By the time you read this another Highland County Fair will have nearly come and gone, if it’s not already over. When I think of the fair years of images come to mind.
For many of the county’s youth it means the culmination of months of long hours spent with their livestock and other projects. But for those of us who did not have the advantage of those meaningful experiences it means other things.
For the past 30-plus years most of my fair experiences have centered around covering it as a newspaper reporter. It has provided more than its share of memorable moments, but on the other hand it means a long week, extra hours at the office, and really isn’t something I look forward to. Except for the fish sandwiches at the Leesburg American Legion booth.
Lots of time working at the fair made taking my kids there when they young less enjoyable than it could have been. Yes, it was really fun to watch them smile from ear to ear as they rode rides or munched on cotton candy. But each year when my wife would ask me what nights I wanted to take the kids to fair, my first thought was usually something like, “you mean I have to go the fair again?”
Of course, that was not always the case. In my younger years the fair meant much different things.
When I was really young I enjoyed the fair for the rides. My favorite, especially since I fancied myself as somewhat of a cowboy or Indian in those days, was the one where you got to sit atop a saddled pony as it walked around in circles. It seems rather cruel now for those poor little creatures, but back then I felt like I was The Lone Ranger or Tonto.
As I got older my attention drifted toward the games of chance. I liked the basketball ones because back then I envisioned myself as a future NBA player. But the one that lured me the most was the one where you could win those necklace pendants of various shapes that a carney would engrave your choice of words on.
According to my parents, I was not supposed to play games of chance, but that’s where most of whatever money I had was spent at the fair for a couple years.
Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that’s where most young teenagers’ money went back in the day.
As I got a little older fraternizing, especially with the opposite sex, became the fair’s primary allure.
It was during those years that I experienced what has to be my most hilarious moment at the fair. It reminds me of a scene from the movie “Stand By Me” when a really fat kid drinks a bunch of castor oil before a pie-eating contest.
On this particular night some buddies and I decided to go the fair together. While we were taking in the sights a couple other buddies met up with us. It didn’t take long to figure out that one of them had been up to a little mischief, seeing that he was a little wobbly on his feet.
This fella was on the wild and crazy side even when he wasn’t being mischievous, and more than a little mouthy when he was in the mood.
Anyway, we were waiting in line for a ride – the one with enclosed buckets that go around sort of like a Ferris wheel, only the buckets can spin in circles by themselves – when the wild buddy noticed that the carny was spinning some of the buckets a bit before they started up into the air. We warned the wild guy that this particular ride might not be the best one for him on this particular night, but that only added fuel to his fire.
Next thing we knew the wild guy was bragging obnoxiously about how no one could make him sick, no matter how many times the carny spun that bucket, making sure the carney heard him loud and clear.
When the wild guy’s turn to climb into the bucket rolled around, the carny had this look in his eyes that said: “Oh yeah, buddy, well just climb on in here.”
After the carny locked the door on that bucket, and before it moved an inch, he started spinning it. And he spun it some more, and some more, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating much when I say he must have spun it 100 times, then sent it spinning into the air.
By then my other buddies and I were laughing so hard we were falling over each other. Because we knew that no matter what condition the wild guy was in, all that spinning had to have his stomach turning green.
Then it happened. As the ride was making its circles, a putrid fluid came sloshing out of the bucket the wild guy was in. The fluid landed on the caging of another bucket, and more fluid came spewing out of that bucket, and if you’ve ever seen “Stand By Me” you know what I mean.
By then the rest of us, fortunate enough to be on the ground because we had missed that turn on the ride, were laughing so hard, well, that I’ve never forgotten it. And when wild and mouthy guy crawled out of that bucket looking like he’d been pulled out of a clothes dryer with his clothes still wet, it was so funny that I’m laughing outloud as I type this.
There’s nothing quite as funny for a bunch of teenage boys as seeing their mouthy buddy left completely speechless, and in dire need of a change of clothes.
I haven’t seen the wild guy for several years now. I wonder if he remembers that long ago night at the fair as fondly as I do.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.