We missed the Green County Fair again this year, back in my home town. Every year, we talk about going, but we rarely make it. We’ve been back only a couple of times since we moved home to Wisconsin a decade ago, and I think I know the reason why: When I was a kid growing up on a dairy farm four miles from town, the fair was the highlight of the summer. Today, to my citified self, it feels a bit like an anachronism.
Whenever we do get back there, one of my favorite things to do at the fair is to wander through the cattle barns, which was where I spent my fairs as a kid. How many of today’s kids, now so deeply involved in agriculture, a field that was likely to break your heart 35 years ago and is many more times likely to do so today, will pursue city careers after high school or college and never look back? Many, if not most. Yet there’s something charming about the decorated barns, the carefully named animals, and the kids, some undoubtedly the children of my own 4-H contemporaries, lounging in the hay beside their animals, secure in the feeling that this is where they’ll always want to be.
To walk through the Exhibition Hall and to look at the various photography, gardening, and woodworking projects is to remember my own attempts at such projects, and to remember how, after the fair was over, those projects seemed like fallen leaves that had outlived their useful purpose. I wonder how many of these projects lead today’s kids to lifelong hobbies, and how many become junk in the back of the closet, just another “thing I was into for a while when I was a kid”?
Almost everything that seems eternal and unchanging to the young does indeed change, but then again, certain things about the Green County Fair do appear timeless. The faded signs on the old Stock Pavilion still say “The Show Window of Southern Wisconsin,” although the pavilion is no longer where kids such as I was meet their moments of terror in the show ring. Kids still stay overnight in the barns. The Monroe VFW and Monticello Music Parents food stands have been in the same spots for as long as I can remember, which means 40 years at least. On the midway, the biggest changes are the fashions kids wear and the price of ride tickets. There will always be a tractor pull, a demolition derby, cream puffs, the beer garden, and deep-fried cheese curds. Through over 150 years of constant change, from the Industrial Revolution to the Digital Age, Green County’s rural folk have gathered every summer to celebrate who and what they are. It’s an admirable purpose and a worthy occasion, and its worth is not affected one damn bit by city-slicker pretensions.
Next year, I need to get over myself and go home for it.
There’s only one song on my Desert Island list that falls in time with one of those early 70s fair weeks. It’s by the Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose, which by 1972 was actually a quartet: the Cornelius Brothers, Eddie and Carter, and Sisters Rose and Billie Jo; the latter had joined up after the group’s first hit, “Treat Her Like a Lady.” “Too Late to Turn Back Now” was at its chart peak during fair week in 1972—sweet singalong soul that represents the absolute textbook definition of a Desert Island song: Without “Too Late to Turn Back Now” in it, my life would be unrecognizable to me.