Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Politics of the Fryeburg Fair

I went to the Fryeburg, Maine fair earlier this month. The fair has existed in various forms for about 150 years. Founded in 1851, it started out as a place for Maine farmers to show off their best agricultural and bovine specimens.

Speed up to the year 2006, and the fair now has it's share of commercial kiosks that ply mops, dream catchers and hot tubs, but it still continues most of the traditional events such as a skillet toss, harness racing, and ox pull contests.

The best parts are generally the demonstrations: How to hook a rug, dogs herding geese as they would sheep, flower arrangements and maple sugaring to name a few. And don't forget the food. In a period of about three hours I ate one Italian sausage, eight fried dough "nuggets," one maple sugar ice cream cone, and some french fries.

Unfortunately, I arrived on the last day of the fair this year and it definitely had a bit of the "party is over" feel to it by the time I got there. The 4-H kids were packing up their poster boards that they had lovingly decorated to inform us city folk about the complexities of goat raising, there were two for one sales on everything from baby rabbits to belt buckles, you could tell that the smiles were becoming a little forced on all the staff.

Tired as both we and the rest of the fair goers and staff were, there were still some amazing moments. As we were heading back the car, we stopped by the main demonstration area. The place was packed. And why wouldn't it be? It was the tractor pull finals! Mullets and Black Sabbath t-shirts were the fashion of choice, along with John Deere hats and plaid shirts. We decided to mull around a bit and waited for the opening ceremonies.

They opened with an oral history of New England tractor pulls. Interesting, but not that compelling. Then, a woman who sold tickets at one of the fair gates, got up to sing the national anthem. She stepped up to the mike and belted out one of the best versions of the song I have ever heard. It was clear, unsentimental, and heartfelt. Men stood and placed their caps over their hearts. Women quietly sang along to themselves. It was getting close to sunset, and the light on the red and orange leaves the served as the backdrop to the event was lovely.

There was no political rhetoric, there were no professional photo opps, and no thought of all the recent political scandals. We were all simply listening to a woman singing about a place that she loves. And we were agreeing with her. If I had done a poll, I would guess that I vote differently than most of the other people in attendance. But in that moment, it didn't matter. We were all brought together by a shared hope and caring for our country.

I want this country to return to its best intentions, and I assume in their own way, so did everyone else around me that afternoon. We may differ in how we think our country should go about it, but my hunch is that having moments like these can only help.


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