Virtue & Mischief


Things have changed in the Swensen household, and how our family experiences the Great Darke County Fair is one striking indicator of some of those changes. I remember pushing (not that long ago) multiple amigos in a double-wide stroller while the oldest walked next to me with her hand firmly in the grasp of mama amigo’s hand.

Pony rides and the carousel were the order of the day back then. And, yes, for the record let me concede the obvious: Double-wide strollers and the fair are a very bad combination.

A couple of years later and our fair adventure was significantly different. The amigos were fully ambulatory, highly energetic, and fully enthusiastic about (1) consuming as much sugary junk as humanly possible, and (2) riding as many rides as time would allow. This was a combustible development on multiple levels. For one thing it was always financially costly. For another it was sometimes physically costly—to me, not the amigos, for I often was forced to ride innocuous-sounding-but-intestinally-challenging rides like the “Zipper” or the “Egg Roll.” The latter is known formally as the Rock-O-Plane and I can’t tell you how many times over the years it Rocked-O-My-World. And not in a good way. And, finally, it was occasionally emotionally costly. Like double-wide strollers and the Fair, mass quantities of sugar + intensely stimulating rides + varying levels of indulgence can lead to a less than pleasant end result.

Still later came the “I HAVE TO HAVE THAT [UNBELIEVABLY TACKY, COLOSSALLY OVERPRICED AND POORLY MANUFACTURED] X, Y, AND Z THAT THEY’RE SELLING AT THE YADAYADA TENT!” period. This fun little epoch is also known in some quarters as the “YOU’RE SO UNFAIR! EVERYBODY ELSE’S PARENTS LET THEM BUY [UNBELIEVABLY TACKY, COLOSSALLY OVERPRICED AND POORLY MANUFACTURED] X, Y, AND Z!!” period. I still get a little misty-eyed recalling the good times I enjoyed employing paternal and repetitive injunctions like “No, not right now” or “we’ll see, maybe later” or—my favorite—“UD forgot to pay me this month. Go ask your mother.” Those always went over well. Krista was especially jazzed by that last one.

We are now in a wholly different phase, a surprising and extremely pleasant one. I’ll call it the “one amigo could care less about the Fair and the other two are miraculously becoming pretty responsible” phase. I like it a lot.

Daniel is completely indifferent to the fair. He doesn’t like the rides and is uninterested in its other trappings as well, other than (of course) the food. If you feed the kid stuff he likes, he’s good to go—he doesn’t care whether it comes from the fair, the fridge, or the moon. Wonderful. Abby is 13 now and so enjoys “hanging” at the fair with a friend or two, somewhat aimlessly walking around and talking about I’m not sure what—Japanese anime and young adult dystopian-themed books, I think. She’s grown pretty thoughtful about her beleaguered parents’ inclination to worry, so she checks in and shows up when and where she’s supposed to. Splendid.

Which brings us to the youngest amigo, Luke, soon to be 11. His recent behavior regarding the fair was a welcome revelation. First, he didn’t badger us or whine incessantly that “absolutely everybody” was getting to do more/ride more/buy more at the fair than he. On Wednesday he asked if he could invite a friend to spend the night on Friday and maybe go to the fair with said friend that evening. After consulting our calendars and each other, Krista and I agreed and I took the two boys to the fair while Krista attended to some other responsibilities. We arrived about 6 p.m., purchased a ride bracelet and held a brief but important conference in the shadow of Pharaoh’s Fury (or is it “Phury”??). “Fellas,” I began, “here’s the deal. I’m going to leave you alone, but you’ve got to be responsible. No messing around on the rides, be respectful to everyone, and show up right here [I pointed to the ground for emphasis] at 7 o’clock. Luke, here’s my watch [he solemnly put it on his wrist]. No excuses. If you show up like you’re supposed to, you’ll earn another hour. If you don’t, I’ll hunt you down, we’ll leave, and—Luke—you’ll have other consequences to deal with. Got it?” They nodded and sprinted away.

For the next hour I spied the sights, smells and sounds of the fair: Exhausted parents with toddlers (ah, yes, I remember), giggling teenagers, elderly couples holding hands, the faint odor of animal excrement and hay, the baying of sheep, funnel cakes, pizza, ice cream, apple dumplin’s, goldfish in baggies, walking sticks clicking the pavement, screams of joy, shrieks of despair, the repeated advertisements on the public address system. It’s Darke and surrounding counties writ large, in one living, breathing, moving menagerie—fascinating and, yes, even a little troubling at times.

At 7, I stood at the appointed spot and a moment later they arrived, grinning with satisfaction. “See?” Luke queried. “I know you don’t believe this, but we’re actually pretty trustworthy.”

“Good for you,” I replied. “But one time does not a pattern make. See you at 8. Right here [I pointed at the ground again].” And so it went. They arrived at 8 on the dot. At the following meeting, set for 9, I was late by two minutes and Luke greeted me with a mocking “Where have you been?!”

Touche, amigo #3! I like this little period. I hope it lasts a while.
Scenes from the fair

By Timothy Swensen

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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