Yes, it’s a repost. About one of my favorite events in New Mexico.
Something magical happens in New Mexico the moment the Quay County Fair opens. The hot, dry, blistery summer that has had us all gasping (especially this summer, but as I recall, in all summers past) through August waiting for some relief breaks and it suddenly starts to feel like fall. I know intellectually that this is a product of the calendar being closer to September than July, but all my life I’ve equated it with the Fair. One morning during the County Fair, you wake up and the morning air is actually crisp. As my Daddy says, its fair weather. County Fair weather.
The weather change is especially true of the New Mexico State Fair, which we now call New Mexico Expo. I lived in Albuquerque for years, and you could set your watch by the chilling drizzle that started during the first week of State Fair. I’m not a meteorologist, but I can’t recall a single year that the State Fair wasn’t accompanied by a cool, drizzly day or evening, regardless of how dry and hot the preceding weeks had been.
So, being the farmer’s daughter that I am, in love with the idea of a good rain and a break in the relentless heat, I’ve always felt like fair time was just a little big magic. I know logically that if the fairs didn’t occur, the weather would still change. But the county and state fairs of my childhood felt inexplicably connected with relief along with an anticipation of something changing, Fair season is magic.
Fair season means a lot of things in New Mexico. It used to mean wandering the midway at the Quay and Curry County Fairs when I was a kid and a teenager. When I was 15 Joel Farmer kissed me at the top of the Ferris wheel at the Quay County Fair, after an evening of catching my eye across the dusty track at the midway, trying to win me a stuffed animal at the softball throw and then talking me into riding the Roundup twice before we headed to the Ferris wheel. I don’t know if he has a single recollection of that night, but I wrapped it up and carried it around for years as one of the most romantic experiences of my life. I got kissed by a cute boy at the top of the Ferris wheel. I felt like a movie star for a week or two.
Another year my girlfriends, Shelley, Glena, Robin and Louise and I took Shelley and Glena’s 57 Chevy to the County Fair, telling our parents we were headed to watch the Logan boys show animals at the pig show. Of course we went to chase boys (where was Joel Farmer that year?). We ate cotton candy and corn dogs and funnel cake and rode every ride, so lacking restraint that Louise was sick in the car going home. Every year at fair time, Shelley brings that night up. It’s part of the fabric of our teenage memories. I don’t know what boys we saw, but I remember the laughing and the screaming on the Spider. We completely missed the pig show, but we had seen it often enough before to make something up.
A couple of years I was an officer in FFA and went with my chapter to the State Fair, staying in the youth dorms, overseen by Sam Welch, our FFA advisor, and chaperoned by Bobby and July Casados. I don’t remember the adults at all – what I do remember is that the moment our FFA booth was finished in the Bolack building, we were off to the food vendors and then the midway, finally landing late in the evening at the rodeo, where we saw stars like Johnny Rodriguez and Charley Pride.
I loved the rodeo, loved how big and small it felt at the same time. World champion riders and ropers and a first class announcer, but when you went downstairs to the concession stand, there would be someone you knew from Las Cruces or Farmington. Once I ran into my cousin from Santa Fe. That’s what the State Fair was in the 70’s, a microcosm of New Mexicans hanging out together at the state’s biggest event.
And then there was the street dance after the rodeo. The year I was a sophomore, a cute boy named Antonio Trujillo from Dona Ana or maybe Alamogordo paid me attention all week, buying me pie at the Asbury pie kitchen, following me and Anna Marie Lujan around the midway, sitting close beside me at the rodeo. At the street dance of our last night in the dorm, finally, he asked me to dance, telling me halfway through the song that he thought I was the prettiest girl at the fair and that he wanted my address so he could write to me after all the FFA kids had returned to their respective hometowns. After that dance, Judy Casados came to collect us and get us back to the dorm, but I was still swooning with the absolute rightness of that one dance. I didn’t think I was the prettiest girl at the fair, but who knew?
After I moved to Albuquerque and had children of my own, I loaded them up and took them to the State Fair Rodeo at least once every fair season. I still have a photo of Zachary at six in a flannel shirt and boots and jeans and a cowboy hat, decked out for the rodeo. They learned to love it like I did, first the rodeo clowns and then the skill and precision of the team ropers. The food was amazing, always, and now we saw performers like Dwight Yoakum and, most recently, Kenny Chesney.
During one of those evenings, I wandered down to the beer line and was stopped by an older cowboy waiting at the end of the line.
“You’re a Terry girl, aren’t you?” he asked.
I replied that I was, and he turned to his friends. “I told you – you can spot those Terry girls anywhere!” We visited for a minute and I learned that he was from Roswell, but had grown up in Tucumcari in the 60’s and 70’s and knew my sister and older cousins. He obviously liked the looks of Terry girls, and invited me to the street dance out in front of Tingley after the rodeo.
“I’d love to, but I have my kids with me,” I had to tell him. For a quick little moment, I thought of Antonio Trujillo and wondered if he was somewhere in this crowd. Then I smiled and went back to my seat to wait for the bull riding. I liked being recognized at the rodeo. It felt like high school. Or something better.
I’m sure the fair has changed a lot in the past few years. I hear complaints that they’ve shortened the time its open and that the rodeo is no longer as big an event.
But what I’m pretty certain remains the same is that the Bolack display still has the biggest vegetables I’ve ever laid eyes upon. There’s still the FFA red barn petting area with a new litter of baby pigs and pygmy goats as well as ducks and swans and puppies and a calf and cow. There’s still the poultry barn with the roosters proudly showing off their colorful feathers. There’s still the junior livestock show (where lots of Logan kids will be grooming their pigs and steers in a couple of weeks) which draws a crowd from the smallest towns in the farthest corners of the state each year. There’s still the Asbury Café where they serve the best pies in five counties. There’s still a food court where you can make yourself sick on cotton candy and funnel cake. There’s still the Indian Village where you can catch a dance or two in the dust in the late afternoon.
If you go to the fair, county or state, be sure to bring along a jacket. You know it’s going to rain, or at least cool off considerably. Remember – the fair is magic. It officially ends summer and ushers in a season of cooler weather. And great happiness. And if you’re lucky, just a bit of romance.