CLINE: The fair cost of making memories

Todd Cline

Todd Cline

Reader poll

What do you enjoy most about the Gwinnett County Fair?

  • Rides & Games 14%
  • Livestock shows 23%
  • People watching 24%
  • Food 13%
  • I don't go to the fair 27%

102 total votes.

The Gwinnett County Fair is in full swing, bringing back plenty of memories of festivals and fairs past. Like the wild food options available at the fair, those memories are varied. Or maybe time makes them that way.

My childhood memories of attending festivals are nothing but positive. After all, what’s better to a kid than riding rides and eating food that usually wasn’t allowed for dinner, and eating more than enough of it for good measure?

But the one memory from attending all those festivals that I never understood as a child was my father’s ambivalence to the very thing I thought was the highlight of the year. Why, I always thought, is he not as excited at the prospect of spending the night at the fair as I am?

Then I got older and I quickly learned the answer. While I was spending the night, he was spending his hard-earned money. And with a family of four, everything was quadrupled. Frozen lemonades? We’ll take four. Vinegar fries? Four of those as well. Elephant ears? An actual elephant may only need two, but our family required four.

Things weren’t quite as expensive for the rides, mainly because our parents sat most of those out. But they usually got in on the Scrambler — four, please — and, of course, the ferris wheel. By the end of the night my stomach was full, my dad’s pockets were empty and the feelings we both had for the fair hinged on those things.

Fast forward to adulthood, and the cost that comes when paying just for two of everything. It didn’t take long to empathize with my old man, the cost of attending the fair being equally expensive in cash and calories.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t still fun. That’s why, all these years later, I better understand my dad’s feeling about fairs. It’s not that he didn’t enjoy them, just that the guy footing the bill never has quite as much fun as the kid without a care in the world. Which, all adults know, is true of many things.

Each year when the county fair returns, a lot of the same old conversations do as well. We all talk about the crazy food for sale (what will they deep fry this year?) and the amazing people watching you can do. Someone will say they enjoy seeing the animals and that it’s great to promote 4-H. And then the complaints begin about the cost of the foods and rides.

They aren’t unfounded. They just don’t have to be the defining point of a once-a-year event. Like a child I prefer to think of all the fun instead of the expense, and like my dad I pull out my wallet regardless of the cost.

When it comes to memories, the order should always be the same: More, please.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.