Tony Woodlief | Author

All’s Fair

While at the Kansas State Fair, I was struck by the widespread obesity. How did we get so fat as a country? I pondered this as I ate my corn dog, followed by a basket of spiral chips, onion rings, meatballs on a stick, a slice of pizza, teriyaki on a stick (skewering just about any food item with a stick seems to make it taste better, doesn’t it?), an ear of roasted corn, a bite of Isaac’s caramel apple, and an entire funnel cake. Could this predisposition toward fatness be in our national genes? My jeans, in any event, are noticeably tighter.

The fair was everything it promised: the smell of sweat and axle grease and fried goldeny goodness thick in the air, the music and squeals and murmur of people, bodies and machinery in motion, an entrepreneur on every corner selling something, clusters of red-necked, thick-armed farmers in seer-sucker overalls, their stout offspring, the older boys with chew in their mouths and their hats rigid and proud, wide-eyed children everywhere, faces sticky with ice cream and cotton candy, some hopping with joy, all of us mingled together and hopeful, or weary, or both.

Caleb demanded entry to every big-boy ride his height would allow, including the spinning, dizzying kind for which I have no stomach. He looked like an astronaut or a pilot whirling through the air, blissful. Eli preferred rides with some heft and force — bumper cars, the child-size roller coaster, the rollicking slide. Isaac wanted what his brothers rode, until he got his wish, on a whirligig of a ride, his screams of terror so loud that the operator stopped it early. After that it was the motorcycles that go in a slow circle, and the carousel, and the flying elephants, but only with Dad tight beside him.

We came home late, and though neither the wife nor I voiced it for a few days, we both had the lingering sense that the fair hadn’t taken. We’d rushed things, and let the older boys pair off with the children of friends we met there.

The fair, we realized, is an important part of our family tradition. It surprises me, the snobbery I find toward the state fair, from native Kansans, no less. I know several executives who pride themselves on never going. Having lived in states with actual cities, I have to stop myself from reminding them that they live in Kansas.

No Kansan is too good for the state fair. In fact, nobody is too good for the state fair, period, though perhaps the state fair is too good for some people. If you find it beneath you to get elbow to elbow with people who have not enough money and too many kids, and folks who work the earth, and greasy-fingered, shiny-eyed cheerful miscreants operating the rides, then perhaps you have too high an opinion of yourself, because we are all made of the same suspect dust, it seems. And if your mistaken opinion of your social position prevents you from getting a fresh corn dog and a hot steaming plate of sugary funnel cake, then it serves you right. Go content yourself with a pseudo-cosmopolitan meal in your favorite faux Euro-bistro with the cheap furniture, and pretend you live in New York. As for me and my household, we’ll take the fair.

Friday night, this sense of incompletion still lingering, the wife and I decided to make another go of it on Saturday. If you can imagine how your children might react, were you to tell them that you were instituting a two-Christmas-a-year policy, then you have some sense of the elation in our home.

Saturday’s damage to my waistline: one steak sandwich, one cheesesteak, a cherry limeade, fried mozzarella sticks, another basket of spiral chips, a healthy portion of Caleb’s meatballs on a stick, and part of a funnel cake, the bulk of which was hastily consumed by my hypoglycemic wife as we drove home, after which she went promptly into a sugar-induced coma.

There were more rides, only this time we stayed together, the non-riders cheering for the riders. Each boy won a stuffed animal, which is good because the two goldfish they won Monday were dead by last night (funeral service to be held this evening). At the end, we all piled onto the Ferris wheel. Eli and Isaac snuggled close to me, and Caleb sat beside his mother to protect her and the baby. It carried us into the cool evening sky, where we sat quiet and peaceful. Lights glimmered below us, softened by the haze. In the distance, gentle rain clouds sat like mountains, and made me think of the thousand hills, and wonder how heaven can be any better.

On Key

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