Fairs provide demolition derbies; pig races; games of chance and “skill”; quality goods (studded brassieres, specialty doormats, Daniel Boone hats, gun-themed accessories); foods that combust internally upon the clicking of the seatbelt on high g-force rides; plus the Germs of Many Counties, steeling you for flu season. Bounty!
Foliage season (the tail that swings the bull of Vermont commerce), means time to reflect. With July’s hot rains there were reflecting pools (skeeter habitats) aplenty. Between that and August’s cool drought, who knows what colors our foliage will turn? It’s looking knockout.
Color me optimistic, but I feel a shift. Much terrible news notwithstanding, the People of the Land seem…hopeful! Energetic! We’re making music—beating drums, blowing horns, plucking strings with vigor—as squirrels scamper and crows caw. Hurricane-induced bridge repairs are complete. Fragrant apples fall with a thud while bears bang on the porch door. “Open up. I know you have product in there.”
The Tunbridge World’s Fair was better than ever. Kindly Ambassadors directed confused fairgoers and the Golf Cart Squad ferried the weary. The Year of the Swine theme provided natural hilarity; there’s just something funny about a pig, a nutty beast that keeps getting…larger. The revamped barns, nicely appointed with flora (kudos, Decorating Committee!), housed all manner of superb creatures basking in their creaturehood. Chickens with far-out hairdos, calves with soulful eyes, strutting peacocks, soft bunnies, a sow with 12 piglets (oof), and oxen with team names (Ben and Jerry) endured petting (and finger pokes) like pros. I asked my mother why she always walks outside of the cattle barn peering into windows, is she afraid of getting kicked inside? “I don’t want to be around if someone drops one,” she answered. A decades-old mystery solved.
Other quotes amused. Here now three: (1) My aunt has two sets of false teeth: her Smiling Teeth and her Eating Teeth. One year she lost the latter just as she was about to tuck into her fair fare (fried dough?). My father observed in the retelling, “The timing could not have been less fortunate.” (2) Upon leaving the heaving fairgrounds, I speculated how nearby houses cannot be a good place to live during the fair; you couldn’t stand the traffic so you’d sit at home for four days. Someone added after a moment, “The General Store is probably out of beer.” (3) During the Livestock Cavalcade, a senior woman resembling Katharine Hepburn whistled so loudly with her fingers that I said, “You’re good whistler!” She replied somewhat cryptically, “I stopped the California Zephyr with that.”
The Applause-O-Meter fairly exploded at the Costume Class, wherein 4H children dress up themselves and their farm animals, this year’s winner being Tunbridge Fall Formal—two girls in gowns and wrist corsages, their yoked oxen in tuxedos and top hats. The fans went wild. Except for the Harringtons of Pomfret, who had settled deeply into seating inside the Larkin Dancers’ tent and could not be reached for comment.
If you love contra dancing, Randolph’s New World Festival on Labor Day Sunday (brainchild of madman Kevin Dunwoody) is where you want to be, despite this year’s wafting BO due to unusually high temps. Although Duck for the Oyster baffled the boisterous Boyce family, who simply do not give contra dance instruction the attention it deserves, dance callers catered nicely to novices while allowing seasoned pros to peacock it with beskirted flourishes. The music enthralled, the marionettes entranced, and the hardworkin’ McMeekins held up…even if their hair didn’t in 100% humidity. The fans again went wild, as they did at the Tweed River and Bethel Forward festivals and the Festival of Fools. Things are looking UP.
Your monthly Useful Information is this: the 4 H’s in 4H Club are: head, heart, hands, and health. Your Good News is a quote from a dear friend my age: “I have a layer of cellulite over my entire body. But underneath that is a layer of muscle.”
Thank you, festival organizers, for hours of unbridled joy just when summer’s departure tries so hard to make us melancholy. We switch out swim trunks for Carhartts, kiss macaroni salad goodbye, and say Hello! to apple pie. Setting a slice aside for the bears. Like the Whos down in Whoville, we are happy. We are hopeful. We cannot be subdued. We are the Upper Valley of the Connecticut River. Good day.
