Column: Fair Magic

If not for the SEMO District Fair, I would never have been born.

It was there that mutual friends introduced my father (home on leave from the Navy) to my mother. At evening's end, Dad asked her out, and they returned to the fair two nights later. While I'm a bit fuzzy on the details of their first date, I do know that the evening culminated in my parents eloping!

No doubt their admittedly-unusual courtship was in part responsible for my love of the fair. But when I was growing up, even children whose parents did not meet at -- much less elope from -- the fair considered it a wonderful, perhaps even magical, place.

For one week, the carnival-brightened sky above Arena Park, visible from all over town, beckoned. For a nominal fee, we were admitted to the park, leaving behind our everyday lives of school and homework and chores to enter a world that was brighter, louder and far more exciting.

The flashing bright lights of the vendors and rides dazzled us. Everywhere we looked, something was happening. A teenage boy trying to impress his friends -- or, if he was lucky, his girlfriend -- by knocking down bowling pins and winning a stuffed animal. Small children riding ponies, waving at their parents with one hand, the other clutching the saddles' horns. People throwing small red rubber balls into wooden bins with Bingo-card-like bottoms, hoping to yell, "I got it!"

The smell of sawdust and sweat and fair food filled the muggy September air. We gorged ourselves on corn dogs and candy apples, cotton candy and funnel cakes, and saltwater taffy.

Stomachs full, we strolled through the Arena Building, signing up for drawings and marveling at pies and quilts and other contest entries. We moved on to the large, open livestock barns, where huge steers, smelly but somehow cute pigs, and raucous chickens fascinated us.

And, of course, we visited the Conservation Building to check out the fish and wild animals and to hear Smokey the Bear remind us that only we could prevent forest fires.

But it was the rides that most enthralled us. We piled into metal cars and were propelled at high speeds and to great heights before being deposited back onto solid ground. Tamer rides allowed our stomachs to settle and our heart rates to return to normal. We rode them all again and again, rushing from ride to ride, trying to cram in as many trips as possible before it was time to go home.

The fair was a bright, shining extravaganza -- one last hurrah to get us through the gloom and cold of autumn and spring, until warm days and summer vacation came once more.

Of course, the 2020 SEMO District Fair has been cancelled, but next Thursday night, I'm going to pay it tribute. I'll be watching Elvis Presley sing his way through "It Happened at the Worlds' Fair" while eating a Sonic corn dog, followed by Malone's Saltwater Taffy.

It's the closest I can come this year to the magic that has touched my life since . . . well, even before I was born.

Patti Miinch, a long-time resident of Cape Girardeau currently living in Jefferson City, Missouri, is an author, mother (and mother-in-law) of two, soon-to-be grandmother of two and retired educator; while she has many loves, spending time with her family, sports, travel and reading top the list.