By MARK SARDELLA
I try to make it to the Topsfield Fair once every 20 years. After checking my internal calendar, it turns out this was the year!
Despite my infrequent visits, I like the idea of country fairs. They are authentic relics of traditional America. You can go there and get a taste of what the United States used to be like back when respect for God, hard work and the flag were considered normal.
The Topsfield Fair lays claim to the title of the oldest agricultural fair in the United States, dating back to 1818, making this the 200th anniversary.
So, this seemed like a perfect time to make my vicennial pilgrimage and, because I’m a giver, I am prepared to share what I’ve learned with those who may be planning to attend before the fair closes on Columbus Day.
First, bring plenty of money. I paid $10 to park at the fairgrounds. Individual admission to the fair itself is $12 during the week, but will jump to $15 starting tomorrow and for the rest of the fair’s run through Columbus Day. (Children under 8 get in free and seniors for $8, not that I would know.)
Unless you enjoy sitting in your car for hours on Old Route 1, I recommend avoiding the Topsfield Fair on weekends. I chose a dreary Monday with a threat of rain — the ideal day to attend the fair.
I paid my admission and made my way into the fairgrounds at about 2 p.m. My attention was drawn to a small crowd gathering up ahead. Out in front of one of the exhibit halls was Farmer Earl, a self-described ventriloquist and “cowmedian.” I learned that this was a stop on his “Udder Nonsense Tour.”
First, Earl brought out Hershey the Cow, who said she had a brother who was a minister. His name is “Holy Cow.”
Then, Earl introduced us to the world’s littlest farmer. Earl asked us to welcome him because it is important to support the small farmer. Earl’s friend revealed that his wife had just left him for as tractor salesman.
“I got a John Deere letter,” he said.
With my appetite whetted for corn, I decided it was time to eat. I grabbed a delicious ear of corn-on-the-cob from the nice ladies at the Topsfield American Legion. An ear of corn also seemed like the logical choice to start my gourmet tour of a traditional agricultural fair.
But by far the most ubiquitous fare at the fair are Italian sausages and pizza. I’m guessing those weren’t staples of the American farmer’s diet back in the day, but I applaud this celebration of culinary diversity.
Being an agricultural fair, the aromas of international cuisine are not the only smells that one must be prepared to encounter. A feature of such fairs is competition: ribbons, plaques, and trophies are awarded in a wide variety of categories such as livestock, jams and jellies, handicrafts, and baked goods. If they had an award for most pungent assault on the olfactory sense, you might expect the Pig Barn to run away with the blue ribbon in that category. But that distinction belongs to the Poultry Exhibit.
After getting a snootful of chickens, ducks, geese, turkey and pigeons, I needed to cleanse my sinuses, so I headed next door to the Flower Barn to replace the bouquet lingering in my nasal passages.
Another feature of agricultural fairs is education. I did learn some things at the Topsfield Fair. Somehow, I never knew that pigeons were poultry. I also didn’t know that a male rabbit was called a “buck.”
As I continued wandering the exhibits, a pleasant woman in front of a tent manned by representatives of various North Shore churches asked me if I would like a pocket Bible. She didn’t insist and wasn’t looking to proselytize. Just giving away free Bibles. I took one and thanked her.
By about 3:15 p.m., the threatening skies finally opened up and a steady rain started falling. By this time, I had seen enough cows, sheep, pigs and chickens anyway. So, I grabbed an Italian sausage and headed for the exit.
I’m all set for another 20 years.