Fall is here, bursting through our doors with over-enthusiastic promises of cooler weather, pumpkin-flavored everything, and a glorious vanishing of the mosquito population.
Though, in Northwest Alabama, the weather is never as crisp as it should be, thus leaving a few lingering summer fiends behind. And making a gourd into a dessert is never quite as thrilling as I remember it. But, even so, I am grateful fall has arrived.
One of my favorite gifts fall brings along is the fair. You know, the excessive number of bright lights and carnival workers calling out for you to stop and play their games. And the clanging, metal contraptions meant to sling you around in the most terrifying and exhilarating fashion.
And the smells. Oh, the smells. The caramel, the kettle corn, the animals in the stables nearby, the fresh scent of mud and grass twisting together beneath hoofs and boots.
I went to the Lawrenceburg fair a few weeks ago with some friends of mine. When they invited me to tag along, I was so excited. I’d never been to the Lawrenceburg fair before, but had always heard stories of its superiority to the Florence production. It had become a sort of legend in my mind.
And I must admit, it lived up to its reputation. The Lawrenceburg fair was indeed a marvel.
Though most fairs have some sort of animal display, I had never seen one as large as this one. There were sheep and cows and horses and rabbits and goats, and I wanted to stop and pet every one. Talk to every one. And my kind and patient friends sweetly indulged me.
As we walked toward the stables, I caught a glimpse of two men standing in the doorway, heads bent over something curious held by the man on the right. The back of the man on the left was obscuring my view, but I was determined to see what was so interesting. As I stepped around, the man on the right caught my eye and quickly tucked his prize back into his jacket pocket. But not before I saw a flash of squirming fur.
So, naturally, I had to ask.
“What’s in your pocket?”
The guy looked back at me with no expression of response and a tinge of suspicion in his eye, which to be honest, I found kind of ironic. I mean he’s the one who is carrying a tiny animal in his windbreaker. I just want to know what it is.
I realized he was trying to make me believe he had nothing to hide. That his jacket was just naturally a little squirmy. And I guess that should’ve been a warning sign, an indicator that this man might not be sitting squarely on his own rocker. But still I pressed.
“C’mon, man. I just saw you put that thing in your pocket. I know you’ve got something in there. What is it?”
Another moment of him staring at me, no response, just carefully considering his options. My friends stood behind me, trying to suppress snorts of laughter, glancing back and forth to each other in confusion.
Finally, realizing I wasn’t stupid enough to believe he had nothing to show, he pulled out his treasure to show us. As his left hand emerged, a trembling squirrel came with it, tucked firmly in the guy’s fist.
A squirrel. Garden-variety yard rodent. Immediately, a dozen questions filled my brain.
Does he carry it with him everywhere? Was it captured for this specific occasion, or had it been transformed into a kind of domestic pet? How did he come to acquire this little creature? Did he chase it down? (That image I found comical considering his age and build.) I had to know.
So, naturally, I asked.
Still I got no real response. I gave up with my questions, content with just ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ over the tiny thing. I figured his squirrel, his business. As my friends and I leaned in to look closer at the shaking captive, the man spoke.
“You can pet him for a dollar,” he said in a low voice, his eyebrows lifted, seeming to suggest that he was offering us a real deal.
Unfortunately for him, we were all pretty uninterested in petting his contraband rodent.
It turns out that characters aren’t always fictional. Some are as real as the squirrels in their pockets and are oftentimes far more interesting than any invented personality.
**P.s. Stay tuned for Adventures at the Lawrenceburg Fair: Part 2 . Apparently, the fair’s got more to say.