As a livestock farm family, (i.e., no summer getaways for us), the county fair was summer vacation. It had fun food, great friends, water fights and a total suspension of a strict bedtime. My fair friends attended different schools. So, in a world of no social media, we only saw each other each year for the four-day county fair.
Our space in the beef barn hosted hours-long tournaments of Uno and Euchre. Our moms kept the coolers full of pop, lemonade and snacks. Even so, we paused cards often to peruse the midway, returning with yet another shaved ice.
The memories I have of that place and those people are cornerstones of the life I live today.
This marks 20 years for me as a member of our fair association, the volunteer group tasked with drawing a TikTok-obsessed culture out to an "old-fashioned" county fair. I still consider the fair a vacation, albeit a working one. My fair friends are the vendors and volunteers who arrive mid-week to build the best memory-making event. Volunteers often honor family legacy serving as director on the fair board or superintendent of a project area. The greatest compliment to their work is not a pat on the back but the size of the crowd that wanders through the gates.
A visit to the fair is truly the best family outing or first date. What could be better than strolling the midway together underneath the pink sky of a summer sunset or sipping from the same oversized lemonade shake-up while cheering on the rodeo? Unique. Nostalgic. Perfect.
Although the carnival lights may beckon, you can steer the kids toward free activities like watermelon-eating or pig-calling contests. Share an elephant ear while watching farm animals strut their stuff in the show ring.
County fairs are the oldest form of community celebrations and a "back-yard" vacation that fits all ages. Bring the family!
Katie Pratt writes, farms and looks forward to county fair week all year from north-central Illinois. Find her blog at https://theillinoisfarmgirl.com/….
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