It was my third visit to the Franklin County Fair. I came on Senior’s Night when the admission is a mere $2.00 for older gents like me. It was crowded with North Country folks of all sizes, shapes, and ages. Teenage girls clung to the arms of their ‘guy’. Wounded vets were pushed in wheelchairs by their caregivers. Old farmers, old as the fields they just hayed or plucked corn from, walked silently around with their silent wives. This may well have been their fifty-sixth Fair…they’d seen it all. Gone were the ‘girlie’ shows. No need for the old men to finger a dollar in their overalls anymore. No need for the wives to push them past the glittering enticing lights, while they looked back over their shoulders at the three strippers on a narrow stage. No need for them to wonder about their faded beauty. Gone were the freak shows in the tents on the margins of the midway, on the margins of the bright lights–the deformed and the odd lived out their lives on the edges of a society that stared into their world for a quarter.
No, the new County Fairs were squeaky clean, except for the rigged games where a guy could lose $17.00 throwing darts at balloons that wouldn’t pop. Eventually, just to keep ’em coming back, the carny would let the guy win a Teddy bear worth $1.50. The kid would promptly hand it to his sweetie…hoping it would help him rack up the points in her young heart.
I sat and ate a Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich that would test the limits of my immune system. My friend wanted an ice cream…I wanted an ice cream too. I paid $5.00 for a chocolate caramel mix in a small plastic container. [I knew I had to stop eating anything more than a salad every two days for the next two weeks to lose the weight in time for my 50th high school reunion.] Cotton candy stands were everywhere. If you didn’t like Coke, you were out of luck. As I stood eating my ice cream, I turned around to see a tent filled with South American clothing and jewelery. A young man with bronze skin and black hair sat behind the counter playing the pan flute. He was playing Let It Be.
The giant wheels of lights put you in a daze. The mountains of cheap plastic toys (?) were everywhere.
I ducked inside the 4-H building. There was a stand of real vegetables with ribbons. Someone grew food on a farm somewhere nearby…and it won first place in a contest. How do you judge yellow string beans? What do you look for? I pondered these things. I bought a tee-shirt from the maple sugar booth that read: Big Or Small: We Tap Them All.
The loud-speaker announced the start of the parade that was to pass in front of the grandstand. I hurried to a spot by the fence to get a good look at the troop of DEC Forest Ranger Police who helped in the search for the two guys that broke out of Clinton County Correctional Facility in June. The Dairy Queen went past me riding a small John Deere. Her court followed on foot, their flip-flops kicking up dust in the dirt track. The Queen looked straight at me and waved. Boys and girls with fresh faces and neatly cut hair followed along with sheep, cows that needed milking, (the udders looked bloated to me) and goats, horses and pony or two.
We found a seat in the bleachers and settled in for the Franklin County Has Talent Show.
A little ten-year-old in a white ankle length dress sang about having a broken heart. She was standing in the spotlight’s glare. Tiny and white.
Girls danced to tunes I never heard. A guy played a mean fiddle. A teenager in a red dress that dragged the stage just above her bare feet sang beautifully. Her song, “I’ve Got Nothing” came from her heart…one can tell when a singer means the words she vocalizes. But, she is so young. What does she know of love? What mistakes has she made? Can a fourteen-year-old heart really be broken?
I began to think back on my own life. I was getting close to an answer when someone let go of a helium balloon about ten rows in front of me. Even in the evening light, I could see the white sphere drift slowly up and hit the inside of the roof. It bounced about in the breeze. I saw several more. One was blue. Another red like the girl’s dress.
I looked back at the stage and thought about the brave little hearts that stood in bad lighting on a vast stage, in front of hundreds of strangers, and sang about your pain, or your joy or your dreams. I could never muster the guts necessary when I was twelve to do what these kids were doing.
Risks. They were taking a risk. A dangerous risk. They were risking their self-esteem. I’ve had these same thoughts and wrote these same words two years ago–at the same County Fair.
I looked back up at the balloons. When, I wondered, would they lose enough helium through the micro-pores of latex and begin to weigh more than the air that held them aloft? I knew they would slowly fall like big wet snow flakes in the northern winter. They would end up in the seats, snagged on a fence or on the ground being walked on and ground into the boards. Sloppy bits of latex with a string and a bow attached.
Is this what will happen to the hearts of the girls and boys on stage, on this night in August, if they lose the competition? Slow deflation, of a gas or an emotion, from a balloon or a fragile and tiny ego, can bring down the strongest of us all.
I sent out a ‘prayer’. I hoped their dreams were made of a metal, yet unknown, that would carry their song, their heartbeats, their dreams and their hopes up, beyond the clouds and into the stratosphere.
My thoughts went back to the young man with the pan flute and the words:
Let It Be.