When I was a little girl back in the 1950s this was a very exciting time of year. It was fair time! The fairgrounds have been located at 175 South Main Street in Rutland since 1856. The Vermont State Fair acquired its name in 1972. But my guess is that most people have always referred to it simply as “the fair!”
When I was too young to go by myself both my parents took me. But I recall that there was a lot more enthusiasm from my father than my mother. It just wasn’t her thing!
Neither parent had to be concerned about going on rides with me. Anything that twirled me around meant instant sickness. The pace of the merry-go-round was about all I could handle. When I was a teenager I decided to try the Tilt-A-Whirl, thinking I may have outgrown the nausea from twirling. That didn’t happen! My friends said I turned green. In order to pull myself together we sat for awhile in the Bingo tent with all the gray-hair folks.
My parents could have bought me several stuffed animals with all the money spent trying to win me one. But you know how persistent kids can be! Ring toss was the game that my father succeeded at, and deciding on my prize was a tough decision. I remember carrying a large teddy bear with pride as we walked around the fairgrounds.
There were some big names that drew crowds to the fair in my youth. President Dwight David Eisenhower paid a visit when I was 9 years old. I couldn’t believe that the president was coming to Rutland! I couldn’t wait to see him, but a case of chicken pox spoiled that plan! My father went and told me all about it.
Even my mother got enthused around 1970 when some members of the Lawrence Welk band were on stage. We got advance tickets and were right up front. At the time that type of music meant nothing to me but after years of walking the fairgrounds with me she had earned a visit for something she enjoyed.
“Back in the day” school didn’t begin until the fair was over. That meant we could spend as many afternoons there as our parents allowed. There was one children’s day with free admission. On the other days, some of my friends entered by climbing over an unattended fence but Catholic guilt never made that a possibility for me.
Most of us had upset stomachs from the strange mix of foods that entered our tummies: cotton candy, Roxie’s French fries, snow cones, and usually a burger or hot dog. But it was fair week, so tummy aches were part of the deal.
By the time we were in high school my friends and I were on our own when we went to the fair. It seemed like a different world down there at night. The heat of the day was replaced by sweatshirt weather. As we walked by the dancing girls, beckoning people in to see their show, we noticed that their scanty clothing was not a fit for the chilly weather. They also left very little to the imagination! The teenage boys hung around the stage until the dancers went inside the tent.
However, it wasn’t all about the midway for my gang of friends. We also spent time at the agricultural buildings. We loved to see the ducks, bunnies and chickens. My love of flowers probably started when I saw the beautiful floral exhibits with the first, second and third prize ribbons. I thought it would be fun to have an entry some day. Maybe I should put that on my To Do list!
In the agricultural area there was always some dairy related food and we rarely left without a maple milkshake. We just didn’t know enough to stop!
I had a new interest at the fair by the 1980s. It was horse racing! Friends who went to the fair with us introduced my husband and me to that form of entertainment. They studied the horses as they went round the track and learned what they could about them. I went strictly by names and looks. Once I learned the difference between “win,” “place” or “show” I put my money down. My horse won the first race and I took my money and ran! Guess gambling isn’t in my genes.
If I asked other people what drew them to the fair in their youth, their answers will probably be nothing like mine. There have been so many events over the years that the ones I have mentioned are but a few. The fact that there is something for everyone is what makes fair time a great way to say an unofficial good-bye to summer.