All’s Fair

A ride on the wild side

By Bill Fields

Anticipation is  — or at least, was, in simpler times — a big part of childhood. And there wasn’t much of anything to look forward to more than the Moore County Agricultural Fair.

It was an annual tradition to ride up Highway 15-501 toward Carthage, hang a right and pull into the field that served as the fair’s parking lot.

When I heard that the county fair was being canceled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it struck me that, even in these much different times when entertainment is on demand instead of on-site, kids would be disappointed their families weren’t making the same trip mine did a long time ago.

This would have been the 74th Moore County Fair, it having been held each year since World War II ended.

I must have attended more than a dozen growing up. We weren’t a “state fair” family. We went to the amusement park at the beach, and took a special trip to Six Flags Over Georgia in the early 1970s — log flume! — but the county event was a staple.

For a small-town boy, the Tilt-A-Whirl was a big deal. For that matter, so was cotton candy, corn dogs, Sno-Cones and candy apples, which, to my memory, were the four main food groups in the years before any vendor had sold his first giant smoked turkey leg or microwaved some nachos.

With a warning from Mom to keep the vast sum of money in my pocket safe, I would be off for an adventure — choosing a rubber duck, riding the carousel and Ferris wheel, shooting at balloons, pitching nickels. I ate applesauce and drank juice from the “china” my nickels settled in.

Even though it wasn’t too far from home, the fair seemed exotic and full of things that didn’t populate our daily lives. These many years later, I still don’t know if it was a “Hoochie Coochie Show” or “Hootchy Kootchy Show” that lurked in the shadows away from the rides and games. Whatever belly dancing or other entertainment happened in the forbidden tent I never knew. But regardless of the spelling, they were five syllables to speak and ponder each fall.

A year ago, when I happened to be in town during the fair, I went for the first time in decades. Many things from childhood seem physically smaller than they used to. Things seemed more spread out, too, as if socially distanced before we knew what that term meant. The rides and games conjured memories, and so did the carnival workers who sold chances or clicked the safety bar down on your waist before the Ferris wheel spun into action. In the exhibition building, blue ribbons spoke of things cooked or sewn well.

I investigated all corners of the grounds for evidence of risqué entertainment, but saw no tent or heard any crowds. The fair seemed to have survived nicely into the 21st century, but the same couldn’t be said for the Hootchy Kootchy Show.

Riders shrieked while spinning through the air on the “Yo Yo.” A little girl carried a large stuffed bunny toward the exit. I did not observe anyone heading for their car with dishes or glasses.

I stayed away from the fried dough but capped the night with a cherry Sno-Cone. There were three places in my world where you could get such a treat: the fair, the beach and the concession stand at the Little League field.

The fair looked and felt a bit different than it had but tasted pretty much the same. A year from now, folks will be eager to return.  PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent. Bill can be reached at williamhfields@gmail.com.

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