Monday, July 25, 2011

County Fair

It was hot and humid. A large part of me wanted to continue hiding in our air conditioned house, but Toby's pleas to "go bye-bye!" finally prodded me to action. He didn't care where we went at all; he just needed action, and though the girls were less vocal, I knew they needed a dose of fresh air and excitement too.  So last evening, as the temperature was holding steady in the low 80s and the humidity was climbing, I gathered up the supplies, the stroller, a reluctant husband, and four children giddy with excitement, and off we drove to the county fair.

"Are you guys excited to see some animals?" I asked, turning around in my seat so I could see their glowing faces. "Toby, do you want to see some cows, and horses, and pigs?"

"Yeah!" Toby squealed, "and dinosaurs!" This sent all three girls into giggles, which greatly pleased Toby.

The parking attendants corralled us to the far south end of the grassy field. We were a little annoyed as we loaded up the double stroller and headed to a gate we hadn't used before, but we were rewarded when we walked in and found a young girls' 4H riding competition underway. Some of the girls weren't much older than Naomi, and she was spellbound watching them guide their horses around the arena. We stood at the fence, with the horses trotting by a few feet away. We talked about how the girls used the reins to control their horse, and Hannah had to remark that the white horse wearing the hot-pink socks and hot-pink bridle was "so pretty."

Next up was the dairy barn, where a teenage girl let us pet her small, brown cow with huge, wondering eyes. Toby was very brave until the cow lifted her gentle head to stare him in the face. "It's not gonna bite Toby," he whispered, reassuring himself. The swine barn was full of enormous, squealing pigs with wet, snarffling snouts. The goat barn held curious goats that stood on the rails of their pens and leaned their heads over to nibble our clothing. "Look, Naomi," I joked, motioning to the goats lined up at the fences to see us, "the goats think the fair is for people watching."

Matt's brother, Philip, joined up with us, and Emma glowed as she held Uncle Phil's hand and walked bravely through the barns. "Are you Uncle Phil's girl, Emma?" I asked. She smiled and answered shyly, "Yeah."

We wondered at the funny looks of the llamas in the yellow tent. Hannah laughed, "They look like they belong in Narnia."

Matt agreed, "If they had a human head they'd look just like a centaur."

We admired the long, floppy ears and the soft fur in the bunny barn. We laughed at the strange feathers and jerky walk of the roosters as they crowed. We saw turkeys, and ducks, and geese. We petted lambs and peered into an incubator of baby chicks. There was a litter of day-old piglets all snuffling and snarfing to find their place at their mother's belly. There was four-week old colt of a miniature horse. And then there were the rows and rows of antique tractors. Toby got the chance to drive one before we saw the sign that read, "Please stay off the tractors!"

After a round of hand-sanitizer, water bottles, and gluten-free snacks from the diaper bag, we headed to the carnival. The rides were far too expensive to ride, but the kids enjoyed just watching the excitement. The music blared, the lights flashed in the dusky sky, and the people around us screamed with thrill. We stood quietly, just mesmerized with the sights and sounds. We wandered among the rows of carnival games, listening to the men call our their winners, and admiring the larger-than-life prizes they offered. "Look at that banana!" Naomi said. I brought her back to reality by asking her, "But what would you do with a banana that's bigger than you?"

The sky was dark as we made our way back towards the gate, three hours later, but there was one more stop I wanted to make. The draft horse barn was filled with the most heart-stopping giants that the fair offered. Enormous Belgian horses, weighing over 2000 lbs, towered over us and leaned their awe-inspiring heads down to inspect us as we passed by. "Look at their hooves!" I urged Hannah, pointing to the hard, glossy feet the size of Toby's chest.

Hannah agreed, "Those could sure squish a Toby!"

Naomi's pace slowed and she began to complain as we trudged back to the entrance, but the sight of the horse competition ring all lit up under the dark sky quickened her pace to a gallop. We stood by the fence one more time, admiring the girls and their horses, and then it was time to leave.

"Did you like the fair?" I asked Hannah as we passed the quiet trailers and made our way through the rows of cars.

"I still like it!" Hannah insisted, with her usual desire not to let the fun die, "I like the lightning bugs and the street lights and our shadows on the ground."

The girls were drifting to sleep as we drove the quiet county roads on our way home, but Toby's eyes still glowed with excitement. "We saw all those horses!" he reminded me when I turned to smile at him.

"Yes," I agreed, "and cows, and goats, and bunnies, and sheep...Which animal do you like best?"

Toby didn't hesitate one second. "Tigers!" he yelled.

Maybe a trip to the zoo needs to find its way to our August calendar, but the Fair must have been a close second.

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