The days are hot, the nights are warm and every cow has her own personal cloud of flies. This must mean that it’s fair season.      
     I don’t know why the word “fair” is used to describe those loud and large farm-based gatherings, but I have a theory. We farmers tend to be taciturn and we also tend to understate things. These two factors are what lead to fairs being called fairs.
     At some long-ago late summer gathering of farmers, one of the attendees perused the audacious produce and commented, “Those tomatoes look pretty fair.” This random observation made by some random ancestor is how the fair got its name.      
     Attending a fair has always incited a feeling of excitement tinged with nausea for me. When I was a kid, this was due to my twin addictions to gut-churning carnival rides and mass quantities of anything that was fried and served on a stick. As an adult, this feeling is due to stage fright.      
     For several years, I gave short talks on the Centennial Stage at the South Dakota State Fair. Sherwin and Pam Linton, country musicians extraordinaire, asked me to speak as a part of their effort to highlight homegrown talent.
     Sherwin and Pam have come to feel like family to my wife and me. They are the good kind of family; the kind who never shows up on your doorstep in the middle of the night, asking if they can crash on your couch and then hits you up for a loan in the morning. The kind of family who introduces you to the crowd with such gusto that the audience greets you with great enthusiasm.       
     A fair is one of the few places where a person doesn’t feel the least bit silly about walking around and gnawing messily on a food substance that has been skewered upon a piece of wood. Having an excellent gustatory experience at a fair often means coming home with slivers in your gums.      
     We do some things at a fair we wouldn’t even consider in real life. I believe this is all part of the fair ambiance. This basically means you aren’t the same person at a fair who you are at home.      
     There are numerous things at the fair that fortify this attitude. For instance, where else can you stroll around and, without any effort whatsoever, catch up on the latest trends in tattoos and body metal? Where else can you watch a head get carved from butter while munching on fried cheese curds and sipping a glass of ice-cold chocolate milk? Where else can you achieve this dairy foods trifecta?     
     A fair is an excellent place to people watch. People watching is similar to bird watching except you don’t have to get up really early or use binoculars.
     My wife and I are homebodies, so sitting on a bench at a fair and watching people walk past is high entertainment for us. We make a game of trying to guess passersby’s stories.      
     For instance, that bedraggled guy who’s pulling a plastic wagon that contains a pair of squalling, cotton candy-coated preschoolers is probably a husband and a dad. The guy’s 1,000-yard stare is saying, “As soon as I find my wife, I’m going to hand off the kids and go to the Beer Garden and sit there and soak up the ambiance until I can’t move!”
     That teenage couple strolling around and holding hands are on their first major outing together. They’re still in the phase where they make goo-goo eyes at each other, then have to look away in joyful embarrassment. Spending an entire day together at the fair will be a stress test for their relationship. If they’re still speaking to each other after consuming enough junk food to founder an elephant and riding the Scrambler until they feel like hamsters that have fallen into a salad spinner, their bond will be cemented.       
     My wife and I never fail to have a nice time at the fair. I somehow manage to get through my talks without embarrassing myself too much. We always enjoy some exotic food (usually on a stick) and meet nice folks whom we would not have met if we had stayed at home and watched TV.
     My only fair-related disappointment is that my wife won’t fully embrace the fair ambiance by getting a tattoo. Not even a temporary one! Maybe next year.      
     Afterwards, during our drive home, I will always ask my wife if she had fun. And she will inevitably reply, “Oh, it was fair.”
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, S.D. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.