CHRISTY AND TIFFANY,
(AUGUST 11, 2010) My father's birthday was August 24. As I was growing up, we celebrated his birthday by going to the West Virginia State Fair in Lewisburg (actually in Fairlea).
Going to the State Fair always gave me mixed feelings as a child. I enjoyed the rides and the food and the animal exhibits, but with it coming at the end of August, it also meant the end of summer and that school would soon be starting.
As for the rides and the food and the animal exhibits - loved them all. The State Fair was a magical place with the smell of food in the air, the sounds coming from the rides and the sideshow hawkers, and the sight of many, many people smiling because this was a happy place.
This was where I rode my first double Ferris wheel. From the top of the ride a person could see the entire fair grounds and, at night, the vast darkness in all directions that surrounded this marvelous turf of bright lights. From the top of the Ferris wheel a visitor could see the grandstand show going on in the evening and the trotters going around the track during the daylight hours. The trotters were race horses that carried a jockey in a small framed seat on wheels that was pulled behind the horse.
We rarely took the time to see the horse racing in the grandstand nor did we buy tickets for the evening shows. We could, however, find a spot near the grandstand and hear the singers perform and watch the show from a distance. I remember seeing the late Senator Robert C. Byrd on stage playing his fiddle. He played that fiddle very well, and it served him throughout his life as he mentioned on occasions that the fiddle got him into places where he would never have been able to go without it. Senator Byrd also spoke at a junior high assembly when I was in the 8th or 9th grade. He was a young man then, and I watched him as he finished his life as the longest serving U.S.Senator in the nation's history.
Now, back to the fair. Other rides I remember were the merry-go-round, small cars that went around in circles like a merry-go-round, the "Whip" which jerked the lunch out of the riders, a ride that used centrifugal force to keep those riding it in place as the floor they were standing on disappeared and the riders remained "glued" to the back of the circular wall. There were other rides, and I remember that the only people at the fair that didn't seem to be always smiling were those who worked the rides. They seemed bored and without much personality.
As for the food. WOW!!! Everything was fried or in other ways unhealthy. There was the cone made with 100% sugar called cotton candy, there were caramel apples, there were hot dogs with wonderful chili and onions, there were fries and onion rings . . . it was a childhood fantasy.
Another important part of the fair was to go see the livestock in the barns. There was, in the background of the rides and the shows and the food, a competition going on with 4-H members showing their best calf, lamb, chicken, or other livestock. At that time I was too naive to realize that when the winner was selected, it meant that that animal would get the best price for turning it into a hamburger or a chicken dinner. Also in the livestock section there were displays of tractors and farm equipment. The large tractors dominated and there was equipment that looked like it could be very, very dangerous.
One final memory of the fair was the side shows. One show we went to every year was the motorcycle "Circle of Death." We paid admission and went up a ramp to look over into what appeared to be a very large and very high bowl. At the bottom was a door that blended right into the side of the wall. A man with a motorcycle would emerge from the door, close the door and proceed to ride the cycle around the bottom of the bowl until the motorcycle would start climbing the sides of the wall as the man sat on the bike with both parallel to the ground. This would last about 5-10 minutes as the motorcycle climbed the wall in the "circle of death."
One final final comment about the West Virginia State Fair. As you know your mother and I were married June 22, 1974. That year we decided to go to the state fair, so I contacted a fraternity brother, Sam Yates, and he sent me two tickets to get into the fair. Sam worked with the fair for many years. We decided to travel to the fair, spend the day and drive to Beckley where my parents lived, spend the night there and return to Danville. Lynne packed a cooler of food to last us the day. we had a credit card for gas. And, we had enough money to ride one ride. We walked around the fair grounds all day looking at the exhibits (which were free) and enjoying the people. Finally, at dark, we decided to ride our one ride - the double Ferris wheel. We rode that, left, and drove to Beckley. It was, indeed, a cheap day.
The state fair brings back many memories. It was an exciting, bright and joyous place to go for a day and, when I was a child, to have one great summer day before the drudgery of school began.