From 4H (I love teaching these kids knife skills and judging cooking competitions every year, and I don't think there is a better stage show than the annual Arts-In) to Prairie Home Companion (I am overwhelmed with nostalgia during the sing-alongs at intermission. Will the next generation know all of the words to "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" and "Home on the Range"?), from cheese curds (does it count as a Minnesota product when all of the cheese comes from Ellsworth, Wisconsin?) to the guy playing the organ during horse shows (flashbacks to circling the roller skating rinks of my youth). There isn't much I don't love about the Minnesota State Fair.
This year's best new dishes: Blue Barn's French Toast with that amazing ginger berry sauce topped with Pop Rocks, Green Mill's Meatloaf on a Stick, and the Maple Bacon Funnel Cake.
Personal pride: winning the Blue Ribbon for the Gold Medal Cookie Contest with my Ginger Citrus Pinchies and telling the story of this cookie to TV and Creative Activities audiences.
Best conversation (and there were many): the older gentleman I sat next to during the Prairie Home Companion Show leaned down to tell me my voice was lovely. "You have a lovely voice as well, sir," I said. Turns out the man's son's wife is from Arlington (Trust me, all roads lead to Gaylord.). Garrison sang a song about his father which had my friend K and I weeping (they should hand out tissues as you enter the Grandstand on PHC night). After Garrison's dad song the nice man's son grabbed his father's hand and held it tight, and I cried some more. K lost her father this spring and my father died 17 years ago. Dad and I rarely missed a year at the Fair together. Dad endured hours in the horse barns and coliseum for his horse-loving daughter, and I remember him smoking everywhere: in the Sky Ride, on the Giant Slide, and while circling Machinery Hill.
Every year I meet the same friends at Salem for breakfast on the first day. We volunteer at Renewing the Countryside because the t-shirts are cool and the cause is cooler. Afterwards we split a savory crepe and a Beergarita. The first Monday night of each Fair old co-workers congregate for a rousing game of State Fair Bingo and a collective photo from the Department of Education. I meet childhood friends on the second Thursday of every Fair and witness their kids grow up in fast motion. T insists on at least an hour of horse shows at each State Fair visit and a boat of walleye. Our daughter insists on veggie noodles and frozen apple cider.
These final days are bittersweet. A last long walk around the Fairgrounds and I've got all the evidence I need that life passes too quickly and to live it fully we need to embrace the people and places that we love best. With any luck we'll meet again next year in this same place that offers the same smells, and people, and animals, and food. With any luck we'll marvel over the quilts that win blue ribbons and how many gallons of milk one cow produces in a year. With any luck we'll be a year older, wiser, and happier, and my face will hurt from smiling as it always does.
Breath deep, friends. Reflect. Smile. And sing a few verses of "Home on the Range." I'll see you in 11 1/2 months.