Our annual reprise about what it really means to be a “fair” kid …
There are a lot of significant beginnings and endings this time of the year. The end of summer. The beginning of locals’ summer. The start of school — new chapters and first days.
But, what about the middle? The end of the Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair has always brought me, and many a “fair” kid, back to that middle haven. It’s home.
Hold on tight, because it’s really all about the ride. Forget about waiting in line in nerve-wracked anticipation to get on it. Forget the guise of regret when that ride comes to an end.
When I was a kid, my dad, Bill, used to goad me to ride the Sizzler with him at the Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair — that stupid amusement the sole purpose of which was to whip you around on the end of octopus-like tendrils ‘til you were sour-bellied, dizzy and scared.
OK, I was a bow-legged, scrawny sissy. Dad would bellow his unmistakably hearty guffaw as I screamed and smashed into his side from the Sizzler’s whipping force. And that laugh … that laugh … No one knew quite how to amuse themselves with their own inside jokes like Bill Van Develde.
You could say it was symbolic of the ride life takes us on — jolting and scary at times, yet an amusing thrill of comfort. Fair comfort. Everything’s alright. Daddy’s there, after all.
The fair ended on its usual Saturday night. It’s that still Sunday after. The grounds are empty. The ghosts remain. The fair tradition and all its spirits never fail to evoke memories of many of those salient beginnings and endings.
Yes, everything has its time and purpose; and those beginnings and endings are part of life under the fair tent. But what about hanging onto the middle just a little?
Sometimes the beginnings and endings are just too bittersweet a life’s morsel to gobble up.
On closing night, longtime fair volunteer Jeanette Choma, now gone, always embarked on her own little tradition. She let balloons float up into the dark, endless sky over the fair grounds, presumably to heaven, in memory of everyone associated with the fair who has passed. Teary eyed, she always used to remind me of her tradition and that she never forgets. No one does. No one forgets that middle.
When a helium balloon slips out of your grasp, like a lot of things you begrudgingly let go of in life, you really never know where it’s going to end up. Sometimes it just gets away from you.
The fairgrounds are sparse. The rides are dismantled. No one’s cooking in the kitchen. The remnants of a balloon that never made it to heaven years ago are stuck on a fence post. The sights, the sounds, the souls remain. Today.
In the distance, I can hear Dad’s loud, hearty laugh, followed by his signature “Take ‘er easy, buddy!” as he roams the fairgrounds annoying small children with smacks on the back and his relentless work ethic. He whizzes past me, stomping right over his memorial brick, making his way home. Home.
I can see Mom laughing at the phantom Grab Bag Booth, offering a little taste of funnel cake and a balloon to neighborhood kids. She tucks a piece of funnel cake away in her apron as she carefully folds it up in a napkin for me. She takes the dinged plastic fire hat she’s been sporting all week to bring it home to her grandson. She doesn’t care that he’s too old for it. She just wants him to know that she’s always thinking of him. She brushes the funnel cake sugar off her shirt as she whizzes right by Dad, over her memorial brick. She’s making her way back to the middle — back home.
Home. The middle.
Both were always very content in their “middle” niche. So were we.
Take ‘er easy, Mom and Dad … Leave the light on so I can make my way back home, too … Thanks for the middle. Don’t worry. I’m holding on tight.
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