"Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder." ~E.B.White
Recently we decided to spend a relaxing Saturday rediscovering Ventura California and attending the Ventura County fair. Every time I travel north from LA on the California 101 freeway I am reminded of listening to the radio in the seventies, hearing the group America singing Ventura Highway and knowing that someday I would take that road. I didn’t know then just how often I would travel the 101. It has become the prelude to many of our most memorable road trips. When we arrive in Ventura I generally find myself thinking back to my teen years and my dreams of the California coast. Generally one word usually crosses my mind, gratitude.
We have had the opportunity to see quite a few of the 21 missions established by Fr. Junipero Sera on our trips up and down the Coast. Seeing the ornate alter and statuary, it is easy to imagine a time when these missions were the heart and soul of their towns. I began to think about all the people who have come to worship in those weathered wooden pews for the past two hundred and thirty years. In the end we are all connected. We all pray for health, peace and the ability to care for those we love.
After paying our respects in the church we wandered through the courtyard enjoying the flowers finally realizing we had better get on our way. It was time to head to the Ventura County fair. If someone had ever asked me if I was a fan of county fairs I probably would have said I that at best I was lukewarm about them. The image of crazy crowds wielding sticky cotton candy, pushing and shoving one another as they wind up the midway like salmon on a mission was overall decidedly unappealing to me. I don’t really like the food found at fairs either. I do love decadent treats like eclairs, pastries and rich ice cream but, fried butter or fried kool-aid really aren't my thing. I had been to a small fair once before and although it was a nice day out, it didn’t thrill me.We have spent a great deal of time in Dallas whose State fair is touted to be one of the best, yet we have never had the desire to attend. Why Ventura? Why now? I can't say I gave it a lot of thought. It was just meant to be part of a Saturday outing. I guess that it is all part of the magic to be found on an just an ordinary Saturday.
I should have known when we found a perfect parking spot with no trouble at all that I was in for a paradigm shift. It was a cool afternoon, perfect for a visit to the fair. We entered the midway and I was not bothered at all by the crowds. I loved watching the pure joy on the faces of the parents as they watched the pure joy and wonder on the faces of their children. It was heartwarming and spoke to me of a simpler time before game boys, cell phones and social media. Most of the fair food was fried as usual but, this time seeing the signs made me smile. I didn’t try any but, I was momentarily tempted at the fried Oreo stand. This visit was turning out to be lots of fun.
We strolled through the amusement park area hand in hand watching huge gravity defying mechanical rides hurl their passengers round and round. The riders squealed with delight all but drowning out the game barkers who assured us a fabulous prize could be ours if only we would “step right up”. Bright lights twinkled on every ride as calliope music filled the air. I was on a date with my sweetheart and it was very romantic.
I think the highlight of our visit to the fair was visiting the exhibit Halls. How did I not know or not remember that the large halls throughout the fair grounds house exhibits of some of our favorite pastimes and hobbies? I recalled that there were ribbons and prizes for best of show at county fairs and suddenly I understood. Fairs are about community and about sharing pride of accomplishment. I enjoyed wandering through the agriculture and botanical halls, where I was glad to see healthy living and healthy eating promoted. I was actually learning a great deal at this fair. Imagine that.John and I spent a lot of time in the photography hall. We are avid photographers and loved seeing the travel, nature, portrait and animal photographs on display. We enjoyed the textile hall as well as the chicken, bunny and aquarium areas but, I have to say it came as no surprise that the food hall was my favorite building.
I was impressed by the variety of canned and preserved products on display. I had never seen such a collection. I analyzed each jar and read all the ribbons. I began happily looking for interesting canning ideas when suddenly out of the corner of my eye I noticed a room full of breads. I ran over to explore them more closely but stopped short as I happened upon racks of pies, pastries, cookies and cakes. I didn’t know which to check out first. John had grown up with county fairs and had even been a member of his local 4-H so this was no surprise to him. I think he enjoyed seeing me discover it for the first time. I found myself wanting to contribute my own culinary offerings and for a moment fantasized about winning a blue ribbon of my own. I was beginning to understand more about county fairs at every turn.
As much as I hated to leave the food pavilion, we did want to get over to see the farm animals before they went to sleep. We love watching the animals and seeing all the different varieties on display. Seeing the parents introducing their toddlers to perhaps the first baby animals they had ever seen I was reminded of my own childhood visits to the Catskill Game Farm in New York. My mother bought me a cone full of feed to give to the animals. I remember feeling happy and a little scared as well. We watched the sheep and goats for quite a while but it was getting chilly and we had a bit of a drive ahead of us. One last stop and we would be on our way.Our final stop was a commercial hall where barkers were hard at work selling the latest and greatest gadgets and gizmos. The only booth that caught our interest was the Vita Mix booth. We had decided in February that we would buy each other a Vita-Mix for Valentines Day. We try to get each other Valentines Day gifts that we believe promote heart health. It’s become our tradition. Here it was August and we had not gotten around to actually buying the Vita-Mix. This seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Growing up in Manhattan the only fair I ever attended was the 1964-65 Worlds Fair. I must admit that I had more than a few misconceptions about county fairs. I now see that beyond the cotton candy and roasted corn, county fairs are a celebration of communities coming together to learn from, laugh with and lean on one another through good times and bad. It is the very same conclusion I drew after seeing Fr. Serra’s mission. So what has not changed in two hundred and thirty years is that when we gather in communion as friends and neighbors we are comforted, healed and strengthened by each other. It was a very good day at the fair.