Jay Copp 2016-04-19 05:45:06
Cullman County Motor past the fertile fields of northern Alabama, pass the rigid rows of sweet potatoes, the broad swaths of hay fields and the rectangular pens of grazing cattle, drive through tidy downtown Cullman, the prosperous county seat with a population of 15,000, park at the fairgrounds with its four permanent exhibit halls and its open-sided theater and then saunter through the fair on a pillow-soft Southern night with a swollen harvest moon keeping vigil. You’ve come to a place you know, even if you’ve never been here. The people who have been here at least once certainly know the place and the people here. It’s a home that’s not home, a public space that becomes lodged in personal memories, a place where commonality with others is a blessed given. The fair is a party for the senses, a warm rush of sights, sounds and smells, a dreamlike landscape simultaneously fresh and shopworn, disorienting and steadying, comfortingly familiar and enchantingly exotic. It’s the bustling midway, the pride-at-stake canning contests and the highly anticipated Miss Cullman County Fair competition. It’s bright lights and roaring sounds, cotton candy and corn dogs, goodhearted needling among old friends and robust bear hugs among buddies, shy first romances between teenagers and clumps of parents toting children and soaking up enduring memories. It’s grimacing kids tugging sturdy but often stubborn livestock, rides that tilt, whirl and spin and talent shows, dog shows and rabbit shows, each unexpectedly hilarious or achingly winsome. The fair is a celebration of the rich black soil and the bruising toil that produce huge bounties of sweet potatoes, and it’s a salute to the industriousness and savvy that generate gazillions of poultry and cattle. It’s where everyone is welcome and it’s the one certain place, an autumn fixture, where an extended Alabama community can transcend backgrounds and occupations and social status and merge into a casual, spread-out assembly united by a sense of shared experience. A fair is “where America meets,” National Geographic magazine once asserted in distilling the essence of the Cullman County Fair. The Cullman Lions Club has run the 10-day fair since 1954. Attendance tops 40,000. Nearly all the club’s 116 members as well as Leos and Lionesses work the event. Funds raised from the fair support Alabama Lions Sight, Cullman Caring for Kids (a food bank), eyeglasses for the needy and other causes. The club is able to distribute nearly $90,000 annually. The stature of the fair is commensurate to the success of the county’s agriculture. Cullman County typically ranks among the nation’s top three in poultry production. It’s first or second in Alabama in acreage and production of sweet potatoes and hay and usually first in head of cattle. If America fancies itself as in some way still rooted in the soil, a land whose virtues and way of life can be traced to the glories and triumphs of farming, the Cullman County Fair has every right to strut its stuff, to make merry and to take gleeful stock of another year of bulging silos and kitchen tables laden with sustenance. Renewed a few years ago, the Lions have a 50-year lease on the fairgrounds with the county. The fair is a harbinger, a promise not of change but of permanence. The fair has basically remained the same year after year even as the community has evolved. Cullman County was once bereft of industry. “The first [industry] was the King Edward Cigar Plant in the ‘50s,” says Lion Jerry Bonner, the fair manager. Factories that make car parts for Japanese cars sprung up later. Bonner, who grew up on a farm and worked for Monsanto before retiring, has volunteered at the fair since he became a Lion in 1964. He knows not to mess with success or alter history, which not only unfolds in textbooks in school but also becomes revealed in the sights and sounds of the fair. Traditions soothe and exalt. “People come to see and remember the things they saw as kids,” says Bonner. Digital LION Watch an excellent video of the fair at lionmagazine.org. Region Cervantes stands among the carnival lights at the Cullman County Fair. A girl enjoys a ride on the merry-go-round. Brothers Mason, 4, and Jackston, 2, Forester look on in amazement as Tone-Tone the Clown makes a balloon animal. Their parents, Lindsey and Dustin, look on. Scarlett the cow tries to lick Campbell Caver’s hand. Fair manager Jerry Bonner talks to fairgoers The fair is a party for the senses, a warm rush of sights, sounds and smells. Some competitors have entered the best canning contests for nearly half a century. Neighbors relish outdoing neighbors. “The ribbon is more important than the prize money,” says Lion Jerry Bonner. “They’ll misplace their ribbon and come to us. They’re not worried about the money.” Heather Williams (left) and Debbie Maddox take pictures of an enormous watermelon Dalton Baldwin, right, and Donovan Holmes climb the ropes of one of the attractions. Pete the lamb meets Haleigh Cheatham, 5. Noah McCullar, 9, manages to get hold of his lamb after he ran loose. Jay Conway hands out ribbons at the Junior Lamb and Sheep Show. May Dawsey brushes one of her rabbits before the Rabbit Show. Steven Cartee, Dave Gratz and Phillip Sessions have their picture taken at the Rabbit Show with May Dawsey and her rabbit. A pageant contestant is shielded from the rain as she arrives at the fair. Caroline Bryant hugs Grandpa Cratchet. Ashlyn Smith waits for the Junior Fair Princess pageant to start.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://digital.lionmagazine.org/article/The+King+of+Fairs/2423405/293797/article.html.