State Fair of Texas

It’s fall in Dallas … and that means the State Fair of Texas! I have so many great childhood memories from Fair Park. I’m not certain that we did the pilgrimage to Fair Park every fall of my childhood, but if it wasn’t every year we went regularly enough that the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and thrills are permanently etched in my mind; and I want those same things for my kids.

Colleen, Grace, Zach, and Big Tex at the State Fair of Texas 2015

Colleen, Grace, Zach, and Big Tex at the State Fair of Texas 2015

My earliest memories of the State Fair occurred on the same visit; I’m guessing I was about 4 years old, but I’m not certain at all. In one of the buildings, I’ve long forgotten which, I picked an oyster from a tray of oysters and watched the vendor cut it open to discover a pearl. I was so excited to have it crafted into a piece of jewelry for my mom. I think it became a pendant for a necklace; perhaps she remembers.

On that same visit to the fair, the “string game” on the Midway is another story I can never forget, and I don’t want to. In this game of chance, the carny holds a hand full of long strings from which the contestant pulls one; on the end of each string is a colored tag that indicates which prize, if any, the contestant wins. As I selected a string, the carny pulled it out of my hand and mixed it back into the bunch, and said, “pick another one, kid.” My dad blew a gasket, swearing (in every sense of the word!) that I had picked the string with the grand prize ticket; he let the carny know in no uncertain terms that we had been cheated, and that he (the carny) would be in serious danger if he stepped out from his game stall. The shouting went back and forth until our money was eventually returned.

The rest of the day was pretty much soured because my dad was so angry. But, in that moment, he set the standard that he would support me when he thought I wasn’t getting a fair shake. And he did; even when he didn’t understand why I chose certain paths in life, he had my back.

On a few occasions during elementary school, I remember parking at Sears in Oak Cliff and riding the bus. That was the only time I ever rode the city bus in Dallas. In those days, students received a free buss pass, a free fair ticket, and a day out of school to use them. I think kids get free tickets now, and some schools work in a fair day, too. Now, the big push is to ride the DART trains to the front gate, so students may get train tickets, too. I’m not sure.

Zach won an alligator at the State Fair of Texas 2015

Zach won an alligator at the State Fair of Texas 2015

When I was in first or second grade, I thought I knew the trail through the glass house and began to run as fast as I could to prove my prowess. Well, that prowess came to a crashing halt when I literally ran through a floor to ceiling window. The impact shattered the glass and cut me between the eyes. Blood was streaming down my face. Bleeding and disoriented, I struggled to find my way out, but couldn’t. Eventually a worker made his way to me into the midst of the glass maze and carried me out and to the first aid station.

My mother watched all of this from outside, but could only wait until I was brought out. She followed us to the first aid station, and, in the end, the cut was quite small and was easily cleaned up by the nurse. Lesson learned: I have never run in a glass house again.

Also during my elementary days, I enjoyed going through the Food and Fiber building … for one reason. Beer biscuits! At one of the booths, we were able to sample biscuits that used beer instead of milk. I really thought I was getting away with something, not realizing that all the alcohol had been baked out.

I like almost everything about the fair. I like watching people try to win stuff on the Midway. I like the buzz and energy of the crowd. I like hearing the roar of the crowd in the Cotton Bowl when a team scores. I like seeing the show animals in the barns and the pig races and the Frisbee catching dogs and the Budweiser Clydesdales. I like the rodeo. I like the parade, the Marine Corps Band, and the high wire acts. I like walking through the buildings, seeing all the various tools or housewares that are supposed to make life easier, whether that be chopping vegetables or loosening a rusty bolt. I’ve bought pressure cookers, cleaning supplies, drill bits and a host of other must-have items over the years. And, truth be told: none of them have ever worked as well for me as they did the demonstrators. But, I’m still fascinated to watch the presentations and even tempted to buy!

Grace enjoys an ice cream at the State Fair of Texas 2015

Grace enjoys an ice cream at the State Fair of Texas 2015

One of the big attractions now is the variety of weird fried foods. What hasn’t been deep fried and served at the State Fair of Texas. Butter? Check. Ice cream? Check. Oreos? Check. Bubble gum? Check. Coke? Check. Kool-Aid? Check. Pop Tarts? Check. I’m not interested in that stuff, though. When it comes to food at the fair, I’m fairly traditional. Give me a turkey leg, a corn dog, and corn on the cob. I always like nachos, too. This year, I introduced Zach to an overpriced, but delicious turkey leg. Though he was skeptical at first, it didn’t take long for him to say, “That’s delicious.” And what would a trip to the fair be without something for the sweet tooth? Cotton candy? Yep. Ice cream? Yep. Salt water taffy? Definitely! And every once in a while a candied apple hits the spot.

Growing up, I never was much for the rides at the fair, except for the old wooden roller coaster. I rode some rides, but don’t have any particular childhood memories of rides at the fair. I always liked the fun houses and side shows. They don’t really have side shows anymore, and I understand why. One reason is that people now realize it isn’t cool to pay to see people who have birth defects. The other reason is that what once was considered human oddities are now on display for free at Walmart every day!

The side show that I remember the most included several acts: Block Head, the human pin cushion. The human conduit sat on an “electric chair” and illuminated light bulbs by placing them on his head or in his mouth. There was a knife thrower and the girl in a box that wriggled around the saw blades. The morbidly obese “Fat Lady” lumbered her way on to stage and plopped down on a pile of pillows. The barker shouted, “Look at her dance, folks!” as the pitiful woman jiggled her belly in her hands to some background music. For an extra 25¢ we got to go into a back tent area to see the tattooed lady who must have been 70 years old. She stood stone faced in a bikini with saggy skin covered in tattoos.

So much fun. So many memories. Unfortunately, it has become so expensive to go the State Fair that my kids will not get to experience it annually. I hope to take them every few years, but somehow, I don’t think they will have the great memories of it that I do.


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