Hot summer days with a feeling of their end soon coming. A different smell in the air, cooler nights and mornings, the fair is near. For my childhood, the fair ranked closely behind Christmas and hunting season at my Grandparents farm. Knowing the excitement of the fair week, Grandma Gallaher always pulled together a couple easy short tasks for me to complete. A way to gain an extra 10 or 20 dollars to hide away in my jeans pocket for a dose of memory creating medicine mixed together from all the sights, sounds, tastes, and people that mixed all together could not have been put together any better. The memory medicine started with the feeling in the air, followed by and old rusty saw handed to me by Grandma, to trim a couple of unneeded branches from a far from pruned bush on the edge of her yard, branches that did not need trimmed, knowing that now, but also understanding now, that it was Gram’s way of adding time with me into her memory mix. As I would saw away, Gram would sit on the porch, watching, talking, laughing, and storytelling. If I could go back right now, I would run that saw slower, sit longer, and listen more, to try and pause this perfect time with her.
Tasks and laughs complete, green crisp bills in my pocket, I would travel my summer worn sneakers back down the hill to home. Usually by this time Kathy had already arrived for her and Mom’s yearly fair time memory making. They would be in the kitchen mixing together the traditional bologna salad for fair week sandwiches. The laughs coming from these two etched into your head like a favorite hymn. One of happiness, from a worry free, perfect time. One that pops into your head, and you replay it over and over when needed. Even then as a boy, I knew how important and needed this time was for Mom and Kathy, it also added a perfect dose of time into my memory bank. The laughs and happiness continued all week. From late nights talking and laughing around the kitchen table, to sitting on nighttime, dew chilled blankets spread out in the freshly mowed yard counting bats, and catching lightning bugs. Again, if I could go back, I would count a few more bats, catch a few more lighting bugs, to try and make this time last longer for Mom and Kathy, and for me, I would have tried to pause this perfect time.
The bologna salad sandwiches, some egg salad sandwiches, a few zebra cakes, a couple thermoses of homemade tea, and some water would be packed with love and laughs into a big blue cooler and loaded into the back of an old silver minivan, Along with blankets that seemed to catch the smell of summer, holding in the fresh cut grass, and a little smoke from a few hotdog cooking campfires, and the background smell of detergent that Mom had rinsed out between the rollers of the old ringer washer, eased your senses and flooded your mind, as it traveled through your nose, and into your everything, it carved itself into your mind like a Barlow knife carving initials into an old beech tree. They will stay with that tree forever.
This was one of the best times of the year, but it’s funny, I do not remember a lot about our activities inside the fair, I remember the walks through the animal barns, and the rattlesnakes, I can hear the echoing music coming from inside the high fence protected grandstand, broadcasting itself across the fairground, added into a mix of all the sounds of cows mooing, voices of carnies trying to lure you in to take your dollar, screams of laughter from ones twirling, and spinning high above the ground on a ride, conversations and laughter flooding your brain from every direction. Everything outlined in flashing strobe like blinking lights. The smells of manure, cigarette smoke, powdered sugar, fresh doughnuts, funnel cakes, barbecue smoke and lemonade, this all put you into a “fair trance” like state, as it also did for thousands of yellow jackets, hovering around every overflowing garbage can, every handheld cup of lemonade, and around anything that flooded their sugar needing senses. If I could go back, I would walk slower through the cow barn, beg for one more lap around, stare at the rattlesnakes a little longer, just trying to make this small moment last longer, trying to pause perfect time.
