Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Fair stories July 18, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 1:35 PM
Rice County Fair

Rice County Fair

Lilas struggles to get out the words, her voice raspy and fading, barely audible above the deafening roar of souped-up tractors and trucks competing in the grandstand near the old church.

She concedes momentary defeat, then continues. In this church, she was baptized and confirmed, she says, and married, 65 years ago yesterday. I can see the sadness in this aged widow’s eyes.

But she is proud of this place, this historic 1869 Holy Innocents Episcopal Church that her great grandfather helped build in Cannon City. Today the building stands on the Rice County Fairgrounds. I am here this Thursday night of the county fair listening to Lilas talk about the separated floor boards that allowed heat to rise into the sanctuary, about the stained glass window given in memory of a young girl who died. Lilas recites by rote. She’s shared these stories so many times.

This fair holds chapters of interesting stories.

Standing outside a booth brimming with bling, I overhear another.

“You don’t want my dog. You don’t want my stuff. I’m outta here,” the vendor spews into her cell phone, repeating her tragic tale to a friend.

A peace sign pendant dangles inches away from her on a silver chain. She doesn’t even notice me, oblivious to the fact that I am there with my camera snapping pictures of Bazooka bubble gum flip flops.

On the opposite side of the fairgrounds, I pause before a pink Visi-Matic washing machine in a Rice County Historical Society building. There is no one here to tell the stories this machine has washed away.

A free admission sign draws me into the Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Zoo tent. I recoil at the curled up pythons, coo at the cute leopard gecko. Rounding the corner, I spot another python rising up against the plexi-glass, tongue flicking in and out. I am a bit freaked out by the silent, slender tongue that seems to taunt, without words, without stories.

A circle of mini-trampolines, the kind I’ve seen floating in a lake, catch my attention. Attendants, dressed in safari garb, tether and secure kids in harnesses. Soon these fearless acrobats bounce high, under the watchful eyes of parents. I can only imagine the exaggerated stories retold to friends of great heights jumped.

And what, I wonder, will the young man sitting hunched in the tattoo trailer tell his son some day? Will he tell him the truth, that he got his tattoo at the fair, needles piercing ink into his skin while kids walked by stuffing tufts of cotton candy into their mouths?


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