Ionia Free Fair is in town this week! It's a huge event in lower Michigan even though about the only thing you can really do for "free" is walk around the fairgrounds. There are parking fees, grandstand events fees, entry fees to play all the games in the midway, over-priced food and drink vendors, and tickets required - for a fee - should you want to go on the rides.
I remember the days when the purpose of the "Fair" was to gather, socialize and celebrate the harvests, while taking a much-needed intermission from the laborious tasks of farming, raising livestock, and preparing for the coming months of winter.
Folks would bring in their superior produce, crafts, recipes and livestock for the chance to have them judged against those of their neighbors. Families could enter contests, play games, and win ribbons and prizes. Buying, selling and trading were commonplace.
Today, it seems the Fair comes to town a good month before the calves are fattened or the harvests are in. While remnants of tradition remain with the die-hard 4-H'ers and their families, much of what we see is geared more toward achieving a profit while providing instant gratification to fair-goers who have had to exert very little, if any, effort.
Groups of teens range about unsupervised after begging their parents for money to attend. Lines of people wait to board a variety of shabbily-constructed carnival-style rides, while performers conduct mini-circuses for the crowds using animals never meant to "perform" for human pleasure nor to be kept caged in captivity.
Now that my children are much older, I rarely visit the Fair anymore. Occasionally, I'll walk through the livestock barns, watch a tractor-pull event or barrel-racing, or meander through the "flea-market-style" tents of handmade items for sale. Aside from those things, I find that much of the "modernized" Fair presentation just leaves a sour taste for me. Perhaps I'm just aging...or old-fashioned...or, maybe I just should have been born a couple hundred years earlier than I was.
Inspired by her Native American roots and Bradbury lineage, Polly Taskey is a writer and grandmother in the northern USA. She shares her wisdom and pagan interests through Pagan by Design and The Moonlit Grove.