The Newton County Fair was a once-a-year staple of the childhood experience, announcing the arrival of autumn with the promise of thrill rides, cotton candy and the other man’s game.
With the current climate change we seem to be undergoing—manmade or otherwise—it is sometimes hard to know when one season ends and another begins. However, back in the days of my youth, there was definitely a distinct difference in the divisions of the calendar, and my favorite time of year was fall. It may merely be my memory playing tricks on me, but it seems that the first cold front of the year always arrived, to my delight, in the middle of the day. We would all walk to school in the morning in short-sleeved shirts, and when we walked outside to go home in the afternoon, we would find that autumn had arrived in the North Georgia Piedmont, putting a nip in the air and a smile on the collective faces of school children everywhere. Why? Because we knew that when the first breath of fall arrived, the county fair could not be far behind.
Fair Day was something we looked forward to all year, right behind Christmas, Halloween and the first day of going barefoot. The fair—a traveling carnival with rides, sideshows, games and all manner of fun—would magically appear at the Newton County Fairgrounds on a Sunday morning in late September or early October, its arrival having been foretold for weeks by bright yellow, red and orange posters and handbills throughout the county.
We would pick up Coca-Cola bottles and save our loose change all year for money to spend at the fair. Older kids would actually go over on Sunday, hang out, talk to the carnies and earn a little spending money by helping them unload the big trucks that transported the tents and rides from town to town. Most of us had to wait for Wednesday afternoon, when schools actually let out early and kids were allowed through the gates of the county fair for free.
Now understand, this was before the days of annual trips to Disney World and other such theme parks. There was no Six Flags and no traveling carnivals set up in shopping center parking lots. This was a once-a-year deal for those of us who were lucky enough to have been raised in the 1950s, and it was special. I remember the smells the most. Wet sawdust. It always seemed to have rained on or before Fair Day. Cotton candy. Sour soft drink syrup spilled near concession stands. Other “aromas” that are better left undiagnosed.
“Cotton candy was my absolute favorite, but I loved the candy apples—the red ones with the hard shells, not the ones with caramel—and have been known to put away a corn dog or two. I learned the hard way to eat after I rode, not before.”Darrell Huckaby
Honesty compels me to admit that I wasn’t into many of the thrill rides. I liked the Ferris wheel, as long as it wasn’t a double, and I didn’t mind the roller coaster—the ones the James H. Drew Exhibition brought to Covington were never really very high or very scary—but I wasn’t a fan of any spinning ride, which represented just about everything else. The Scrambler, the Tilt-a-Whirl and the Octopus made me sicker than Cooter Brown after a three-day-drunk, and it didn’t take me too many tries to learn that sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. I just didn’t ride those things. Forget the Bullet.
I was a sucker for the games, however. I was certain that if I just put down one more quarter, I could knock those cats over the next time and win a Teddy bear; or knock over the milk jugs; or make a coin come to rest on a slippery plate. Even though my daddy warned me that you could never win playing the other man’s game, I thought I could. I couldn’t. That didn’t keep me from trying. That’s why I cringed whenever I learned that Mama Ellis, my mama’s mama, would be accompanying us to the fair. She was dead square against gambling, and I couldn’t even pick up a duck if she were with us.
I also enjoyed going to the freakshows. They had freakshows at the Newton County Fair when I was growing up. I guess those would be taboo these days, but there was a fat lady, a bearded lady and Emmett the Dog Boy, who looked just like a dog, bless his heart. I paid my quarter to stare at him every year for as long as I can remember, as did all my friends.
If I had any money left after riding the few rides I was willing to risk, gambling or looking at the unfortunates who traveled with the show, I would eat it away. Cotton candy was my absolute favorite, but I loved the candy apples—the red ones with the hard shells, not the ones with caramel—and have been known to put away a corn dog or two. I learned the hard way to eat after I rode, not before.
What I didn’t like to do was visit the exhibition hall. Cows, pigs, dioramas and canned vegetables adorned with blue ribbons didn’t interest me at all, and looking at them took time away from riding, eating and futile attempts at knocking down stuffed cats. However, my mama loved looking at such things and so I had to look at such things, too, at least until I was old enough to roam the fairgrounds all alone.
So far this year, my travels have taken me to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, the Moulin Rouge in Paris, Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California, Bush Gardens in Tampa, Florida, and Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark.
I would happily trade all of that for one more candy apple at the Newton County Fair and one more peek at Emmett the Dog Boy.