Sunday, August 7, 2011

Carthage Fair 1969, Part II -- The Fair, Grandpa, and Me

Image from a vintage souvenir pennant
from Carthage Fair.


From my journal that summer:

August 5, 1969 
I still can't believe tomorrow is the big day. I'd better go to sleep, because I have to get up at five-thirty.

Somehow I wound up going to the fairgrounds with Grandpa first thing in the morning all three weekdays of the fair. I don't remember exactly how this came about. Possibly I'd been working myself into a frenzy about wanting to get over to the fair as early as possible to check on my entries. Mom, who was in the early weeks of her pregnancy with my sister, probably wanted to wait until afternoon or evening to attend the fair. I don't know if I asked Grandpa about going along, or if Grandma asked him, or if Grandpa came up with the plan himself. Maybe I was supposed to go along on the first day only; and when Grandpa saw my enthusiasm and cooperation, he invited me along all week.

August 6, 1969 
There's positiviely nothing like Carthage Fair early in the morning.

It feels so nice and cool now you can't believe it's going to be hot this afternoon. Maybe it won't be. There's a cool breeze blowing.

It was just getting light when Grandpa drove us into the fairgrounds in his powder-blue pick-up truck. He had tasks to attend to immediately, especially feeding the horses. He also put food out for the crowd of cats that lived in and around the barn.

I had almost no experience with horses of any kind. Sometimes Grandpa had allowed me or my eldest younger brother to sweep, help carry buckets of water or wheel loads of manure to the manure pile when he was mucking out the stalls. I probably did these chores as well at some point that week. What I remember very well was rolling bandages on a contraption Grandpa had made out of an old manual can opener attached to the wall. You simply inserted the end of the bandage under a clip and turned the handle. The bandage rolled up in no time, then you slipped the roll off the spindle.

August 7, 1969
I enjoy walking that horse. You sort of get hypnotized because you look at the ground as you circle, and it looks weird.

What I enjoyed most, and what gave me the most thrilling sense of actually doing something, was walking the horses all by myself. Grandpa showed me how to hold the lead, how fast to walk, and when to stop and water the horse. He was fussy about his horses, and he could be short-tempered around the barn. However, he was very patient with me that week, and he trusted me enough to go off and let me handle the walking chore alone. 

As the morning went on and Grandpa ran out of things for me to do, I was free to wander the fair. At lunchtime, Grandpa and I climbed into the truck and went to either the nearby Country Kitchen or a small old-fashioned restaurant on the main street in Carthage. I think I had liver and onions for the first time at the restaurant. 

I don't think I stayed around the barn while Grandpa was preparing immediately before a race. It was always tense, and I knew I'd probably be in the way. I know I saw the races that week, but they kind of blend together when I look back. For at least one day's races, I watched with other members of my family. My grandmother may have brought my brothers and cousins, and Dad brought Mom.

I don't remember how many horses Grandpa raced that year or how he finished in all of them, but he did win at least one race. Each race took two heats to determine the winner. I was awestruck when Grandpa was presented with a big silver tray down on the track. Back at the barn, though, Grandpa wasn't that thrilled with his trophy. He said he preferred receiving blankets, huge, scratchy thick coverlets lettered with the name of the sponsor of the trophy for that race. Many times I'd watched him drive a horse back to the barns at various fairs, a new trophy blanket fluttering around the horse's legs.

On one or two days that year at Carthage, Grandpa's brother, my Uncle Frank Applegate, visited at the barn during the races. I recall him gazing at the silver tray, etched with the fair name, date, and the race. "That's really nice," he said with approval. No one seemed quite as impressed by the tray as I was, though.

August 8, 1969 
When the Western horses come, they take over everything. Traffic, horse barns, racetrack, etc.

I'll take a harness horse over any other kind of horse any day.

If I can't get by on six dollars today I'm not doing so well. I have four from yesterday and Grandpa just gave me two for walking Huckleberry Boy yesterday.

I wonder why there was a cop in the back of the Country Kitchen?

I made a new friend in the past couple of days in the form of Ole Yeller the cat.

Late Friday afternoon, long after the races were finished and everything was in order around the barn, Grandpa took a walk up on the midway with me. He treated me to something new that year that we had both developed a taste for: the lemonade shake-up, a large cup of cut lemons, sugar, water, and ice shaken together like a cocktail. We sat at the base of one of the tall old trees on the hilltop. Grandpa didn't talk much, and I was comfortable with silence. Nearby the merry-go-round played--on a real mechanical organ, not recorded music--a tune I'd heard often that week. It sounded familiar, but I couldn't identify it. Later, in the fall, I heard the song on the radio. It was "The Old Lamplighter." The original recorded version sounded nothing like the calliope rendition, with its tinkling rhythm, heart-thumping drum and tinny cymbal, yet when I heard it, I got a lump in my throat. Forty-two years later, I can still hear the merry-go-round's playful echoes. I can taste the clear, tart lemonade and smell the smoke from Grandpa's cigarette.

1 comment:

  1. You captured so much of what the Carthage Fair used to mean when Grandpa had his horses there and his stalls were the gathering place for our family.