Wednesday, October 05, 2005
My Life with Big Tex
Going to the State Fair is one of our family’s greatest traditions. Beaven and I both go back three generations in fair history – all the way back to the Centennial of 1936. When he was a kid Beaven used to live a few blocks from the fair and remembers climbing over the fence at one of the remote corners to get in free. A few years ago we bought one of those fund raising bricks and had it installed along the walk by Big Tex. We took the grandkids there to see it on Monday and I think we have the next generation hooked. While Beaven was in line for a corny dog Sarah plopped herself down directly in front of and below Big Tex and spent a good bit of time listening and watching. She is absolutely convinced he’s real.
Going to the fair with Beaven is something new to our marriage. For years he would go because his job required him to be at the fair grounds televising stuff and I went separately with the kids. It’s also just a lot more fun at the fair without the men. They tend to slow us down with side visits to see the tractors and trucks. The women I like to go with always know the reason we’re there: food. It’s the equivalent cost of a really fine restaurant and, in it’s own way, is haute cuisine. I like to follow a set route each year and move with a vengeance that only Sherman marching across Georgia could match: We’ll start at the pizza stand by the parking lot and aim for the Museum of Natural History, eating our way across the Fair. I usually don’t stop until I’m about to throw up.
I used to go visit the alligator in the Natural History museum but they got rid of him when he broke. This was my favorite part of the fair after the food. It was in a dark room and had benches to sit on with a looped tape recording of nature sounds. Of all the chirps and tweets on that recording there was one certain bird whose call was magic to me. It had a way of making me feel safe and secure. My whole day, midway included, was put into a better perspective. The call of the Chuck Will’s Widow can make me feel like I’m sitting around the campfire after a day’s hiking. I can become totally at one with Gods creative genius. It’s that single note of purity and innocence in the midst of chaos and sham. That bird’s call can return me to the calm of the womb. Since very few people ever visited the alligator I could lie down on the bench in the dark and listen to the soothing nature sounds as long as I wanted. It made for a small spot of peace and quiet in the midst of the heat and noise.
I remember one year particularly, when the girls were in middle school. Middle school is a time when they liked to think they didn’t have parents; that they were dropped here from above or that they were adopted and that I wasn’t their real mother, Oprah was. My only role was to drive them to the fair and then disappear. I was thus gloriously alone that year and could do and eat whatever I pleased. I’m not sure about the details but I think it was something like a Belgian waffle with coffee, a corny dog and coke, a Rueben sandwich with extra sauerkraut and a beer, a couple of tamales, cotton candy, nutty bars and Jack’s French fries. That killed about an hour and then I felt the need for a rest. I stopped at a park bench in the shade on the route to the alligator and lay down for a nap. What woke me was the sound of my daughter’s voice: “Oh God, that’s so pathetic. Pretend we don’t know her.”
It’s not just the kind of food or the amount you eat at the fair that’s magical; it’s also the way you eat it. Fair Food should be eaten with enthusiasm. Neatness counts against you. Neatness says you were able to take your mind off what Big Tex is saying long enough to pay attention to the little drip that fell from the corner of your mouth onto your shirt. It is my firm belief that Fair Food inoculates you from most of the common diseases the winter will bring. Once you get a good layer of root beer, mustard and catsup on your hands as a base coat; then add fluffs of cotton candy and snow cone juice plus a few animal fibers and chicken feathers then top it all off with assorted sneezes, coughs and droolings from the kid in line ahead of you, then you’ve just taken in most of the germs you will be exposed to in the coming school year; maybe even your lifetime. And you know that at some point during the day you will lick your fingers but because it’s the Fair, God gives these germs a special dispensation and they don’t make you sick. Trust me on this one. My kids were never sick.
As far as cerebral offerings, the Vita Mix machine is a standard. How often do you get to watch someone make bread, soup and ice cream in the same machine? Or try a fake tattoo. Get a really wild one like “Born to be Bad.” Wear it to church the next day. Try to time your visit to Big Tex to hear him talk. Watch for the Marine Corps band.
One last tradition: On the way out the exit, scout out a deserving looking kid who is coming in and pass along your left-over coupons. They’re only pieces of paper and you’ll never use them again. And the smile you’ll get in return will last you the rest of the week.