In early August, when I start to notice that the days are getting shorter, I’m reminded of two sure things: summer is going to end, and the Fair is fast approaching. For as long as I can remember, the two have been linked together. As a child, I waited out every summer for the Fair to come — to play the games and ride the rides, of course, but more importantly so I could enter my creations. When I was at the Fair, or even preparing for it, I could forget that fall was coming.
Today, I’m not as eager to go on the rides I loved as a child because they make me nauseous, but I’m just as enthusiastic, if not more so, about my entries.
Every year, sometimes as early as April, I start to consider what I’m going to submit. As I’ve matured over the years, so has my handiwork, but my feelings associated with entering haven’t changed a bit. I still get giddy when I think about my entries. What will it be this year — brownies or cookies, a photograph or a quilt — or all of them?
Back in the 1960s, I entered such remarkable items as rock people (two or three rocks glued together with yarn pasted on for hair) or flowers I pulled from my grandmother’s garden in Lambert’s Cove. Occasionally, I ventured into the art department where I entered enamel ashtrays I made in art class in Vineyard Haven and a standing elephant made of chicken wire and papier-mache I made in another class down the road from us.
My cousins, who weren’t sure my entries counted because I made them in classes, always entered dish gardens, which invariably won prizes. They were detailed depictions of Vineyard vegetation, and they were successful because my cousins had access to multiple kinds of moss at their north shore home.
If I didn’t have anything to enter inside the hall, I could always find a dog to show. My brother entered our Welsh Corgi regularly, so I often borrowed dogs from my uncle and neighbors. The dog show wasn’t nearly as professional as it is today. We trotted our charges around the ring and won seemingly arbitrary prizes. One year, when I entered our neighbor’s beagle, I took home third place: the judge said our hair matched. We were both gingers.
The Fair is more organized, more serious, and much bigger today than it was back at the old Ag Hall, but I still get energized and hopeful when I think about what I should enter, although I’m more judicious today about my entries. I still get the weak stomach as I decide whether my quilts are good enough to enter, or if I should frame a photo or wake up super-early to bake cookies or brownies. Or, maybe one of my daughters should enter one of our dogs in the much more competitive dog show?
To say I’m not thrilled when I win a ribbon and the whopping prize money that goes with it, would be a lie. I feel like a rock star. My husband loves telling dinner guests that they’re about to eat “blue ribbon-winning cookies.” The highest honor I’ve won at the fair was the year I won The Barbara Lazarus Award for Traditional Baking to honor the moistest and richest brownies (prepared without nuts). That was a kick. But if the only reason I entered was in hopes of winning, I would be a sad person as the ribbons more often go to other entrants in the categories I’ve chosen.
I have successfully installed the thrill of the competition to a friend who now enters her flowers every year and has won several arrangement categories. And both of my daughters have entered brownies and art projects. They are as excited as ever about riding the rides and playing the games, but now they’re almost as enthused as I am about the big hall. While they take an initial lap around the grounds to check out what’s new each year, I try to wait patiently for the hall to open after the judging has taken place. Later, they wander through the hall checking out all the other entries, just like me.
It’s exciting to walk through the hall to see if I’ve won anything, but also to check out my competition in any given year and category. It’s fun to walk through and see the range of talent that the community at large brings to the hall. Recognizing the names of other winners and entrants brings home how tied to the Island we all are, regardless of which town we live in, where we live in the winter, or how long we’ve been here.
Morgan Baker, a summer resident for decades, lives in Cambridge and teaches at Emerson College.