As a kid I remember the annual Chenango County Fair with mystery, enthusiasm and daring. The rides were far more intimidating and new, my adolescent stomach could process even the most sugar-packed or fried food with glee and I never knew what I might find, from a lion tamer to a trapeze artist; there was always an exciting touch of the circus to be found at the carnival.
It was a fabulous place filled with strange people, captivating entertainment and fresh experiences.
Then, like most, the majesty and intrigue of the fair faded quickly in my more adult years as the experiences became repetitive and the trappings less appealing – a lasting view shared by many Chenango natives, I fear.
This year I spent far more time at the fairgrounds than I think I have ever before, more than 30 hours plus altogether, taking hundreds of photographs, conducting dozens of interviews and mingling with countless volunteers, patrons and venders.
I must admit that it may be one of the best fair experiences I can recall.
The part of the fair that impressed me is occasionally cast beneath the midway’s alluring noise and aromas, the agricultural accomplishments and joys.
Thursday morning while meandering around the empty fairgrounds waiting for the tractor pulling competition to heat up, I traveled to the livestock barns to see if I couldn’t find a opportune photograph or two.
I saw that a number of children were out in the pens, feeding chickens, watering ducks and taking care of the animals’ daily needs. A pair of girls, no older than 10, recognized my camera and asked if I was from the paper. They then led me to the stalls and, with their mothers looking on, they brought out their favorite goats and asked me to take their picture.
As I found my way through the barn, I had a number of people approach me to request a picture and several others caught in my lens made me wait until they could find a relative or select a specific animal before snapping the shot.
A grandfather and his grandson next to the family’s Holstein, a daughter and her father sheering sheep – there are few people I’ve seen more proud of what they do and so willing to share it with the world. Whole families are tied together by the farmer’s way of life.
After finding myself with more pictures than page space in the newspaper, I was horrified at the thought of not being able to fit everyone in, an earnest concern rarely roused by a media photographer.
I went looking to kill some time and do a little work and left unexpectedly touched and not wanting to let their kind-hearted expectations down.
While heading back to the grandstand, I passed the proud standing Percheron horses that tower 18 and a half hands high (that’s just over nine feet tall, ear to hoof). The animals are so beautiful that when they first passed me in the Firemen’s parade last week I set down my camera and stared blankly, nearly forgetting to capture the image that did the experience so little justice.
That same day I was pulled aside a number of times and told of two things I had missed the night before. One was the miraculous saving of a life in the grandstands and the second was the comedic chasing of escaped pigs by police officers and livestock hands.
Someone in the grandstand suffered a heart attack and was resuscitated by EMS volunteers after his heart had stopped. The medical personnel used a transportable defibrillator called an AED to revive the man in what I’ve been told was a very moviesque scene.
The man was then transported to the Chenango Memorial Hospital where he is reportedly “doing well.”
Later I talked to the man who saved his life. Citing medical privacy and other concerns, information on the issue was difficult to get other than a brief mention in Monday’s final fair article in The Evening Sun. The real story deserves much more attention and exposure, but that’s often the case.
I also found the officer who was reportedly chasing pigs that had escaped after the mother pig gave birth to a litter.
I asked him what would ever possess him to do such a thing in front of the public. I wish I could have written about some of the inappropriate jokes passed around in that conversation, but again, that too is often the case.
This is but a slice of a very long day at the fair Thursday. It was like that every day – a million stories to tell and only a thousand words to do it with. In my travels, I was able to get to know the men and women who are deeply involved with the fair and community life at large. Their contributions, personalities and humor are the backbone to its success.