There is nothing that defines New England more than the state and county fair. As the month of August draws to a close and the chill of autumn descends upon us, tens of thousands of people gather on fairgrounds in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts to enjoy the best of what each state has to offer.
In Rhode Island, the Washington County Fair, held in Richmond this past week, drew locals as well as tourists who were visiting the state to close out the summer vacation season. Sporting rides, exhibitions and country music starts, this fair has been rolling on for over fifty years and is still going strong.
In eastern Connecticut, two of the most attended fairs are the Brooklyn and Woodstock Fairs. Located just over the Rhode Island and Massachusetts borders, these fairs highlight the agricultural contributions from this area of Connecticut as well as providing family entertainment events.
The Brooklyn Fair, held in Brooklyn, CT., kicks off the final week of August and is considered to be the oldest continuously active agricultural fair in the United States, first opening its gates in 1809. This year the main stage features country stars such as Tom Wurth and Jake Worthington and a plethora of local music acts.
The Woodstock Fair, in Woodstock, Ct., held over the Labor Day weekend, embodies the New England Country Fair in every sense of the word, featuring poultry and livestock competition, a world class horse show, and competitions among fruit and vegetable growers. One of the largest crowds can be found at the birthing center, where dairy cows that are very close to calving are bought into large pens and allowed to calve in front of the gathered families — an event that most in the audience have never observed.
This year, the Woodstock Fair features the acts Wilson Phillips and the lead singer of the 70's rock band Journey. Other events include local and national music acts and martial arts exhibitions.
Finally, there’s the granddaddy of all New England Fairs, the Eastern States Exposition, also known as “The Big E”.
Located in Springfield, Massachusetts, the Big E first opened its doors in 1917 and has opened every year, interrupted only by two world wars. The fair features buildings representing each of the New England states highlighting their unique foods, industries, agriculture and people.
The fair also sponsors livestock shows and New England traditions such as pulling contests and cow milking. The preservation of the New England states’ agricultural land is also encouraged through live exhibits and “hands on” demonstrations of farming techniques and innovations. The Avenue of Agriculture showcases animals and informative exhibits on agriculture and its uses in daily life.
In June of 2011, the Big E narrowly missed being hit by a tornado that tore through Western Massachusetts and Springfield. This storm killed four people and injured hundreds. Although there was some minor damage, the storm spared millions of dollars of exhibits and property that was stored in multiple buildings on the fairgrounds.
This year’s fair features acts such as Grand Funk Railroad, Cole Swindell, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap and the Lovin’ Spoonful. The fair also features a daily Mardi Gras parade complete with beads and candy and a circus held daily at a big top tent on the fairgrounds.
I also made a list of a few things that are special about a day at the fair.
Only at a fair can you enjoy those things you will never dare to eat at home (at least when someone is watching).
At the Woodstock Fair, fresh sweet corn is boiled up and ready to eat coated with plenty of butter, salt and pepper that is more reminiscent of eating a dessert rather than a vegetable. There is nothing better than enjoying this delightful treat that was picked just hours before from the field. Also on grounds are favorites such as deep-fried Oreos, Twinkies and alligator nuggets.
The Brooklyn Fair features Bison Burgers from bison raised locally, cooked over hot coals and served on a toasted bun with your choice of toppings. Lean and flavorful, this treat keeps you coming back for more. They also feature treats like deep fried Shepard’s Pie and super-sized hot fudge sundaes.
The Big E features its famous cream puff. Made with real cream with two hands required for eating, you will be in for a sugar overload but believe me, it's worth it. Other traditional fair foods that are served include fried cookie dough, maple chocolate bacon skewers, deep fried spaghetti and meatballs, pumpkin glazed turkey legs, frozen bananas with chocolate, peanuts and bacon, deep fried mac and cheese balls, fried pickles and of course, funnel cakes.
Certainly, a diet like this over a year would make you a candidate for a quadruple bypass surgery but a once yearly indulgence can be overlooked.
Rides, Games and Shopping
Yes, you can go to Six Flags and other established parks in New England but there is something special about these rolling attractions that visit once a year. From the Flying Dutchman, a ride guaranteed to make you queasy, to the Caterpillar and bumper cars, the yearly wait is worth it. There are, of course, the games of chance, where the probabilities of winning are low but the fun of trying makes the investment of a dollar worthwhile.
Shopping is also on top of the list when you enter the commerce barns where salesmen are selling everything from ways to relieve backaches to detoxing your body through soaking your feet in special salts. Do these things work? Who knows but it’s fun trying.
It’s About Families
For me, this is the most important thing.
As an elder law attorney, I often see families come together at the most difficult times. Today we are more scattered than ever and it seems when you see a family in a restaurant, each member is staring intently at their cell phones pecking away while ignoring each other. A fair guarantees a family fun event that requires participation.
Families who share these activities tend to form strong emotional bonds which allows them to adapt to the stresses that bombard the family unit today. The warm memories created at such events create a loving environment that will be passed on to their own children. Learning to work and play as a family is one of the best lessons children can be taught so they can develop into competent adults and parents.
Spending time at the fair also helps busy parents reconnect with their children. Often when we see our loved ones, we ask the obligatory questions like, “How was your day”, or “What did you do in school today?” without really listening to the answer. A day at the fair can be a time when life lessons, like sharing, fairness and compassion, can be reinforced without conflict. Children grow and change quickly, so this is a wonderful time to get to know your child better.
Recently at my office, I had a family working on an Estate and Medicaid plan. The father had recently died and mom was being treated for Alzheimer’s disease and facing long term care. As they sat around the table talking, one of the daughters, with tears in her eyes, looked at her siblings and said, “Where did the time go?”
This reminded me of is an anonymous statement about time:
“Every morning you are handed 24 golden hours. They are one of the few things in this world that you get free of charge. If you had all the money in the world, you couldn’t buy an extra hour. What will you do with this priceless treasure? Remember, you must use it, as it is given only once. Once wasted you cannot get it back.”
So, this fair season, take the family and enjoy the time together. Every moment we spend with our loved ones is a priceless treasure and each memory we make goes into our own private deep well from which we will draw from when it comes time for us to ask ourselves the question, “Where did the time go?”
Attorney Connelly practices in the area of elder law. This area of law involves Medicaid planning and asset protection advice for those individuals entering nursing homes, planning for the possibility of disability through the use of powers of attorney for the both health care and finances, guardianship, estate planning, probate and estate administration, preparation of wills, living trusts and special or supplemental needs trusts. He represents clients primarily in the states of Rhode Island, Connecticut and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He was certified as an Elder Law Attorney (CELA) by the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF) in 2008. Attorney Connelly is licensed to practice before the Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Federal Bars.