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The Sun editorial: The Erie County Fair has been a lifelong experience

THE WHEELS GO ‘ROUND AND ‘ROUND — Pictured is a long exposure of the Erie County Fair’s midway, provided to The Sun by Paul Scharf.
HAMBURG — I am a nostalgic person by nature. Although a peek into my wardrobe and throughout my apartment would show me to be a person who loves all things modern, my fondness for tradition belies the outward appearance.

I walked down the aisle to Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus.” My Christmas trees (yes, plural) get decorated with ornaments from my first, second, third and fourth Christmases, as well as those gathered from my husband’s and my first holidays together.

In my DVD collection, modern offerings featuring Channing Tatum and Jennifer Lawrence are mingled with classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Guys and Dolls” and treasures by Abbott and Costello. Earlier this week, I felt myself going back in time, as I joined my family at Burdick Blueberries in Cattaraugus, to gather the huge, blue fruits that I have munched on every year since I can remember.

Two weeks ago, I drove my car into a still-empty fairgrounds in Hamburg and found myself transported back to my childhood. I tried to remain staid, as I walked, notebook in hand, into the office to meet with the fair organizers. A very kind Lou Ann Delaney, the fair’s director of marketing, drove my reporter and me around the fair, pointing to locations that would soon be bustling with food stations, re-enactors, police officers and more.

This behind-the-scenes look at a place as familiar to me as my own grandparents’ backyard thrilled me and I almost forgot that what I was doing was work.

A week later, I lugged my camera, notebook and media handbook through the gates and got my first glimpse of the 174th Erie County Fair.

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON — Pictured are father and son Steven and Jason Krystak of the Eden Volunteer Fire Company, during the Erie County Fair firefighters parade. Photo by Ron Larson.
I feel like the phrase “experience it” was very apt, for this year’s event. All of the senses were engaged by the myriad of things going on throughout The Fairgrounds. There was plenty to see, lots to eat, many cute little animals to touch, music to hear and yummy food to smell.

While the fair employees do a great job of making each year’s fair new and exciting, I was most enchanted to revisit all of the features that I remembered from growing up in Western New York.

Every single year, I climbed to the top of the bleachers and lent my voice to cheering on the tiny, pink porker my section was assigned to, by the person in charge of the Swifty Swine racing pigs and I laughed at a small teacup pig’s efforts to swim across a miniature pool.

My parents would lead me to the Niagara Mohawk station, where the demonstration would be so effective that I would stay away from wall sockets and anything that looked like a wire for weeks.

DON’T LOOK DOWN — New York State Police personnel demonstrate repelling for an audience, during the fair. Photo by Alicia Greco.
This year, as I watched my husband talk to a New York state trooper about taking the entrance exam, I thought back to the days when I would walk into the police building to get fingerprinted and then be shown the “lost children” spot, so my parents could feel more secure about their kids, who tended to wander off in four different directions. I snacked on cotton candy and fried dough, my on-again-off-again diet forgotten, for a time. As he has during every event since he moved to Western New York from South Carolina, my husband gleefully dragged me to smell the fragrance wafting from the stand of delicious nuts (and taste them, of course).

I walked through the fair, camera in hand, snapping photos of children laughing as they rode on the merry-go-round, people closing their eyes before jumping onto the giant bag of air, a zebra’s munching on his hay, one-day-old calves’ snuggling next to their mothers, trampoline artists’ catching some air and newly-hatched chicks squeaking for food.

I consider it a privilege to have this great and iconic feature in our own backyard and in my coverage area.

As Delaney said, as she drove us around the fair, this event speaks to everyone who attends. She said that she chose “Experience It!” as the theme, because of the nostalgia factor.

And that feeling is exactly what comes over me, every time I catch the first glimpse of the brightly-colored Ferris wheel, spinning over the mayhem below.

We can’t stop getting older. But we can continue to remember what made us smile when we were children, and take pause, every once in a while, to relive those moments. We cannot control how old we get, but we can decide how old we act.

SEA LION SILLINESS – Sea lions caught frisbees as entertainment, during the fair. Photo by Alicia Greco.
As I drove by a much calmer fairgrounds on Monday, that old nostalgic feeling crept over me again and I remembered a quote that very aptly described those feelings.

“Nostalgia,” said “Mad Men” character Don Draper. “It’s delicate, but potent. In Greek, ‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship. Its a time machine. It goes backwards and forwards; it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel. It’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels – around and around and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.”


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