Wednesday, August 17, 2011

You're Only as Old as Your Kids Make You Feel

A few weeks ago I celebrated (and I use the term loosely) my 50th birthday and I’m not happy about it. I went to bed feeling fine, but I woke up looking like this.

Well, I might not look exactly like this on the outside, but it sure seems like my brain does on the inside.

It was especially apparent to me when I went home to visit my parents in Indiana again. My last semester of college started today, and I’m taking 18 hours – so before my brain started to bleed from reading a couple hundred pages a day and writing endless papers, I headed home to see my parents. My agenda was pretty simple: I wanted to gorge myself on fresh garden tomatoes and Indiana sweet corn, and I wanted to go the Indiana state Fair.

Breakfast the first morning - Check.

Item number two – State Fair. As a kid, it seemed like we went to the fair every year as the last hurrah before school started. The anticipation started with the local movie channel showing the “State Fair” movie, and then Cowboy Bob and Janie worked us up to a fevered pitch.

Back in the prehistoric era, before Cartoon Network ran 24/7, Cowboy Bob and Janie were the only two cartoon shows on Channel 4, WTTV Indianapolis. Cowboy Bob was on at noon and he wore a black hat, stood around the chuckwagon with his dog “Tumbleweeds” and told bad jokes in between cartoons. “Popeye and Janie” came on after school and she usually had a Girl Scout Troop or a little league team as guests. The kids sat woodenly on risers in the background, waved at the camera on command, and if you were destined for stardom, a kid might be allowed to introduce the upcoming cartoon. Janie smiled a lot, but word on the kid street was that she was kind of mean in between cartoons when the cameras weren’t running.

Every summer, both Cowboy Bob and Janie would broadcast live from the Fairgrounds, spotlighting the attractions and sometimes interviewing kids who were the proud owners of a Grand Champion cow or pig. Watching their shows “on location,” seeing the flashing lights of the midway and hearing about all the delectable treats, was a 10-year-old’s version of hanging on the fence at the Red Carpet.

When Fair Day finally arrived, our whole family went, and if you think four kids were remotely interested in tractor pulls or home-canned preserves, think again. My parents dragged us at a snail’s pace through exhibition halls and cattle barns, when all we really wanted to do was make it to the glorious midway where we could ride nausea inducing rides, beg for deep fried treats to throw up colorfully on aforementioned rides, and somehow convince our parents that we were destined to win a jumbo stuffed monkey if they would just give us ONE MORE DOLLAR to spend on the shooting gallery/ring toss/ping pong ball in a fish bowl game.

We usually arrived home late that night hot, sunburned, and sticky, stuffed with food our mother would never let us have otherwise, and sporting some ridiculously overpriced, air-brushed t-shirt or a key ring with a pithy saying embossed on it (even though we had no keys to put on it, nor a car to drive). Good times.

Since I went to Indiana alone this trip, because my kids had already started school (and because I pulled out of the driveway really fast and they couldn’t catch me), it was just me and my parents heading to the fair.

The first order of business was to buy an all-day train trolley pass for $3 that allowed unlimited on/offs as it made a constant circuit of the fairground. We started in Pioneer Village and we never really seemed to leave. We heard lectures on gourds and their many uses, and antique woodworking tools. We watched demonstrations on tapping maple trees and grinding corn, and saw log splitters powered by steam engines.

I mooned over prize winning quilts in the “Home and Family Arts” exhibition hall.

I cruised the food vendors for roasted corn, elephant ears and fresh squeezed lemonade. I was fascinated by the lengths people will go to in search of a gastronomic sensation, but I resisted the lure of deep fried butter.
We went back to Pioneer Village where we admired candles made from beeswax, watched wool being spun and listened to an old-time piano player. When we needed a break, we sat and watched blue grass bands play, and some people even sang along to “I’ll Fly Away” (but not me, because I’m not THAT OLD… yet.) My step dad had his picture taken with "Possum Molly" and I gotta tell you, there was definitely some inappropriate pioneer flirting going on.

My parents loved Pioneer Village because they could remember using some of the old tools, or seeing their parents and grandparents do things the old-fashioned way, and we arrived home hot, sunburned and sticky, with our bellies full of food I normally don't let myself have.

But most of the exhibits we saw didn’t have anything to do with my life, so I’m left wondering again why I’m so drawn to these relics of the past. I can’t seem to make up my mind where I belong. I spend my days on a college campus where some of the students are so painfully young it’s hard not to spit comb their hair and hold their hand when crossing the street. Yet I was pretty ticked off when the guy at the fair wouldn’t sell me the discounted pass to ride the train trolley because “It’s for 55 and over, honey.”

I remember my mother telling me once that she always felt like she was about 26 inside and I thought, “Yeah, right.” Yet when my daughter reminded me that she will be 21 in about 6 weeks, all I could think was, “Really? Seems like I was just 21 – how can you be 21?”

My brain doesn’t feel any different than it ever has...except for those times when it sees me in the mirror and is shocked speechless. So I guess I'll just keep throwing away the AARP crap that is now flooding my mailbox, and scurry past mirrors without looking.

Besides, I know I’m not quite ancient yet…because I couldn't stop myself from buying a cool keyring at the fair this year. Although now that I look at it closely, it’s commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Pioneer Village…*sigh*.
Housekeeping Details: I've been tweaking the blog and you can now click on the "Subscribe" button and the blog will show up on your homepage. I used the ATOM button and it did it no problem.

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