Friday, September 08, 2006

The Sandwich Fair

It’s mostly farm roads getting there.

Yellowing soy fields; tall corn turning brown. The sun is setting big and orange over everything.

Then you’re there, at the entrance: Two long gravel roads lined with flagpoles every 30 feet or so. The American flags remind us (as if we could forget) where we are and what we’re about to do.
The Sandwich Fair is in Sandwich, Illinois.

It’s an old-fashioned country fair that hasn’t changed in the 15 years we’ve been going.

Well, the price has gone up a little. It used to be $5 and now it’s $7. But parking is free.
The animal exhibits are near the entrance so we always do that first. Bunnies. Beef. Dairy. Sheep. Swine.

There are rabbits called Hotots. And a giant 15-pounder from Australia. Lion-faced rabbits. Lops. French lops.

The cows are my favorite. I like their big compassionate eyes.

I don’t like the sheep as much because they always seem so nervous.
Next: Corn.

There’s a booth near the funhouse that has the best sweet corn on the planet.

“Do you want butter?” asks the guy working the booth.

Of course we do. We stand off to the side in the grass, the buttery salt dripping down off the cob to our fingers.

“I think the corn we got from that farm stand on Bliss Road is a little better,” says Jim.

“No, this tastes better because we’re here,” I say.
The sounds.

Engines revving every few minutes from the tractor pull that always draws a crowd to the grandstand.

Barkers telling us we can win a:

• 175 lb. pig “that’s a lotta pork chops!”
• Fire engine red Ford pickup
• Harley fatboy
• 50/50 raffle “You’ve got a 50-50 chance – you either win or you lose!”

The screams and laughter rising up over the latest hip-hop blaring from the rides in the midway.
Tip: The Sandwich Fair is dry. No alcohol. And as much as a nice cold beer would taste good wandering around in the dust for a few hours, it’s not an option.

So we bring a small flask of Jack -- it’s just the trick for adding a little zip to a Lemon Shake-Up.
“Let’s go look for our next house.” Jim says.

So we work our way over to where the RV dealers have set up a mini-camp at the fair.

It’s one of our favorites because it always gets us wistfully wondering what it would be like to be unfettered by everything we’ve got now.

We agreed that the $76,000 RV was best this year. It had two TVs and a ceiling fan.

But I was drawn to the teeny tiny trailer in which you’d have to make breakfast for yourself while you were still in bed.
Next, the obligatory stop for a hotdog at the stand featuring Rheem’s Elburn Market “Award Winning” meats.

Then Jim has a pork chop sammich while we watch the same band play the same song (George Jones) two years in a row. They’re not great, but they’ve mastered all the old country favorites – the ones that I love most – the ones you just don’t hear on the radio anymore.
There are booths for sun porches, decks, and hot tubs. Leather, engraved wooden signs, and decals for your car.

I always find it interesting how they group the religious “Jesus Loves You!” and political booths together.

I’m thinking out here in the country they’re never too far apart.
We wander through the exhibits. Agriculture. Crafts. Commercial.

In the agriculture exhibit there’s everything from corn and squash to wheat and flowers. There’s a giant cabbage that looks like something out of Little Shop of Horrors.

And that’s me next to the biggest pumpkin I’ve ever seen in my life.

The crafts hall has paintings and photos and woodworking and jewelry. Our eyes are drawn to the ones with the purple ribbons indicating a “Sandwich Fair Special Award.”

Then there’s an odd little exhibit we can’t help but visiting every year: Collections.

Shot glasses. Oil cans. Crocks.

“How the hell do they judge this stuff?” Jim wonders.

We agreed that this year’s strangest was a collection of old yardsticks. An inexplicable blue ribbon on that one.
We end our night with a giant elephant ear. It’s fresh and hot – too hot to eat right away – so we pick at it, our fingers once again sticky from the treat.
Like always, the fair works its magic and I’m a kid again: sleepy-eyed and dusty, watching the full moon chase me all the way home.
I am listening to: George Jones – He Stopped Loving Her Today
I am reading: Nothing
And I am: Content