When we say, “We’ll always have the State Fair in our hearts,” we don’t mean the cholesterol from a 1997 visit.
I mean, that’s true, but it’s not the point. The fair is something we imagine and remember, romanticize and rhapsodize about. A story we tell ourselves in the coldest times:
“Sure, it’s frigid out there now, the face of the world smothered by the dead hand of winter, but someday it will be green again, the air will be warm and we’ll all meet at the fair to eat things and try not to step in cow manure. It’ll be marvelous. And after that it’ll be winter again. But, ahh, that day, that glorious day.”
That glorious day might be a rainy one, although that’s OK; rainy fair days are for the hard-core, the devotees, the people who always carry a plastic poncho because they remember that time it suddenly just poured, back in ’87.
That glorious day might be miserably hot, the sun like the open door of a blast furnace, the air so thick you could scoop it with your hands and have greaseball fights.
That glorious day might go awry — a lost child, an ill-advised extra beer that leaves you desperate for a nap, a trip with school friends that goes wrong when your crush rides with someone else in the Old Mill, and you hate-eat a whole bag of something and lose it on a spinning ride.
But the fair is like life itself. Well, not exactly: When you leave life early, you don’t get your hand stamped in case you want to come back.
But it contains life, all manner, varieties and manifestations, from the prize corn to the fat pigs to the bright flowers to the innumerably distinct people. It’s as modern as yesterday and old as the idea of Minnesota.
It might be the one thing we all share, if only that some are united in love and others united in indifference. But come this time of year, the entire state knows the show is on. The gates are open. The rides are plowing the sky. Someone who hasn’t gone in 40 years still remembers a trip with their family. An old woman remembers a smooch on the trolley home. A middle-aged farmer recalls a 4-H trip with ribald jokes after lights-out in the barracks.
I could write this any year, and probably have. “Hey,” the editors say, “bang out a few yards of nostalgia and bittersweetness, wouldja? The timeless fair, the passage of time, that sorta thing. Just don’t say the rides are plowing the sky ’cause you use that line every year.”
This time it’s different, though. This year is different. This year the fair is just one day, and it was yesterday. I know! So short. So sweet. Not everything was up — just the Tilt-o-Whirl, only six cows, the Miracle of Birth was renamed the Anxiety of Induced Labor. The 4-H building did just three of the H’s. But it was still the fair, and it was, well, glorious.
What do you mean, you didn’t know? They sent out an e-mail about it. There was a whole Zoom meeting about this. Sorry you missed it, but take heart: A) I am kidding, and B) we’ll meet again next year. That’s our hope for the fair of 2021.
Everything will have changed, so we can go back to the place where nothing has. Except the price of fudge in the grandstand. I swear, it creeps up a quarter every year.