October 13, 2011 by Alison Grisham
By Alison Grisham
When I read Charlottes’s Web, I thought the County Fair sounded like the most magical place on Earth. With E.B. White’s palpable description, I could almost smell the carnival foods and hear the marching band, complete with tuba and cymbals. I imagined Fern walking past giant prized pumpkins and riding and an old-fashioned Ferris wheel, where she could swing her feet and see for miles.
When I moved to Arkansas, I was sorely disappointed to experience my first County Fair. It was in a different part of the state, so maybe all fairs aren’t like the one I attended. But I don’t think I’d use the word “magical,” as much as say… dangerous. Or if I were being charitable, maybe I’d just use “frightening” to describe it. My delusions of folksy women in blue gingham dresses were quickly replaced by images of errant, teenagers in trampy midriff tops. My expectations of 4H members, dragging giant cucumbers in red wagons were shattered by tattooed punks smoking cigarettes. I learned not to make eye contact with carnies and to clutch my purse a little tighter on the midway.
But the most disheartening of all my broken dreams was the sight of buzzing flies hovering over muddy beleaguered animal contestants, just waiting to be judged. There wasn’t a single swine who’d been bathed in buttermilk, nor champion hog referred to as “some pig.”
So over the years, I’d come to believe that the imagery from White’s famous book would never be realized in my world. I was wrong. This weekend something happened to restore my faith in small town America. This weekend I got to be part of something quaint and sweet and real; and much to my surprise, I don’t remember the last time I had quite so much fun.
On Saturday, I joined in the excitement of “Westfest,” West Fork’s version of a small “county fair,” and I’m so glad I did. My main intention was to enter the pie contest. But I also hoped my kids might have a little bit of fun. Anything I can do to pry them away from video games is a worthwhile endeavor.
My boys dove for candy along the parade route as I watched the floats pass by. A talented, ethereal artist named Dragonfly painted a glittery monarch butterfly on my face. We ate fresh spun cotton candy, listened to live music and guessed the number of plastic caps held in a large glass jar. I bought a hand-knit hat, a delicious jar of preserves and a few shabby chic treasures from the incredible gals at Four Funky Friends. They were so sweet and talented that I’m still holding out hope that I can become a “funky friend,” too.
By noon, when I thought I really couldn’t enjoy myself any more than I already had, the contest winners were announced. And guess what? I won the pie contest. I actually won. My kids and I were hugging each other like we’d won a million dollars and, to be honest, I’m not sure I could’ve felt any better if we had. The prize was $100 from the mayor and the validation of having made something that other people actually liked. All that enthusiasm, warmth and… well… wholesomeness was there at that small town event. And I got to be part of it. In the end, it was just how E.B. White had described it… magical.