Sunday, September 07, 2003

Fairgrounds, Fouled Grounds

Last Wednesday between media center coverage and dorm duty the three of us -- spouse, child, and self -- went into nearby micropolis Greenfield for a quick family supper at local fave People's Pint and, upon leaving, serendipitously emerged onto Main Street just as the annual Greenfield County Fair kick-off parade began their slow plod through the thinly lined streets. Here, umbrella-ed despite a sudden downpour just moments too late in its beginning to cause a parade cancellation, was the best of local half-rural life: shaky old-men's marching bands, preadolescent cheerleading squads, car-bound small-town mayors, dumpy girls dressed as Holsteins waving from the back of hay-lined tractors. It made a fitting end to a meal at the People's Pint, famed for IPAs, farmer's sausage quesadillas and thick grilled steak burritos, and other small-batch brews and fine and hearty foods made with local and oft-organic materials.

Having seen the parade, it would have been a shame to miss the fair itself; further, we had high hopes that Willow might enjoy it more than last year, back when she was just a tiny summer baby, a fleshy peanut asleep in a stroller. This morning being the only coinciding ole in our schedule, we woke not-too-late, headed out to the free roadside parking, and made it into the park just after ten.

Fairgrounds are funny things: in most communities, their purpose is spent in a single summer weekend. The rest of the time, they just sit there, unnoticed and unseen off the main roadways, the only reminder of their presence several small green streetsigns pointing the way into their small suburban cover neighborhoods. Today the park was still only half-full or less by noon, and the light crowd led to a light spirit as we wandered through barns filled with prize winning flower arrangements, apples, and quilts; petting farm stations and cattle pens; half the midway; a huge farm equipment showcase, and seventeen fresh-cut fries and cotton candy booths all aglow like Christmas. Willow liked the duck and rabbit showcases best, a half-lit and stinky spot where she clucked back at the chickens so endearingly I later won her a stuffed one at a water-pistol booth just to hear her cackle to it in the car on the way home.

And home was calling quickly, an unfortunate truth of boarding school life on the first weekend of the year. No racing pigs, no second lunch, no tractor pulls to come kept us around, though I wish we'd thought to buy tickets for tomorrow's crash-up derby before they sold out, as it turns out Chuck, the otherwise conservative English teacher downstairs from us runs a car in the derby every year. Instead, we left by 1:00 to get back to the dorm, long before the fair's weekend cornerstone, the eight o'clock performance of local hero Travis Ledoyt, "the best young Elvis in the business" -- and came back here so I could get to work.

Today was Community Service Day at NMH, a by-now annual first-saturday event which plants the right seeds for student works later on in the year and beyond, but which in the moment feels like one of those "good idea at the time" curricula in which little gets accomplished and even that's hardly community service. After a 45 minute discussion defining terms (What is our sphere of influence? How do they need help? How can we help?) and another 45 in the chapel being lectured to by do-gooders from alumni to current students, a few guys from the dorm and I decided to wander out into the 3400 acres here and pick up trash along the trails -- mostly because it seemed like real work, made all the more satisfying by the fact that all around us other groups were walking others' dogs, babysitting faculty kids, planting flowers outside their dorms, and, suspiciously, making banners depicting their community service project ideas. In an hour we found and kept enough glass alcohol bottles (remnants from last-year's illicit student woods-parties) to make my back hurt carrying my share, enjoying each other's company despite initial unfamiliarity, took it back, weighed it in our hands, felt proud of ourselves and each other, and called it a day.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:36 AM |

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