Families participate in the Fair in different ways, passing on their enthusiasm from one generation to the next.
Children almost universally enjoy the rides. And people of all ages look forward to ice cream and tempura, not to mention the various shows and events. If you add a few hall exhibit projects, bring animals to show, and work or volunteer, the Fair can define half of a family’s summer.
A lot of things have held constant over the years. Chris Murphy of Chilmark says that his earliest memories of the fair were about food and selling a litter of golden retriever puppies. A few years later, he decided to enter something in the hall exhibits.
“The first Fair entry I can remember, I was 12 years old and was at home alone with the ‘Joy of Cooking’ cookbook and I decided that I had to do something,” Mr. Murphy recalls. “I entered it in the men’s cooking contest and I got a prize, but my mother said she should have gotten the prize because it took her two weeks to clean the kitchen.”
This summer Mr. Murphy is helping his six-year-old granddaughter, Emily Boyd, learn to do paper mache for a project she’s planning to enter in the Fair.
Bill Haynes of West Tisbury recalls waiting for the rides to show up, not because the rides were so exciting in themselves but because that meant that the Fair was coming.
“I always liked the cows,” Mr. Haynes says.
Although he and his wife, Betty, say that they haven’t entered much in the Hall exhibits, they have a collection of prize ribbons hanging by their kitchen fireplace. Mr. Haynes, a retired West Tisbury Fire Chief, helped get the Fire Department’s burger booth started, and his children and older grandchildren all volunteer in there.
Mr. Haynes puts up the fencing to mark out the Fairgrounds, sometimes accompanied by his second-to-youngest grandchild, Lilly. His son, Bruce, is the Fair plumber, and Betty Haynes works in the ticket booth.
“Between and amongst us we have reasons to be there,” he said.
Molly Scarborough’s father, Dale McClure of Vineyard Haven, is president of the M.V. Agricultural Society’s board of directors. He’s also in charge of the ox pull and the horse pull. About eight years ago, Mr. McClure started the tractor pull.
“My father needed somebody to help, so I just sat down and took the measurements,” says Ms. Scarborough, who lives in West Tisbury. “So now I’m the one in the booth keeping the score. My husband won the competition for the first four years, but then there got to be more competition, which is good.”
Ms. Scarborough has passed on her love of the Fair to her four-year-old son, Jack. “His favorite thing has probably got to be the rides, he likes the bouncy house. He has put in a piece of art every year; I make him.”
Last year, Jack also entered his pet Nigerian dwarf goats. “Jack loves to ride them,” his mother says.
Jessica Hartenstein, also of West Tisbury, came to the Fair relatively late in life, but her whole family is involved too.
“I was here with my dad in the summertime since 1984,” she says. “Once I moved here full-time, which was in ’97, I started going a lot. Usually my friend Chrissy [Kinsman, of Pie Chicks] and I have a competition to see who would win the special award for the brownies with no nuts. Now that both of us have won all the ribbons we can, we’ve stopped that.”
Ms. Hartenstein has also entered sewing projects and special displays, along with vegetables and flowers.
“The kids have entered things, and we’ve all won ribbons. Sarah did a watercolor of the Fair poster with the rooster on it, year before last, and that year Azor did a rock sculpture of a shark.”
Ms. Hartenstein’s husband, Russ, works in the firemen’s booth every day of the Fair, and Sarah works, too.
“Sarah is a runner for when you give your stuff for the Hall,” Ms. Hartenstein says. “Once they get to be eight years old they can do that. She couldn’t wait for that to happen.”
That is the very same job that Chris Murphy did six decades ago: “As 8- to 10-year-olds we all helped set up the Hall, and it seems to me we got a free ticket for working three days,” he recalls.
Being part of the Fair is one of the great highlights of the summer for these and many other families, across and within the generations. And the Fair connects families too, year after year, generation after generation. Emily Boyd, for example, says that her favorite part of the Fair is to play on the rides with her friend, Lilly Haynes.