The County Fair

I felt like an anxious parent dropping my kid off for his first day of college today as I stood awkwardly in front of a desk manned by two blue-clad, older women, waiting for one of them to check me in. Yes, that’s right: I was dropping off my lace shawl to be entered into the Champlain Valley Fair, the big county fair in the Burlington, Vermont area. The last time I entered something in a county fair was in high school, back in the teeny tiny Blandford, Massachusetts fair, and I was in the youth division. I remember the experience distinctly: several busy, no-nonsense elderly women held out impatient hands for my and my sister’s forms, and we stood nervously while they looked them over with a swift and critical eye. Every year my incredibly patient, kind, and loving father would be standing there juggling my yarn/knitting/cross stitch and Emma’s photography/artwork/jewelry, trying to explain to the women why we were late/didn’t have the forms filled out correctly. The volunteers would adopt a look that no-nonsense old ladies seem to have perfected: one that is at once polite and pained, sympathetic and stern. It’s the kind of look that says “I don’t have time for your shit right now so I’m going to beam you with my guilt-inducing laser eyes while maintaining a brisk and professional demeanor.” I always felt that that my amazing handwork ought to have earned me a tad more respect from these ladies, and assumed their behavior was a reaction to my youth and general ineptitude. However, it turns out that’s just how fairs are! (unless I’ve simply turned into a generally inept adult.) Here is a fairly accurate representation of how my check-in went:

 

Me, trying to stand near enough to the table to be clearly visible as needing something, but not so near as to be crowding the two very obviously busy elderly ladies.

Busy Lady #1, finally noticing me, barking: ‘What?’ 

Did I mention she was busy?

Me, shuffling forward, mumbling: I just wanted to drop off my shawl for the fair.

BL#1, appraising me critically and shrewdly, noting all of my faults as a human being and fair applicant: You’ve never entered here before, have you?

Me, shaking my head nervously: No, I haven’t. Fumbling as I take out my form: I have my form right here.

BL#1, turning away: I don’t have time for you right now, I’m waiting for one of the judges. 

Me, backing away slightly and clutching my shawl: No problem, take your time.

I stood awkwardly for a few minutes, witnessing the frantic energy with which the gigantic room was being assembled. People (women mostly) were bustling from place to place, organizing various crafts into categories, checking tags and folders and forms, and generally resembling a highly efficient military operation. Seriously, the government should look into hiring more county fair volunteers. A moment later a blond woman (presumably the judge, since BL#1 had time for her) came rushing up with a wreath decorated with birds and fall leaves. The two fell into a deep and detailed discussion about how best to display the wreath, and the distinction between a crocheted doily that was in the ‘crochet’ category vs. a crocheted snowflake that was in the ‘holiday’ category. The judge was not immune to BL#1’s businesslike attitude:

‘Well, if she wants to sell it, we need to have a form on file. If she doesn’t have a form and it sells, we pocket the money.’

She smiled a little at that, and I wasn’t sure if she was just kidding or congratulating herself on her clever get-rich-quick scheme. Finally, Brisk Lady #2 arrived.

BL#2: Can I help you?

Me: Yes, I have my forms to enter a shawl in the fair? Trailing away – …I wasn’t sure what category it should go into…

BL#2, sighing and taking my half-completed forms: Well, it could go into the ‘Stoles and Ponchos’ category, would that fit?

Me, uncomfortably: Well, a stole is usually rectangular and kind of like a wrap, and this is circular and definitely more of a shawl.

BL#2, looking over her glasses at me: How about a poncho then?

Me, more uncomfortably: Well, ponchos are rectangles or circles with a hole in the middle for your head to fit through, so this isn’t really a poncho either…

BL#2: Well then, what about the ‘Other’ category then?

Long pause.

Me: You know what, ‘Stoles and Ponchos’ is fine.

As she finished filling out my forms for me and had me fill out the top half of a W-9 form in case I win a blue ribbon and the whopping $6 that comes with it, I handed over my precious, beautiful shawl with more than a little trepidation.

‘Ooh, it’s so soft!’ she said with legitimate warmth, feeling the delicate baby alpaca strands with appreciation. We smiled at each other, and I paused, not wanting to spoil the moment and unsure if there was anything else I had to do. She snapped back into ‘volunteer’ mode.

‘That’s all we need, you can go now.’ She turned away with my shawl tucked under her arm, still folded up and without even having seen it. There was no time for that. 

I kept looking back at my little college freshman project as I walked away, nearly running into the judge, who was pushing a cart laden with bins of what I can only assume were more crocheted doilies. It was hard to tear myself away – it felt like it was all over so quickly, and thoughts of spills, accidental tears and misplacements crowded in my already anxious brain. But I shook my head free of them as I sank into the driver’s seat of my car – after all, these ladies run a damn fine fair.

 

Interested in visiting this year’s fair? Click the link here to find tickets and more information.

 

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