On A Rainy Year, “Fair” is Spelled “Mud”

Written By: Crysta Stephenson

Writing pieces like “… Gimme A Quarter” and “A Year Without the Highland County Fair” brings so many good memories of the Highland County Fair to mind.  

Four days of FUN for everyone. Rides, games, shows, contests, performances … some hometown folks work on projects all summer just to show them off at the fair.

Now, keep in mind, ALL this went on rain or shine. And, some years that was Rain or shine. Yes, “Rain” with a capital “R.” In fact, some years, it should have been spelled RAIN – in all capital letters!

You more modern fair-goers enjoy the neat and clean midway area we have today. However, in the 1970s/80s and early 1990s, there was no pavement and no sidewalks at the fairgrounds. In other words, it was a giant mud pie.

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During the Highland County Fair, mud tended to make everything more challenging for everyone. (Photo Courtesy: Highland County Fair Association.)

And, depending on who you are, the mud pie could make the fair more – OR LESS – fun. I’m sure you get my drift. Nonetheless, let me explain…

Years ago, the lovely field we now have behind the fairgrounds was not open for parking. Everyone parked in front of the high school. The paved parking lot was prime real estate. It was always full, and you could never, ever get a spot there. Don’t even try. 

Once it was full, fair-goers parked on the high school lawn … all the way out to the ball field. Now, you tried never to park on the ball field because if you did, you would be in a “muddy mess,” as my Mother used to describe it. And, if you had to park out there, good luck getting your car out at the end of the night. 

The rest of the evening depended on how muddy the fairgrounds were… and things were always muddy in a rainy year.

Generally, you walked past the ticket booth – the main entrance – right into a couple of huge puddles on the last bit of paved area by the school. Then, you were into the midway and … the MUD.

In those days, you didn’t wear anything good or new – especially shoes – to the Highland County Fair. You were taking the chance of absolutely ruining your attire in the mud. In fact, in most homes, farm boots and old school shoes were relegated to be used for the fair … just in case they reached the point of no return. (And, many items did.)

Sometimes mud was so thick and deep you could step in the muck with your shoe and come out with only a sock.

If you were a parent in those days and wanted to keep your little cherubs clean, I hope God was with you. It was nearly impossible. Every step along the midway started out muddy and was quickly trampled into a thicker, muckier, goo. If you tried to push a baby stroller through that, you needed the strength of Goliath. It was easier to strap the kid to your back and march through it. The ground was muddy, the rides were muddy from muddy kids with muddy feet getting in them. If you and your child were clean and standing beside a mud puddle, you could easily get splashed or sloshed by some errant kid running by.

Bottom line: If you wanted you and your children to stay clean, then you had better stay home!

Now, if you were a kid, these were good times. I know a pair of kids whose mother tried to keep them out of the mud one year. They were darling children … one brunette and one blonde. They had a good time playing in the fun house, which had a huge mud puddle at the bottom of the sliding board. Oh, the mother heroically grabbed each one of her small children from the slide before they hit the mud. She was doing so well. Right up until the moment one kid got away from her and ran lickedy-split through the fun house, hit the slide, and plowed right into the mud. One could sense the mother giving up as she hung her head – some might describe it as a psychotic break. And, then, she said to her children … “Play all you want. Get as muddy as you possibly can. Have fun!” The children’s eyes glowed with adoration for their mother. Later that night, after all the rides had closed. The mother covered her children’s car seats with trash bags and drove the angels home. She placed them in the yard, which was only dimly lit. She stripped them down, threw the clothes in a pile, and gave the tired but elated children a late night shower with the garden hose. Mom – 1, Mud – 0.

Here’s the bottom line: On rainy years, we all knew there was mud at the fairgrounds. We knew the car would probably get hung up in the parking lot. We knew we would most likely have to catch a ride home with somebody in a four-wheel drive. We knew we were gonna ruin our shoes and jeans. Even when we knew it was calling for rain that night … WE WENT TO THE FAIR ANYWAY. Why? Because, my gosh, we waited all year for this. And, Heaven forbid, if you miss it, you have to wait an entire year for it to come back. You can’t get Sno-Cones in Monterey any other time of the year!!!!! 

So … you see … you just had to go. It was the law. 

The last little gem I’ll add to this mud-at-the-fair story is regarding the Kidde Show.

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These cuties seemed to evade the mud. At least, up until this picture was taken! (Photo Courtesy: Highland County Fair Association.)

By Friday afternoon, mothers from every corner of the county dressed their little darlings in their Sunday best for the Kiddie Show to select the Healthiest Baby, Prettiest Girl, Most Handsome Boy, and – most importantly – Little Miss and Master Highland. In those days, this little affair was held at the grandstand in the dust and – if it had rained – the mud. 

As a child whose mother decided we would participate in this contest, I felt it was unfair to ask a kid to wear her best new dress to the fairgrounds and then be told to keep neat and clean and act right … in the mud. Really??

As a mother, who entered my oldest daughter in the event, I admit I fought a good fight to keep my kid clean … and it was a fight … full on … tantrum and all. Did I mention I was also fool enough to put this child in a white dress?  It was fun… We never did it again. Thankfully, the Kiddie Show is now staged indoors at the high school gym.

With all the upgrades made at the fairgrounds, it is a kinder, gentler event now. The mud pit scenario has been relegated to the past. Thank goodness, and so be it. The interesting thing about writing this piece is that:

1) There is a big difference between being a kid at the fair and being a parent at the fair; 

2) Even though the mud was aggravating, it made for some great stories and memorable laughs.



About the Author

Editor & Writer | More Posts by This Author

Crysta Stephenson grew up in the Meadowdale and Vanderpool areas of Highland County. She loved it so much that she returned to raise her daughters on the family farm, Glenwood. She received a B.A. in mass communications with a minor in history from Mary Baldwin College. For 13 years, she honed her journalism skills as a staff writer and editor at two small Virginia newspapers. Her second career - also lasting 13 years - focused on managing two small historical museums here in Virginia. These days, she juggles lots of odd jobs including writing and museum assignments that give her time to enjoy life and admire the accomplishments of her daughters, Rebecca and Suzanna, and play with her grandmutts, Alex and Snoopy. She splits her time between her family home in Highland and her apartment in Augusta County.


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