Fair Time Meant Fun Time in Richland
Updated: Jul 10, 2020
We didn't know it had a name but my family did staycations, long before the word was, well, a word. My Dad was a farmer so there were never family vacations once school was out for summer. Crops in the fields and livestock in the pastures just don't give farmers time off. So, the countdown to the local fair was our countdown to fun time. I would anxiously await those dog days of summer all the while anticipating cotton candy, snow cones and carnival rides on Richland's main street.
As the fair dates grew closer, the excitement built. There was a published fair book that listed all of the contests, rules and award amounts. I'm not for sure if the amount awarded was the motivation for entering various categories. I think the motivation was more driven by bragging rights.
Mom busily pulled together her best work, whether it was something sewed, baked, grown or canned. Entering multiple categories provided more opportunities to win.
She made sure the Twin Mound Grange had a booth every year that showcased its members while promoting its community service. Local artist Minnie Moore was commissioned to paint a backdrop that represented the Twin Mound community and highlighted agricultural activities. I remember riding along with Mom when she went to pick up the backdrop. Minnie remarked that she had never done a painting that large and tried to figure out a way to paint a continuous scene over two separate wood panels. To complete the exhibit, Mom gathered home canned goods, garden vegetables, flowers and field crops from neighbors to represent the bounty of Grange members.
Dad and my brother Bernie would scour the fields for what could earn them a blue ribbon for the tallest corn stalk, the most ears of corn on a stalk or the fullest wheat and milo heads. Having a chance to gather and shoot the breeze about the current crop season, all while kicking up dust with their boots and chewing on a toothpick, was important to every farmer during the fair.
All of the exhibits and contest entries filled the fair building which originally was a lumber yard. It sat on the north side of the main street and I honestly don't remember it being used except at fair time. Maybe it served other purposes on occasion, but the fair was the biggest event of the year and an appropriate exhibit hall was extremely important.
The fair was the one time of year Mom gave me a little loose change that I could choose to spend frivolously on cotton candy, try my luck at a game-of-chance or go on a few rickety rides that the "carnies" brought to town. Usually there would be a scramble or tilt-a-wheel and I loved them. The ferris wheel was set up at the east end of the main street and stood tall so you could see it no matter which way you came into town. That darn ferris wheel, though, gave me the heebie-jeebies. I just didn't trust the bar would hold me when the wheel would suddenly stop and rock the seat at the top while the operator loaded or unloaded passengers below. Even worse was when your seat partner thought it was entertaining to rock it harder. That was so NOT cool. However, I begrudgingly rode it every year, but I'm not for sure why.
Mom's loose change contribution usually didn't last me long, so my fallback plan was to sweet talk Grandma or Grandpa out of some of their pocket change to double my fun. They obliged.
Grandma gathered every dime she had in a coin purse to pay for bingo cards all night long. She and her sister (Aunt Mamie) would arrive early and stay late for the last game. I quickly learned that I could cozy up to Grandma on the bingo benches and she would pay for me to play. As the bingo caller pulled numbers, Grandma watched over my card along side hers. If the card had the number called, you simply slid a tab that shuttered the number with a red, transparent cover. When "we" won, I'd get to shout BINGO. Not surprisingly, Grandma won a few coveted horse figurines and stuffed animals that went home with me.
SAY IT ISN'T SO.
Apparently, I participated in the talent contest at least once. While I don't have a recollection of it, I saw a picture in Alberta Smith's scrapbook that clearly shows me tap dancing away in my satin black "Sheik of Araby" costume on the makeshift stage which was a flatbed trailer pulled in front of the legion hall. I guess Mom wanted to make sure she got her money's worth from dance lessons and homemade costumes.
BACK TO THE PAST.
While interviewing past residents, the Richland Fair brings out many fond memories and eyes light up. It would have been fitting to host a commemorative fair at the Wakarusa River Valley Heritage Museum this summer to coincide with the "Remembering Richland" exhibit. However, social distancing has changed the calendar for now. The new plan is to kick off the Richland exhibit in May 2021 with a "Fair Day" celebration, followed up with monthly social events throughout the summer. Richland history and heritage is bountiful. The museum wants to ensure every person associated with Richland will have an opportunity to enjoy and share memories of our small town. Please keep checking the museum's website for continual updates.
Food, fun and friends are what I'm anticipating at my Richland staycation no matter when it happens. Come join me at the fair!