Friday, September 9, 2016


Walla Walla Fair and Frontier Days

One of the perks of living in a small town in Eastern Washington is the local fair and rodeo that happens every Labor Day weekend. In fact, this year was the 150th anniversary of the Fair and Frontier Days. Once described as "the cultural event of Southeast Washington," it does attract tens of thousands of people to the 5-day event beginning with a big-name country music concert on Wednesday night, the Demolition Derby on Thursday night, and three performances of the PRCA approved rodeo on Friday, Saturday and Sunday along with a carnival and exhibits of local farm animals, produce, photography and home crafts.

Having lived in Walla Walla for 29 years and raised two sons here, I've been to the fair more times than I can count. Yet it always brings mixed feelings. During the years that I was teaching school, it meant the start of a new school year. Unlike many school districts that always begin school after Labor Day, the tradition in Walla Walla has been to start school a week or even two before the fair. That meant that during the week of the fair, many students would be absent for whole or partial days as they cared for and showed their 4-H or FFA farm animals. Now as a retired teacher, the fair signifies the end of summer which even though I am retired, brings with it a sadness and melancholy of shorter and darker days not far off.

The Davis Show carnival is a big draw for kids and families, and there is always no school on Friday which is dubbed "Kids' Day at the Fair." As for the carnival rides, I have never been a big fan since I don't enjoy the feeling of my stomach in my throat; but I must be the exception as the rides are as popular as ever, at least with the younger set. And now, in my "mature adult" stage, I much prefer taking pictures of the bright lights, gaudy colors and others enjoying themselves.

The one exception to my "no fair rides" is the Ferris wheel, which I love. I have fond memories of riding a smaller version in the "Kiddie Section" of the fair, the kind that had single, front-facing seats which just held my two young sons and me. We'd always ride at night so we'd have a magical view of the lights of the carnival along with the twinkling lights of the town and the distant countryside. The warm summer air was tinged with a hint of coolness especially as the wheel went round and round, so we'd huddle together to keep warm while the sweet smell of cotton candy and the pungent hot oil of elephant ears and corn dogs tickled our noses. Those were the best times of the fair for me!

Nowadays, the draw to the fair as an adult is my once-a-year chance to eat "fair food." The choices are pretty standard and are always over-priced, but what the heck! You only live once!

Chickens and pigs and sheep, oh my! Once you've had enough of the bright lights and pulsating rock music of the carnival scene, step into one of several barns to see the farm animals. At night, the barns are a peaceful refuge for the animals and fair-goers alike, whereas during the day the comings and goings of kids and livestock preparing to show their animals can be a bit hectic.

This is an example of what these kids work for during the rest of the year--ribbons and certificates--and the chance to sell their livestock at a "fair" price.

"Behind the Scenes" --a parting shot.