One of the ironies of our life is that our resident social butterfly, six-year-old Thing2, needs an enormous amount prodding to get in the car for any weekend outing. And so it began on Sunday morning.
Freshly exercised and showered, and ready for our weekly breakfast at Bob’s diner in Manchester, the Big Guy, thirteen-year-old Jack, and I had one more hurdle to leap before we began our Sunday adventure – convincing – rather, ordering – Thing2 to get in the car. Pouting and mumbling about his desire to stay put and eat the sugar cereal du jour, Thing2 finally shuffled to his booster seat and got his seat belt on. Anyone watching would have thought we were taking him to look at military schools (the idea did cross our minds). Instead, he was pulled out of his cocoon.
Something about the smell of bacon and coffee temporarily banished Thing2’s grumpiness. But when breakfast was behind us and we hit the road again, the ride took on a different character for all of us.
The Worlds Fair in Tunbridge – our destination – is about 90 minutes from Manchester, and Thing2 kicked off the first half hour mumbling a litany of things he’d rather be doing. We had mentioned the word ‘fair’ a number of times before, but I had made the mistake of telling the kids it was historical, and the only part of the day Thing2 could focus on was the driving. Finally, the Big Guy and I caught Thing2’s eye and ears to make it clear that the rest of the ride did not need a serenade of complaints. He adjusted his tone. The last sixty minutes were mostly quiet, punctuated only by the occasional refrain of ‘Are we there yet?’
When we reached the muddy parking lot at the fair ground, Thing2 had zoned out, but the bump between road and muck got his attention. The smell of manure permeated the air. Well-groomed, uniformed students from the nearby military college cheerfully directed us to a parking space. There were no formal ticket booths – just a few more college kids (who didn’t look old enough to shave, let alone wear uniforms) taking admission and shepherding patrons through twine-lined ‘gates’.
Thing2 clung to my hand, then the Big Guy’s, then mine. He had already spotted the typical fair midway. We headed up a muddy hill away from the typical and toward the heart of the fair.
The heart of the fair is a permanent collection of old buildings – long log cabins, a metal foundry, a carriage barn. The first log cabin contained artifacts of Vermont home life from over the last two centuries. Period-costumed demonstrators brought the display – and Thing2 – to life as they showed us how quilts were (and are) made or how country stores used to operate. The second building displayed a collection of tools, and the carriage barn contain, naturally, carefully preserved carriages and wagons once used by local farmers. But, while the quilting demonstration and old-fashioned donuts had sparked the beginning of a sincere attitude adjustment in Thing2, what was outside perked up his wings, long before we got to the midway.
Alongside the carriage barn stood pop-up tents that, instead of the usual fair t-shirts and novelty souvenirs, sheltered antique engines. All of the engines were running, producing little pops when air bubbles went through them. A few of the displays encouraged visitors to try their hand at grinding corn, or winding thread or pumping water the old-fashioned way. The whirring motors and spinning gears made their own music, and Thing2 began his dance.
The rest of the afternoon we shuttled between rides and exhibits. We stopped for maple-flavored cotton candy (it is Vermont after all) and ‘pour-your-own’ freshly-pressed cider, and Thing2 continued dancing until long after the Big Guy and I had exhausted our reserves. The dancing and accompanying chatter continued until we were back in the car, rolling through the muddy field again.
“We have to do this again,” said Jack before he nodded off. The fair was still causing Thing2’s wings to flutter, however, and it was a long time before he slept. The excitement of seeing something different would keep them moving even when he did close his eyes, and when I heard him singing softly to himself in his sleep, I knew we were there yet.