As summer winds down and autumn approaches, town after town will begin hosting their annual county, agricultural, and local fairs.
Where was I today?
Hmmm. Let’s see.
This week’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt: “Four-Letter Word”
I went to the fair today.
My initial thought, when I heard four-letter word…well, I am sure you could guess and I am also sure I wasn’t the first to think of it.
Then, I went to my county’s fair with a friend, her mother and daughter, and we spent the afternoon with cows, horses, sheep, goats, donkeys.
I was born and live in a rather rural area of south western Ontario, in Canada. My town’s mascot is a cow after all. Agriculture is a very important part of community and sense of pride here.
My mother always thought going to a fair was a rather large waste of money, as kids, and so we went, but sparingly.
I remember, once, when I was about ten years old, I had just made a new friend in my new school. She was visiting and I really wanted to go to the fair with her. So, sneaky and vindictive little girl that I sometimes could be, I told her that we would take her to the fair. I hadn’t run this passed my mom, assuming that once I had made the promise to my friend, my mom wouldn’t be able to say no.
Well, let’s just say my master plan worked.
General admission and the rides and games and food on top of that. It all adds up. They stamp your hand upon entering.
There is something strange and rather unsettling about walking down a path between booths, stalls on all sides, with loud and over-stimulating music and sound, clanking and clanging carnival rides, and people yelling at you, obnoxiously I might add:
“Come! Try this game! Everyone’s got a chance to win!”
Yeah, what a rip off. What do I look like, a sucker?
Well, this time we did not go for the rides. My friend wanted to introduce her baby girl to the barn full of farm animals, to see her face upon spotting a black and white, a brown cow, for the first time.
We had a friend, growing up, who was at the local fair, every August, to show cattle with her family. Now, what did this mean exactly? I realize I didn’t understand that world, but the family loved it.
It took up their time, kept them busy, all with things I didn’t pretend to understand. Walking cows around in a ring, practicing, being awarded first, second, and third place medals.
My mother grew up as a farm girl. My uncles owned farms, dairy herds mostly, all my life. I spent many summer vacations on the farms. I was afraid to walk down the stalls of cows in the barn.
I’m drawing a blank now. What are those openings in the floor for the cows called again? Hmmm.
The smell of the barn was never something I could get used to. I did not have enough vision to allow me to run and play games up in the hay mound, with holes that would suddenly appear at your feet, sometimes disguised by straw, until it was too late. Down to the cement floor below you would drop. One of my cousins did just that.
I preferred to stay and play in the house, rather than get dirty and smelly. I drank milk, ate cheese, and eggs. I saw what it was like to survive of the land and raise animals for these things, but I was not at home, ever, fully there.
Now the fair is all about a certain lifestyle. I look in on it. I smell the fair food. I love cotton candy. I hate candy and caramel apples. I loved rides as a kid.
My friend’s baby girl loved the animals. A cow scared the hell out of me, but the baby’s eyes bulged from the noise the creature made, but did not cry.
At any moment I expected a stinky sniffling nose or tongue to make me jump from behind the fence. I wouldn’t be able to help making a commotion if a cow suddenly decided to say “Hello”.
Pies. Quilts. Crafts. Stalls selling all manner of hand-made items.
Piggy banks shaped like turtles, giraffes, cows, and rocking horses. Obvious hard work put in to each one by dedicated and delicate wood working skill.
My friend and I found the farm family there, showing their cows off with pride. Little changes in twenty years. But our friendships have.
We met her sister and her father, but no sign of the friend we once knew so well, the one we’d hurry to the fair grounds to see, to speak to, even for a little while in between her duties with the cows.
We waited around to speak to her, unsure how awkward it might feel to talk again, after years of no contact. Distance grows between, an ever widening expanse of time and silence.
No sign of her. Do we keep on waiting? Do we move on? The baby is tired and hungry. Our feet are sore.
I can’t stand much more of the music and the noise. Sound coming at me from all sides. I am nervous how well I’ll even be able to hear any conversation with this old friend, if she does indeed turn up to say hi.
We listen, part of a gathering and contented group of interested attendants of this lecture on reptiles. The girl speaking talks with an authoritative tone and sounds like she is highly knowledgeable when it comes to the python she holds and the red-footed tortoise named Flash.
