Memory Fair

The fence separating our house from the county fairgrounds ran almost two hundred yards north to south along our property and the Becketts’ next door. There were holes through it along its length, some with a path under them, most of them cut either by the older Beckett boys Jerry and Rodney, or it might well have been Bill and Bob Cooper, since they always seemed to be up to something and usually were. It certainly never occurred to me or Tom to cut holes in that fence; we didn’t have to. We never snuck into the fair, either. Honest! Oh, there were plenty kids in the neighborhood who did, mostly boys on a dare, and some who didn’t have the price of admission. We could hear them sneaking through the woods in back of our house, and the dogs would bark until someone shouted from the trees for them to hush and they would, but we had no reason to care. We knew that it was better to sneak onto the fairgrounds after the fair, because you could always find money people had dropped; lots of change and the occasional bill. Tom found a twenty one time and spent it all on comic books, most of them Archies.

The fairgrounds had a big metal barn on the north where the canning, produce and crafts were judged and the civic organizations had their exhibits, and had roofed livestock stalls as well as a little stage in a depression on the east side of the area for shows and pageants. The midway was set on a broad sloping ground about the size of a football field, maybe a little larger, with the concessions in the center and the rides scattered around the periphery, except for the tilt-a-whirl, which always seemed to be in the middle. The Ferris wheel seemed always to be on the west side of the grounds, which meant we could see its lights turning through our windows as we fell asleep on autumn nights. I’ll never forget the year the fair included a one-ring circus and in the mornings we would awaken to the trumpeting of an elephant and the roar of a lion; magic filled the air. Barbara gave us buckets and made us get the elephant poo for her azaleas; the next April her Pride of Mobiles were frothy bonfires of pink and brilliant red.

On these warm still nights in the first week of every October from where I live now nearby the state fairgrounds, when I hear the faint barkers, the sporadic music or the occasional random shout from distant crowd, I’m a child again seeing the Ferris wheel spin above the trees, and for a moment I’m home again, no longer an old man in a filthy city during a dry month.

Catfish Broiled with Garlic Butter

This is a great way to serve smaller fish. Score and pat whole fish dry with cloth or paper, coat with softened garlic butter, salt, pepper and a mild paprika. Place in a very hot oven until fish flakes easily to the bone. For a milder flavor, you can use finely-minced shallots, but trust me garlic butter with this fish is wonderful.