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Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair

We are getting the remnants of a rare hurricane here in Southern California (you may have heard). So far it’s just like any winter rainstorm, except in August.

I opened the window to my office and got a whiff of that wonderful, soil-y rainstorm smell—wow, I missed that. Nostalgia!

The even bigger nostalgia would be if we were on Martha’s Vineyard right now. We haven’t made it back this year (and likely won’t).

The M.V. Agricultural Fair is held this weekend every year and it was probably the annual highlight of my childhood on the Vineyard. (Here’s the Gazette’s coverage.) The only downside to it was that it meant that only a few weeks remained in summer vacation.

Prior to 1994, it was held at the Grange Hall, in what you would call “downtown West Tisbury” (a town hall, general store and library) which was way too small, so they eventually moved it to its present location.

I think in the very last year of the old location, President Clinton was on the Island, and of course the Big Dog had to visit the fair—so I got in the rope line and shook his hand. I remember he had giant hands, a giant face and giant ears. He shook my hand already looking to the next person—and I thought, what a weird experience that must be.

Anyway, I loved that old, cramped location. Parking was a nightmare, but we had friends (the Garcias!) who lived at the corner and would let us use their driveway.

First, my brother and I would do a bunch of artwork and enter it into the youth art competition, on the second floor of the Hall, and inevitably win a bunch of blue (first), red (second) and white (third) ribbons. (I tacked them up in my bedroom around the windows.)

One time I got a big, fluffy light blue ribbon for Best Vineyard Subject—although it was of a watercolor I did set at Nantucket, of a ferry boat. (“Idiots!” I thought.)

I always wanted to win the “Best Young Artist” award—never did.

We loved the carnival rides brought over from the mainland. The ferris wheel let us get a glimpse of the Island above the tree line. We didn’t like the really aggressive rides, but there were some other fun ones that offered motion and thrills without nausea.

The “carnies” were these sort of gruff, distracted people who barked at us to obey the rules and threw the rides into gear by rote. (So far as I know, there was never a serious accident.)

They also had these games where I would spend $40 of my parents’ money throwing darts at balloons to “win” a Three Stooges T-shirt that fell into threads upon the first wash. My folks were good sports about that.

We didn’t really go for the junk food...but it was nice to know it was there.

Downstairs in the Grange Hall were the giant pumpkins, adult art entries, and the winners for best marmalade and all those oddball hobbyist pursuits—fun to walk through.

And then there were all the animal contests and corny old games...which I never paid too much attention to as a kid. They felt like remnants of an older agrarian time, even in the 1980s—a real slice of Americana. And there were music programs at night.

I’ve gone to the fair a few times in recent years—and while the new location is vastly more comfortable, I feel like maybe the discomfort of the old place was a big part of its charm?

Probably it’s just a case of nothing being as fun or special as I remember from being a kid.

When I was a kid...the rituals and entertainment and sense of about “in loco parentis.”

It was the best!

Also, a shout-out to Linda Carnegie, my friend Jonah Walker’s mom, who almost always painted the annual fair poster in those days. A fabulous artist!

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