I've been making an annual trek (or two or three) to the Indiana State Fair for 25 years now. Good heavens, just seeing that number typed out makes me feel really, really old. I missed a few years when we were living in Tennessee and couldn't swing a trip up. I also missed the year Eli was born – not that I didn't seriously consider hauling my 7-day-old baby and post-partum mess of a self down to the Fairgrounds. I love the State Fair that much.
For all my love of the Fair, though, I've always been strictly a fair-goer. I came, I saw, I ate, and it was good. I'm not sure what inspired me to check into the requirements for becoming a fair exhibitor this year, but I did. Next thing I know, I've entered three pictures into the photography competition, submitted an essay in the Indiana Humanities Food for Thought project and signed Elena up for a cookie competition sponsored by King Arthur Flour.
It wasn't easy choosing which pictures to exhibit, but in the end I must have chosen well – two of my pictures earned Honorable Mentions.
Elena was a little miffed that it was the picture of her that hung ribbon-less, but she felt better when I told her it was blue-ribbon worthy to me. My essay (which just happened to be about my favorite little donut shop), didn't place, but a few of the pictures I submitted along with it are displayed next to snippets of all the essays. All in all, I was quite pleased with myself.
Elena and I were both looking forward to her competition. The premise was simple: kids 8-17 were eligible to compete. They were required to use the recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies supplied by King Arthur Flour. They were to use King Arthur Flour in their cookies and bring along the UPC code from the bag of flour as proof. They were to arrange 6 cookies on a disposable plate and show up at 2 p.m. on the first Friday of the fair. How hard could that be, right?
Well, first of all, it probably wouldn't be that difficult if a certain child's mother didn't commit herself to having a garage sale and attending a birthday party on the very same day. No problem, I thought, we will plan ahead! We will be organized and efficient and it will be great fun! And honestly, things were going well. I provided minimal supervision on Thursday morning while Elena baked her cookies. She did a fabulous job and picked out a tray full of her best looking cookies. We happily shared the rest of the batch with dinner guests that evening.
Friday came and while I tended to the garage sale she picked her six very best cookies. With the same care I might give heirloom china, I packed those six beautiful cookies into a storage container and we took them with us to the birthday party. Precious cargo that they were, I brought them into the party with us so they wouldn't melt their pretty little chips in the car. The plan was simple: enjoy the party, then leave with ample time to get us parked, into the fair, and over to her competition.
We left the party, and like the pack mule I seem to have become since having children, I was weighed down with countless items: lunch boxes, purse, coffee mug, backpack, party favors, and of course, the treasured cookies. Children were accounted for and buckled. I gave myself a pat on the back. We were well on our way to Part III of our crazy day and everything was going according to plan.
As I left my friend's neighborhood and turned onto a well-traveled street, I heard a loud thunk. I glanced in the rear-view mirror and let out a shriek. A plastic container skittered along the road, cookies rolling this way and that. And then the car behind us promptly smashed them all to bits.
Elena knew right then and there that something very, very bad had just happened. She knew because I said the word that is only reserved for DEFCON situations. Here's where you would think that the child would lose it. In what can only be defined as true grace under pressure (or the knowledge that Mommy might very well lose it), she calmly told me that it was alright, no big deal, this kind of thing just happens. Remind me around Christmas time to get her a little something extra.
We had just enough time to run back home and gather the last of the batch that didn't make the cut earlier in the day. I prayed fervently that there would be six – I couldn't remember how many were left.
There were seven left. We made it with minutes to spare, turned in her cookies and then the three of us collapsed into a pile and shared that last, blessed cookie. And it was the best cookie I ever tasted.
Elena didn't place in her competition, but like me, she was proud of herself. Proud that she just plain showed up, which is more than most people can say.
I couldn't have been more proud of her, either. For rolling with the punches and cutting her mom some slack. For seeing the fair exhibits for what they really are: having fun and simply being able to say you were a part of a grand Hoosier tradition.
We will always be fair-goers. I'd like to think we'd be fair-exhibitors again. But next time? Don't leave me in charge of the cookies.