I can remember leaving the fair, making our way through the now crowded nighttime illuminated fair streets to the car, loading everyone in, and making our way somewhere to park, a strategic parking spot. One where the aromatic summer blankets could be spread out for us to lay on our backs, staring into the starlit sky, as passing lightning bugs would catch your attention, awaiting the intense colors, and deep blasts from the yearly fireworks display that would echo across the county. I can still hear the soft conversations, and laughs coming from Mom and Kathy in between the blasts that you could feel in your chest. Once the fireworks ended, the smoke hung over the fair like a cloud, we would all load back up for the drive home. There wasn’t much noise coming from us kids in the back, a few even sleeping from fair induced exhaustion. Mom and Kathy’s quiet soft voices still relaying back and forth, sometimes (on time in particular) they got to laughing about something said, or done, and it carried the entire way home. One that I thought would not stop, and would still be heard from those two as the rest of us would wake in the morning, to find them still sitting in the car, tear filled eyes, and laughs that would only pause for a few seconds, and then one look from one another, or one word trying to be said, would cause another tear filled laughter eruption. If I could go back, I would have stayed in the car longer, walked to the house slower, and listened to the laughter longer, pausing that perfect moment in time.
Dad always had his special part in this week also. Looking back, even though Dad would occasionally grumble about Mom and Kathy’s late nights, lack of sleep, or limited time at home, he also had a gleam in his eye as he knew this was a medicinal spot in time that everyone looked forward to, and needed. Especially for my Mother. She worked so hard for all of us, and has always put everyone before herself (just like her mother did, she has the identical softness, and love that Gram had), and this was her week, with saying that, also know that Mom’s care for all of us did not change during her week in the least, I don’t know how she does it. She makes everyone feel welcome and centered regardless of the events going on. Ok, back to Dad. Dad would position an old seat into the back of an old work worn pickup truck, add a few blankets, and what looked like a pot from the kitchen with a headlight secured in the aluminum bowl, he would load us into the bed of the truck and take us on a country dirt road deer spotting adventure. Even though the laughs, and conversations where coming from behind the glass that was separating Dad from the rest of us, he glowed with happiness, with an old worn leather glove stretched over his work hardened hand to try and prevent the cold night air from freezing his fingers, while he filled his memory bank with sounds of laughter, freezing fingers, and small views of everyone loving this time reflecting in his rear view mirror. If I could go back, I would suggest one more dirt road, sit a little longer in one spot counting the eyes of deer spread out across a recently cut hay field, watch Dad a little longer as he steadily held the beam of light in the direction of the trip targeted whitetail, and relaying back to us with toned excitement when discovering “a buck!” I would pause this spec in time just a little longer.
The week would come to an end, the bologna salad sandwiches gone, the carnies all packed up and onto their next town. The smells of the Fair, grass, campfire, firework, spotting blankets would be agitated around in the washer, and the rollers operated by Mother, would squeeze the washed water from the blankets, folded up, and put away into an old hallway closet until the next year’s events would begin. I can remember different times, stopping in the upstairs hallway, opening the closet door, and holding my nose to the blankets, and pulling the now faint, but still their smells into my nose, refreshing the memories tucked into my bank of memories. This was like a time capsule, one of smells and times past, but also one of a reminder of times ahead.
Times change, and time continues to pass, we can always look back and wish that we could pause time, but we cannot. I now know that we don’t understand the importance of time, until it becomes a memory. I am so thankful for these memories of time, memories with an awesome Mother and Father, Brother and Sister. Memories of Kathy, and the laughter that followed her and Mom. Thankful for the times they spent together, thankful that I had a front row seat to watch them, as they created their memories together.
Me writing this, and talking off memories is not from sadness, I find a lot of things that I am saddened by, just from time passing, but overwhelmed with thankfulness that it was times that were mine, and the ones around me. Overwhelmed with thankfulness for having such a fun, loving, sweet Mother.
Writing this as I watch fair week unfold now, watching it unfold with seeing my Mother sitting in her and Kathy’s spot in the grove, her spoiling all of her grandkids, as she walks through the cow barns with them, looks at the rattlesnakes with them, enjoys lemonade with them, swats hovering yellow jackets with them, laughs with them, and loves on them like no other. All while I am there, sitting in the front row, recording this all into my bank, sitting with Mom, talking with Mom, laughing with Mom, All in this moment in time, our moment in time,