the enhancement of our natural world. Their exhibits will be in the Field and Gardening tent and it’s more than worth your time to pay them a visit. One of the more lightly attended — but most enjoyable — displays is the heritage competition with quilts, artwork and some of the prettiest jams, jellies and pickles you’ll find anywhere.

Then, there are the antique tractors. Each of our five grandchildren has climbed onto and been photographed upon an antique tractor. I’m partial to old Farmalls because that’s what I drove as a kid, but any brand seems to suit the grandchildren just fine, depending on what’s on display. There are always the chickens, ducks and other fowl to admire, and a petting zoo that kids young and old find it hard to resist.

And then, there’s the carnival and midway. Funnel cakes or lemonade are always overpriced — and always wonderful. The rides in the carnival are small compared to what children are exposed to at the giant amusement parks of today. You’d think there’s really no reason they’d be interested.

But maybe there is. Our youngest told her mother last week, loud enough to be sure I heard her:

“I love the fair because every year, granddaddy takes us on the Ferris wheel.” And I will this year, Ellie. I promise.

I hope a bunch of other county folks are there too. Maybe we’ll run into you somewhere along the midway.