A County Fair Recipe for Summer Nostalgia

The five senses are sight, touch, taste, hearing, and smell.

Where are those senses activated more fully than at the Stanislaus County Fair?

My husband opened a bag of cotton candy I purchased for the kids. We cannot afford to feed them all $7 corn dogs. After taking the school tour during the antemeridian hours, we stopped by Target, purchased a pack of brat wursts. My husband breaded them with cornmeal, skewered them, and deep-friend them along with waffle-cut French fries and string cheese. After indulging in this fare, he opened the bag of cotton candy. “It smells like the fair,” he said.

 When the clock hit noon, outside the 4-H Barnyard, he declared, “It’s noon! Time to start the deep fryers. I can smell that Fair smell.”

As we walked back to the car, he pointed to a grassy patch where vendors parked their goods. “That was where I was supposed to go if I got lost,” he indicated. It was once the “Lost Tot” zone now found on the other side of the fairgrounds.

After the Rodeo, I took my eldest child through the Shopping Pavilion. We walked right and then left when I said, “it was pretty much this boring when I was a kid, too.”

Coming to the end, we happened upon the red and white checkered table clothes set on an even number of folding tables in front of a counter. “But the pie!” I remembered the delight, as a child and young adult, having gotten through the demonstrations of the pavilion, to beholding that beautiful sight of where pie we could afford was sold.

Memories here and there, alert our senses.

As my daughter and I finished touring the garden installations of the floriculture center, I heard a sound that took me back 23 years. Sugar Ray sang “Fly” on the Coors Light Variety Free Stage. The year was 1999. I was 14 and spent my afternoon hours “emoting” along to the tunes of B93.1. Sugar Ray was part of that light, don’t-take-yourself-too-seriously, Summer-fun style songs, when you told parents it’s “Alternative Music” they said, “alternative to what?”

Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray at the Stanislaus County Fair
Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray at the Stanislaus County Fair, 2022

Attending the County Fair was not an annual event in my childhood.

I did not participate in FFA or 4-H. My parents did not know you could enter an exhibit in the competition and get free admittance. They disliked the crowds, the noise, and the deep-fried foods. But my father took me to the Rodeo on my birthday when I was horse crazy and so this year, I took my horse-crazy daughter.

Bull riding at the Stanislaus County Fair, PCRA Rodeo
PCRA Rodeo at the Stanislaus County Fair, 2022

My father bought me a piece of pie. Years later, friends and I parked ridiculously far away to avoid parking fees. We wandered the lanes of the fair, enjoying ourselves in the free spirit of adolescence when this is the thing you do.

The memories are all wrapped up in my mind with a feeling of nostalgia. Sense memories trigger the brain’s limbic system running all along the sections that activate those five senses. It’s a good feeling even if it might not reflect how everything happened in those days or how happy we actually were.

I like the experience of nostalgia.

To me, it’s delightful to get that whiff of memories running through my heart. I treasure the moment to save something more lasting, something that speaks to the spirit of the thing. It’s the thing I hold onto. My children listen to with rapt attention as their parents tell stories of when they were young. They sit, marveling at how young their parents look in the telling, as if the parent has been transported back somehow to the magic of youth.

The parent’s eye sparkles, inspiring the child to love the thing too. It’s that nostalgic sigh that inspires a child to make memories too. We connect to the past and the present, sitting in both through the memory, in a way we will be able to do so for generations to come if only we tell our stories.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

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