Celebrating 145 Years of the Grange Fair!
Centre County, PA, is home to the Grange Fair, the last remaining encampment fair in the nation. What this means is that people actually come to the fair in Centre Hall and camp out for a week or more, some of them in spots that have been passed down through their families for generation after generation. There are rows and rows of green tents, with everything in them that you can imagine. All of the comforts of home!
I was riding the bus to work last week just as the Grange (yes, as we call it: "the Grange") started. The driver was pontificating about how his grandparents had passed their site down to his family now, and how he and his siblings take turns going over to the fair. "When somebody gets divorced, who cares about custody of the kids?" he said; "They'd be more likely to fight over who gets the family camping spot at the fair!"
In the middle of the afternoon, I met one of my best girlfriends at the main gates of the Grange Fair. We have been going to the fair together for more than 20 years. In more recent years, she sometimes brings along one or both of her daughters, and sometimes even her mom, whose company I enjoy immensely.
This year, the younger daughter, age 8, came along, and what fun we had. We ate all kinds of good stuff. We shared a basket of fried veggies; the onion rings were huge, and the mushrooms were delish! We had tacos later, and took monkey bread (cinnamon buns) home. But the star of the show, as per usual, was the peach dumpling with cinnamon ice cream. Oh my! Lord have mercy!
And we walked all around and looked at the tents, we were serenaded by an impromptu doo-wop group. How lovely to be enjoying the sights of the camping area, and then suddenly to hear the sound of such sweet harmonies on the breeze. It could have been 2019, or a hundred years ago: it would have looked and sounded quite the same!
We shopped at all kinds of places, and I bought nail polish (6 for $5), and a decorative garden flag ($5), and wool socks (3/$20), and a chance at a gorgeous quilt ($1), and Tupperware ($3 and $4). I looked for cheap garden gloves and Care Deeply lip balm (there used to be a lady who sold discontinued Avon goods, but alas, no more), but was denied on both counts.
After that, we had to visit the animals, and my friend's daughter got to hang out with the friendliest goat of all, the goat in stall #34. It was the happiest, most pleasant goat I have ever seen (see the photo in the extras), and she skritched its chin lovingly. When she stopped, it looked at her so beseechingly: Oh please, can't I have just a little more lovin'?
The last fun thing of the night was that my friend's daughter and I rode the ferris wheel together, and as darkness began to fall, we got to see the lights of the midway, shining out in the Pennsylvania dusk. That is always a magic moment, but even more so when you are riding the rides at the fair, and you know it'll be another year before you get to do it again. (In the extras is a picture of the ferris wheel just after we got off it - do you wonder why there are TWO ferris wheels? See the P.S. below.)
There was a time in the evening when my friend's daughter came over to me and just sort of leaned into me and started giving me hugs, unprovoked by anything. I have to say that they were awesome hugs, full of love and affection, just the kind I have needed most as of late.
As we took our leave of one another in the gathering darkness, I asked her for one more parting hug. She said, "Hugs that last for 20 seconds are pretty good, but the best ones last for 40 seconds or more!" And then she gave me one more for the road.
Aren't the sweetest moments always the ones just before you have to leave? And then we called out our I Love You's as we headed to our cars, and home.
Good-bye, good-bye, I'll see you again next year at the fair!
My soundtrack song is (quite fittingly for the Grange) ZZ Top. And the song is for all of us who have found love at the fair: Gimme All Your Lovin'. (And that goes for the goat too!)
P.S. Do you wonder why there are TWO ferris wheels side by side on the photo in the extras? The one on the left is the one we rode. The one on the right is "silent." There was also a backwards horse on the carousel. These are traditions to honor the passing of a local carnie. Here is a bit more info from a local news story in the Centre Daily Times:
It’s a traditional among carnival employees to honor the passing of a showman, and Garbrick Amusements is honoring one of its own.
Lewis “Jack” Garbrick, of Centre Hall, died in May at 93 years old. To honor the company’s founder, Garbrick Amusements is featuring a silent Ferris wheel and a backward carousel horse at the 145th Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair.
“The carnie tradition is to take your lead horse of your carousel and turn it backward,” said Teri Statham, Grabrick’s niece. “No one rides it for a week.”
“When my uncle came back from the Navy, he wanted to do something fun,” she said.
When the machinery company went out of business at the end of the war, Garbrick founded the amusement company in 1947.
The Ferris wheel was the first ride to be manufactured by the company and was always Garbrick’s favorite.
“He always loved the Ferris wheel,” Statham said. “Even last year at the Grange Fair, he rode the Ferris wheel.”
This year, the company has two Ferris wheels; however, only one is available for rides. The second silent wheel stands as a memorial to honor Lewis Garbrick.