I love a good fair. I owe this love to my Dad and Grandfather. Thanks to them, the fair is in my blood.
Grandpa Frank Chaffee was the Concessions Manager at the Wattsburg Erie County Fair for over 50 years. You read that right–over 50 years. My dad, Phil Chaffee, grew up working at the fair each summer in various capacities; he was an office boy at 12, sold gate tickets and worked as an overnight guard in his teens, and worked the Bingo stand for two years during college. When I was very young, I remember our summer vacations often coincided with fair week, so that no matter how far away we lived, we managed to get to the fair.
In 1979 my dad retired from the US Air Force and we moved to Corry. Suddenly I was able to attend two fairs each year–Wattsburg and Spartansburg. Each fair had it’s own charm, something unique which drew me in. The midway full of rides and games, barns filled with livestock, tractor pulls, live entertainment, and best of all, the food. Who doesn’t love a funnel cake?
When I married and moved to Connecticut, my husband, Bruce, introduced me to the mother of all fairs: The Eastern States Exhibition, or, The Big E. This fair is held in West Springfield, Massachusetts, and is the “State Fair” for all six of the New England states. It covers 175 acres and runs for 17 days. It has it’s own circus, a daily parade, a permanent 19th century New England village, permanent replicas of the six state houses, and over 1,000 vendors. This is a fair on steroids. In many ways, it was almost too much for me to take in, especially in one day. Although it was a fun experience, I prefer the smaller, friendlier, much more personal hometown fairs.
When Bruce and I lived on Long Island, we tried to coordinate our summer vacations to be able to visit my family in northwestern Pennsylvania along with at least one of the area fairs. We managed to make it to many Sparta Fair parades while our children were still in preschool, and moved vacation week to the Wattsburg Fair when the girls became of school age. Then… we moved from Long Island to Spartansburg.
What a pleasure it is to live less than a mile from the fairgrounds! Our family looks forward to fair week every year. We all spend weeks upon weeks preparing artwork, taking photos, growing flowers and vegetables, sewing, creating jewelry, all to be entered into the variety of contests. My three girls have taken part in the Princess and Queen pageants. I volunteer in the floral exhibits; Bruce volunteers with the parade traffic. Best of all, we host an annual parade picnic on our front lawn for family and friends. In our five years of hosting this picnic, we’ve had as few as 20 guests (when it rains) and as many as 45 (when the sun is shining). Of course we buy week-long gate passes for the whole family–what is better than spending time as a family every day at the fair?
As I write this article, my body is recovering from Spartansburg Community Fair week. As far as diet, sleep, and daily schedule are concerned, during fair week all bets are off. What’s for dinner? Italian sausage, burgers, fries, lemonade, pie, and taffy! What do we do all week? Ride the rides, play the games, pet the livestock, watch the competitions, listen to live music. Best of all, we visit with friends, some of whom we haven’t seen since last year’s fair.
In a world in which technology moves at the speed of light, I revel in the simplicity and joy found within the country fairs. I’m thankful for those whose dedication and hard work results in the annual event. The rides and games may change over time, but the spirit of fun remains the same. My kids love the fair just as much as I do, my Dad does, and my Grandpa did. The fair is a place where good memories are made.
In my living room hangs a painting done in the 1960s by my Aunt Helen Chaffee Biehle, titled, “Wattsburg Fair at Night.” Across the room from the painting hangs a photograph taken in 2010 by my daughter, Caitlin, titled, “Spartansburg Fair at Night.” It seems to me that the fair might just be in her blood.
<Today’s blog is also published in the September 15, 2012 issue of the Corry Journal.>