My 1-year-old son, who can only say a few words but tries to vocalize all of his inner thoughts, is liable to squawk at any moment, in any setting. Both the sound and the fury arrive in squeaks and flurries, with piercing giggles arising spontaneously from unidentified sources. My wife and I call Fisher our “screecher creature.”
At this weekend’s fair, one such outburst traumatized a poor little goat, which had been trying to enjoy a leisurely Sunday afternoon when a small alien descended into its world spouting loud vowels. The two of them briefly locked eyes, came to an unspoken agreement, and then went their separate ways as if nothing had occurred, both gloriously unburdened by the social contracts that compel adult humans to feel uncomfortable with awkward exchanges.
We have to teach our children to speak, yet laughing and crying are innate. Biology has at least bequeathed us those communication mechanisms. Long before Fisher could utter anything resembling a word, he would point and cackle at our dog for reasons only he understood. Let him loose near a bunch of goats and sheep, and the livestock overstimulation is bound to unleash an assortment of inexplicable reactions.
In years past, my wife and I have rarely gone to the fair, not really for any specific reason other than perhaps taking it for granted. Now, with a child, attendance seems imperative, such is the gravitational pull of shared family experience. We want Fisher to see and hear and feel as much as possible within rational boundaries. The fair is a rollercoaster of sensory invigoration for him, even if he can’t ride the actual rollercoasters.
Going to the Northwest Montana Fair had the bonus effect of nostalgia. Growing up in Livingston, near Bozeman, I went to the fair nearly every year in my hometown and occasionally to the bigger one over the pass. As in other rural communities, it was a social highlight of the year.
I didn’t go for the rides. To me, they were agents of anxiety. Cost-benefit analyses never favored fun, and I decided that $5 was better spent on two hot dogs. But I loved the youthful camaraderie, the sights and carnival cultural immersion, even the food, and especially the rodeo. As with fly fishing, we tend to romanticize rodeos in the West, or perhaps outsiders do it for us, but the postcard beauty and pastoral enchantment that render those clichés are real.
But at some point in my life I lost that connection; I quit going to fairs, with scattered exceptions. In returning this past weekend, I found myself making lame adult calculations: Was it too dusty? Fortunately, Fisher was there to put such trivialities into perspective. If he can happily devour a dirt-covered hunk of pulled pork, can’t I deal with a little dust? Put another way, a smiling baby is an antidote to the grime of both man and nature.
Life is a relentless succession of firsts for any baby, but August has been a particularly busy one for Fisher: first birthday, first time dunking his entire face into a cake, first time on an airplane, and first fair, which actually happened a day earlier when Beacon reporter Molly Priddy babysat and took him there. But he’ll have to wait a few years for his first rollercoaster ride. In the meantime, goats beware.
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