On nights like this, it feels like we live on the ocean. The wind leans in from the east and the lake's breath creeps in the open windows and around the door. It doesn't feel like it's time for the county fair. It feels like it's time for Halloween.
I haven't planned this year very well. I did try: I made biscuits last night that were so tall and rose so well they fell victim to their own height: each one looked like a tiny biscuit representation of the tower of Pisa. They were beautiful and flawed and I couldn't enter one of them, let alone four identical ones.
Today I rushed home from work and baked a pie and a cake and found four similar apples on the tree. I gave up on the biscuits. Maia colored her picture and I got one of John's K'Nex models to enter.
We drive through the drizzle and I can hardly see because the lighting at the fairgrounds is so tricky. Most of the lights on the grounds are off, but there is a giant limb from a carnival ride stretched out on the ground, half the bulbs blazing. We pull up to the open class building where Jolene Koski was holding forth, her squat Finnish face looking crabby even when she's having the time of her life, which she clearly is the eve of the fair.
When we get out of the car, Maia and I hear a cow bawling in the dark, not from the barns. "Dat's the loudest cow I ever heard," Maia pronounces.
The women who help with the sign in are the same as every year: They have classical penmanship, they are very slow at what they are doing and they never stop talking. I can't get annoyed with them because they are so clearly my people that I'm delighted to be around them. It feels like a family reunion, and I know I'll be one of them when I'm old.
"What's your address?" the one filling out my slip asks me.
I give it to her, and she leans to her neighbor.
"What's your address?"
"Yes, I am," she answers.
"I said I am."
"What did you ask me?"
"What did you think I asked you?"
"Well, now I don't think I heard you right."
"What do you think I said?"
"Didn't you ask me if I was cold?"
"Oh. Well, what did you ask me?"
"Oh, your address."
"I don't know what you mean."
"Well, your address."
"Where you live."
"Where I live."
"You want my address?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
They are trying not to giggle, and I feel the need to step in. "Your fire number," I say helpfully.
"Oh, my fire number," she says, and gives it, and establishes that we live several miles from each other, although she used to live very close to where I do now, and I give her the name of the people who used to live in this house, which places it for everyone, and I am sure we had this conversation last year at this table, with these same people.
There is a hitch when I enter the pie. In the rules it says a 4" pie with a lattice crust. I have brought in 1/4 of a 9" pie. An appeal is made to Jolene Koski, who has to at least be relieved I didn't bring any jelly in this year. She gives me a long look and then says, "Last year, someone brought in a whole pie, and I let them enter it."
The ladies wait for judgment.
"I guess that's all I'm sayin'," she says putting her hands up in a "stay away" pose and turning her head aside, and she looks like my mom and my aunt and my grandma, even though we aren't Finnish. It's a little scary. I hope she doesn't remember it was me who entered that whole pie last year.
Forms filled out, entries tagged, we're ready to go. This is where I always think, I could have done so much more. I didn't get jelly done this year. I was defeated by biscuits. I taught myself to knit this past year just so I could enter a potholder and I didn't even do it. Next year, next year.
We walk back out to the car. Six or eight farm people are standing in the dark driveway, watching the woods. The ladies told us that the cow had never been penned before, had only ever been pastured, and panicked when she was brought in the barn and made a break for it. The farmers step aside for my car, then stand together again, peering at the misty woods, listening to the cow bawl, waiting for her to come back.