Beginnings and endings at the State Fair

Oct. 17, 2013 @ 11:30 AM

Those “end of season” markers are popping up, reminding us that things are changing.
The change from daylight to regular time comes Nov. 3, just a couple of Sundays from now. We will be setting back the clocks, changing the batteries in the smoke detectors, and dealing with darkness closing in before five o’clock in the afternoon.
The leaves are about to blaze their beautiful trail down to the ground -- leaving us a clear view of Orion’s bright belt high in the western morning sky. It is getting chilly at night. Summer is over. Autumn is here. Winter is coming.
And it is State Fair time.
I am still holding on to some of its images from my last visit to the fair.
The crowds of people on the midway are gently pushing each other along, stopping to buy Polish sausage, or barbecue, or ham biscuits, or homemade pie, or this year’s new offerings like sloppy Joe doughnut burgers and a host of deep-fried items like Sugar Daddies, red velvet Oreos, Cow Tales, and pink lemonade funnel cakes.
Standing in line to see the shows or ride the rides, I watch the thousands of visitors, wondering how each one could be so different. Their expressions are symphonies of different moods and feelings. Anxious, laughing, anger, worry, delight, caution, determination, disgust, adoration are all moving together along the crowded midway.
Then there are the exhibits assembling all the splendor of the land: crops, animals and people celebrating man’s successful effort to coax a living from the earth. I see hundreds of different kinds of fowl. Milk cattle, brushed soft and smooth like pets. Goats, parading by the judges as if they were Miss America contestants. Sheep that look and act like people. Prime beef cattle, unaware that their next stop may be a way station on the way to the butcher’s shop.
According to “The North Carolina State Fair: The First 150 Years” by Melton A. McLaurin, when the fair began, almost everybody lived on a farm. Now only a few of us are full-time farmers.
The farming life that connected people to a piece of land, to animals, to each other, and to settled communities. That life, for most of us, is gone. The fair reminds us how the land once connected people to a piece of land and to each other. Meanwhile, out on the midway, as I am pushing, nudging, walking past thousands of people I have never seen before, the fair reminds me how unbound to the land and unconnected to each other we now are.
How, I wonder, as the fair comes and goes, the season changes, and the clocks move back, how can we keep some of the old ways or find some way to hold ourselves together?
Note: Copies of “The North Carolina State Fair: The First 150 Years” are available for $15 plus shipping and tax at http://nc-historical-publications.stores.yahoo.net/nocastfafi151.html.
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch.