It's the most wonderful time of the year

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Summer's over. School's begun. And, despite last week's oppressive heat, fall is on its way.

That can only mean one thing -- Clay County Fair time is nearly here!

Beginning on Labor Day weekend, the collective pulse of the Clay County community rises. Schedules shift, making time for display set-up, project completion, baking, sewing, flower arranging. Everyone, it seems, has something special to do to get ready for the biggest show around.

For me, that means spending time putting dinners together and tucking them away in the freezer for those extra guests who arrive for the fair. I clean house, fluff pillows, iron plenty of fair outfits and prepare for a week of volunteer work in the 4-H exhibit building, fair museum, photography center and 4-H sheep shows.

Oh yes, I also prepare for a busy week behind the camera, trying to capture all the winners of 4-H livestock competitions -- my publisher "beat" for fair week.

The hectic times have eased a bit from the days when son Drew was in 4-H. Back then, we were still working to ensure his 4-H lambs were broke to lead and sheared, fed and exercised to tip-top shape. While it makes for an easier week, now that he's in college, it's a bittersweet reprieve. As a family, we enjoyed those times together so much. Watching friends, and my niece and nephews show, makes up a bit for those days as a 4-H parent.

Then there is the joy of watching my father in his element with his string of purebred cattle. I've tried, to no avail, to bribe the ladies in the entry office into allowing him to enter a maximum of eight head -- rounding up the decades he's been around.

He always brings more cattle than he should, works harder than he should, and gets up on fair mornings faaarrrr too early than he should.

But he wouldn't have it any other way.

After all, of all the shows he goes to around the country, the Clay County Fair is his favorite. Surrounded by his children and their children and their children, he is in his element. He's far more concerned about the ribbons they win than those he wins (although he likes to win).

That family element is what makes the Clay County Fair so special to so many of us. Whether its your biological family or your "fair family," the feeling of connection is what is so special about this fair. We feel we belong to a very special club -- those who get to experience this utterly American, completely Midwest fall experience.

We feel a bit sorry for all of those who will live their life without a Spudnut, or an evening under the stars at the grandstand, or sitting on a show box in the livestock barns. It's our secret and, while we're happy to show off for the visitors who've learned what a special thing we have, there's satisfaction in saying "The Clay County fair is MY county fair!"

It's getting bigger, and as it nears its 100th birthday, it's getting better. But, thanks to the dedication of staff and a committed fair board, it's been able to retain its magic.

Be prepared to be exhausted. Be prepared to eat too much. Be prepared to laugh, and to smile, and to be amazed.

It's fair time!

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