When I’m not huffing Vicks VapoRub®, canoodling, or making embarrassing typos like “right up your ally,” I’m culling the herd of Deep Thoughts in my noggin to fill again this humble space for your amusement. This week’s deepest thoughts were memories of when, years ago, a friend and I were seeking a place to live and kept driving across the border between Vermont and New Hampshire looking at towns that came recommended. Every time we crossed into Vermont, we breathed easier. “It’s just better,” she said. Which I propose now, 15 years later, as our new state motto. No disrespect to the Granite State.
One reason Vermont rocks is its annual Tunbridge World’s Fair, or as one fan put it, “Sugar, lights, grease, noisy crowds…wow, an American dream.” We go for the music, the animals, native Vermonters, rides, maple cotton candy, games of “skill”, and that blend of meats you can’t get at home—and wouldn’t want to but somehow crave once a year. It’s a draw, not a drawback.
Happily, this year’s Dairy Costume Class was the best ever. That’s where kids dress up their young cows and selves in sartorial representations of, say, Surgeon and Nurse. The three winners were Cop and Criminal, Burger and Fries, and Milk and Cookies, all brilliantly realized.
When the real-life cop manning the Applause-O-Meter pointed to the girl of Cop and Criminal, I yelled, “Lady cop!” and the guy next to me cried, “Conflict of Interest!” It’s that kind of gig and is my favorite, along with the Livestock Cavalcade (Supreme Dairy Cow, crazy goats, crazier humans in goat carts), which is second only in audience participation to the Coin Drop Cavalcade motorists enjoy on the way in.
I also like to vote on the Art and view the dioramas comprising the Children’s Decorated Vegetables. This year’s eyecatchers were the quilts, and a child’s ridged, skinny squash painted like a blue whale. Remarkable! Outside, my dad ran into an acquaintance in the know. This man said there used to be a Dance Hall where the maple hut now is, and the point was “to go in with your wife, and leave with somebody else’s,” (hey, it was the 60s) and that one year there was “mud wrestling.” Here’s the convo:
Upper Valley Girl: Mud wrestling?! In the Beer Hall?
Knowledgeable Man: No, in the field behind the barns.
UVG: Oh, some kind of impromptu free-for-all after a rainstorm?
KM: Let’s just say this was not a fair-sanctioned event.
UVG: It was ad hoc?
KM: It was more than that.
Sorry I missed it! Thank you, Knowledgeable Man. We didn’t get into the Girlie Tent years. Way my mom tells it, my great-grandfather was kicked out of the house in Barnard for having come home with lipstick on his collar from that particular “attraction.” As my Dad tells it, it was something to do with a Girlie woman named “Sally.” What I wouldn’t give to have seen any of it, them in a lather in their old-tymey garb and pre-deodorant BO.
This, the 139th year, was the Year of the Chicken and Rabbit. I personally didn’t see much of either except in the overpriced box of greasy popcorn chicken I hauled around for 2 hours before chucking. You can only eat so many of those babies—unless you’re one of the Harringtons of Pomfret, in which case you can eat a whole bucket while watching the Larkin Contra Dancersfor hours on end.
Ah, the TWF. Well, another reason Vermont is so cool is the community vibe. I’ve been lonely in big cities but, upon achieving the Green Mountain State, never so. The laffs are early and often even at choir rehearsal, where everyone reverts to high school chorus behavior and a mosquito laden with EEE, West Nile Virus, and malaria can put the fear of God where it belongs—into the tenors.
So if you’re looking to relocate and you want nutty events and community—and hairy people in pilly sweaters with animal fur on them who don’t dye their hair or shave properly (Green Mountain casual) —it could be for you. It’s also a good place to get zuked. That’s when you leave your car unlocked and someone puts a giant, unwanted zucchini in your back seat. Lock your doors. Good day.