I know it’s almost un-American to admit, especially on an island where residents refer to taking a ferry to the mainland as “going to America,” but I didn’t attend the county fair last year. I don’t remember not going. However, when I told the vendor selling catfish and collards and fried okra with cornbread muffins at this year’s fair that I was excited to discover her cuisine, she said, “You muss notta come to the fair last year, Baby, ‘cause we was here!”
I was born and raised in the southern states. When I moved to San Juan Island, friends and relatives worried that I would be forced to eat salmon rather than catfish. They were also concerned because summers here were too short for okra and two crops of tomatoes to grow. They sent me care packages containing red beans (not to be confused with kidney beans), liquid crab boil, boxed jambalaya mix, and large bottles of Tabasco.
One long-time island resident, originally from Texas, invited me to her house for a “good ole southern meal.” When I arrived, her Pacific Northwest children greeted me at the door asking, “Are you and our mother really going to eat that slimy stuff in the butterbeans?” The local grocery store, it seems, had just started stocking frozen okra.
So, at this year’s county fair, sitting in the food court eating the “soul food” of my youth, I was transported to my roots and many memories that hadn’t been dusted off in years. However, I wasn’t alone. For some, it was the animals and the farm-like barns that brought back memories. For others, it was the beautiful jars of canned fruits and vegetables. For many of the younger generations, it was merely memories of past fairs with which they reconnected.
The food, entertainment, and catching up with friends and neighbors were all enjoyable. Entering our handiwork and winning a few ribbons was exciting. Dancing and riding rides until the fairgrounds closed was fun, too. But it was connecting to our roots and memories that created the real magic of the San Juan County Fair.
Have you been to your local fair this year?
Did you reconnect with your roots?
What memories revealed themselves to you?
How could this kind of magic serve you today?