A state fair is a small slice of Americana and a large slice of Americans. My husband and I “did The Puyallup” yesterday, as the slogan goes, The Puyallup being the annual Western Washington State Fair. The beauty of not having to wait for a Saturday to be able to attend a popular event like this is that crowds are small and you can see all the things you’ve never noticed before, because so much is usually hidden behind swarms of people. This coin, however, has another side. When everything is visible, you realize that there are many more jacuzzi sellers and other vendors at the fair than there are hens in the poultry barn or rabbits in their hutches. And you find that most people come to the fair to eat. (Teenagers also come to hop on a carnival ride that will spin, twist, or flip them upside down and sideways or just carry them at high speeds over extreme curves and bumps.) I wanted to try the “original Puyallup Fair hamburger,” until I saw that every different hamburger vendor made this claim. Along with burgers and hot dogs there was a broad assortment of typical, artery-clogging fair foods, such as corn dogs, curly fries, funnel cakes, and elephant ears (deep-fried dough).
The livestock part of the fair consisted of the following: a few chickens, a few rabbits, hundreds of fancy pigeons, lots and lots of teenage 4H’ers — all girls — and their beloved horses, jacuzzi sales people, beautifully groomed dairy and beef cattle, hungry goats, at least two mother pigs with 10 – 13 newborns, and teams of draft horses — Clydesdales, Belgians, and Percherons. All the horses were magnificent. The teens’ animals had been brushed to a fine sheen, and coiffed in pigtail forelocks and braided manes. What seemed to be a new trend in horse decoration, and one I hoped would be short-lived, was the spraying of designs in different colors of glitter on their hind quarters. The horses’ natural beauty obviated any need for artificial enhancements, and none of us, horses included, needs to have our names outlined in sparkles on our backsides.
In addition to animals, the fair featured pavilions with display cases holding large collections of everything imaginable. Many of the collectors were children in the eight to 10-year age range. I kept imagining what these youngsters’ bedrooms must look like with their 300 Hot Wheels in their original pristine packaging, a few hundred pez dispensers, or everything ever made that had a Beauty and the Beast connection. Among the adult collections were watch fobs, plastic toys made between 1939 and 1959, and blue bottles. As someone who is often engaged in a war against clutter, it was hard for me to look at all the stuff people had collected. On the other hand, I see website links with titles such as “How to determine the value of a pez,” or “How to price your Barbie doll collection,” and wonder if these collectors aren’t wiser than I think.
My favorite display was the quilt competition. The quilt designs were imaginative, the color choices daring, and the workmanship superb, whether the quilter was a beginner or a pro. It was especially fun to see a quilt made by our friend Mary Jane, who earned an “honorable mention” for her first effort. When I see craft projects this beautiful, my first thought is, I should make something like this. Of course I imagine mine will be a flawless, finished product with a beautiful design and perfect hand stitching, even though I earned a “C” in 7th grade Home Ec and have never sewn anything that turned out right in my life. It will be different this time, though. I know it will.