Children ask such smart questions about the animals:
What does it drink?
Can I give it a kiss? (The girl doesn’t seem like she is going to allow that one.)
“No kissing them. Reptiles are dirty,” she advises, but she encourages anyone and everyone to reach out a hand and touch these guys.
“Nope. Not her face. Just touch her shell. She doesn’t like being poked in the eye, just like any of us.”
People actually make bowls, plates, and even guitar picks from the shell. What waste. Simply not necessary. I go online later, only to find that “an imitation tortoise-shell pick” is one of the top hits, for sale.
“Can you let her swim in the water over there?” I hear the little child, a few feet away, ask and point.
“She’s a tortoise, not a turtle. They don’t swim,” the girl explains.
The baby would put the snake to her mouth, as she has approached that age of her infancy. Not advisable.
A nice man directly behind me, waiting to get his turn to see the animals up close, asks me, “Did you want to touch the animals too Love?”
Very nice of him to ask. “No. I’m good,” I say. “I’ve touched a snake before.”
(My brother has one as a pet. I have touched it several times. That should do me for a while.
The girl talks about a snake back at the zoo and animal park she works at, where these animals come from. That snake, which is not here, is called Julius Squeezer.
Hahahaha. Well, I thought that was a good one anyway.
All the country music and hay aside, I feel strange, with all this baby talk. People stop my friend and me in our tracks, every so often as we make our way through the fair, to comment on what a beautiful baby my friend has. And, of course, they couldn’t be more right, but the sitting target for people’s advice and attention is clearly my friend. People naturally want to know, are curious: What’s her name? How old is she? And my friend simply smiles and answers them politely.
We don’t meet up with our old friend. Must not be meant to be I guess, I tell myself. I am bad with awkward greetings. I stand there, awkward as anything, grasping for things to say.
I feel left out. If we do all speak, the two of them will discuss their children. It’s no fair that I can’t be a part of that shared experience of motherhood that the two of them will most certainly connect to.
I will stand there, ever more awkward, but then we’ve just missed her. She hasn’t left the cows to run into us at the reptile exhibit. She is somewhere, in this crowd, and we never do find her. Missed opportunity, but for what?
Some friendships aren’t meant to be reforged. I can’t answer why that is. I wish I could.
Maybe we have nothing more in common. Perhaps we never did.
But what…I don’t know…is that what friendship comes down to in the end? It obviously meant something to us at the time, will forever be a part of our shared past. What, then, is to stop my friend and me from losing touch too, one of these days? I can’t understand it, how it all works, what friendships are and how to discover if they are meant to withstand anything.
Earlier in the day, I urged my friend to come along with me, to say goodbye to another girl from school. She is moving to the US with her husband. We arrive at her father’s house, in an area of town I am not in often. This friendly girl we’ve come to see answers the door, immediately taking the baby from my friend’s arms. Baby makes a helpful distraction and an ice breaker, to lighten the mood. Makes more of these awkward meetings a little less so.
The day has been mentally and physically exhausting for me, for us, but we agree we’re glad we made the effort, even if it didn’t all work out.
Ever the lousy social butterfly that I am and I have one more day of practice under my belt, but I still can’t shake the feelings of being totally out-of-place and out-of-my-element. Will they ever leave me completely?
I answer questions about my writing and my book and my friend answers more about her baby. We sip from little glasses of juice and listen to all the talk going on around us, mostly from family of the married friend who is on her way to start a new life with her husband.
Others, myself included, well the path looks a lot different than that one. It looks quite pleasant and put together, when compared to whatever the hell I’m doing, but who knows where we will all end up, really. We all have our six month plans, our two year plans to refer to, for just how we think our lives should go.
An old and faded baby book and the earliest of kindergarten friendships made. No matter how long it’s been, where we’ve come from, or how far away life may take any of us. Sometimes, before we know it, we’re right back here in the local county we knew as children, friendships tested and reformed again.
How is life fair? I can answer that: it isn’t “fair” at all. Let’s forget about how unfair life can be by visiting the fair.
To be fair, on such a fair day as this: better quit while I am ahead. I don’t normally mean to make my SoCS posts quite this long.
So that’s my four-letter word for today and I’m sticking with it.