Fair days are simply the best

I’m a kid and I’m glued to the upstairs window at our old house in Parkvale and I’m not moving an inch even if Mom has just set out her home-made donuts downstairs, even if there’s a major league game of Kick the Can going on at the playground across the street.

I’m a kid and I’m glued to the upstairs window at our old house in Parkvale and I’m not moving an inch even if Mom has just set out her home-made donuts downstairs, even if there’s a major league game of Kick the Can going on at the playground across the street.

I’m not moving on account of the fair is in town and I can see every bit of magic and mayhem from right where I am. And best of all, I can see and hear the Grandstand Show from this window.

Way back when the Red Deer Fair was held downtown, there was a humongous wooden grandstand with an equally gi-normous wooden roof directly east of the old Red Deer Arena. It faced a big stage, and beyond that, the oval dirt track where the chuckwagon races rattled and rolled every night.

So, every night, teeming throngs (is there any other kind?) of fairgoers would throng themselves right into the Grandstand Show, a small-town, big-time entertainment extravaganza with bands, and singers and dancers, acrobats, and all manner of impressive show business. And then you’d stay right there on the wooden benches in the grandstand and the chuckwagon races would roar off right after the show – filling the entire grandstand with thick clouds of racetrack dust and dirt.

Later, on the midway, under the sparkling coloured lights, you could always tell who went to the Grandstand Show earlier that night. They were the ones with the big smiles, and the dirt in their teeth.

One of my very first paid jobs was at the fair, in the grandstand.

For years, my dad had the contract to clean the frandstand bleachers every day before the evening show.

So my sister and my mom and dad and I would walk over to the fair before noon every day, to the grandstand, sweeping out the bleachers, bagging up the garbage, mopping the big stage.

Dad paid me too generously of course – and I would spend it every penny of it at the fair.

I remember that each year, he would pull out a bouquet of brooms, and each handle would be a different colour.

I’d always have to have the burgundy-coloured one.

And even though I always got the burgundy one, it didn’t make a lot of difference work-wise, on account of I didn’t put a lot of mileage on my broom, if you get my drift.

I mostly played around instead of sweeping, skipping up and down the stairs, sitting for a second or two in every good spot in the huge building, calling out the different seat numbers that were painted on the benches. Imagining the world-class entertainers putting on a special show just for me on that stage in front of the grandstand.

And then I’d run down the wooden steps two at a time, across the lawn and scamper up the side stairs onto the big stage, and I’d pretend I was sweeping when I was actually performing to millions of fans packing the grandstand.

Up there on the huge platform, all alone, imagining that I would someday be on that stage for real.

It wasn’t Vegas, and it wasn’t Carnegie Hall, but for a kid with dreams as big as his jug-handle ears, it was pure gold.

Fast forward many event-filled years to my 21st birthday.

Our eight-piece band, Gaetz Ave. Dance Band, is the opening act at – you guessed it – the Red Deer Fair Grandstand Show.

And when I hauled my skinny long-haired self up on that stage, and the lights were on us, and the Grandstand was jammed-packed full of a sea of faces, I stopped for a moment and looked around.

It had been a lot of years since my family had cleaned the Grandstand, but as the rest of the guys in the band were taking their places, and the announcer was giving our introduction, for a second I was remembering when the fair days were the best days here in this exact place with the broom with the burgundy handle.

And as I sat behind my drumset, I caught a glimpse of a sight I’d only seen at a concert once before.

I don’t know how I spotted them, what with the lights and the excitement, but there they were – Row 5, Seats 21 and 22.

My mom and dad, older now, and not ones to go to big events, were there in the grandstand, to surprise me. I could see their smiles all the way from my spot on the stage.

We started to play, and I looked down, and for the first time I realized that my beloved Ludwig drumset was the exact same colour as my burgundy Grandstand broom from all those years ago. Yikes.

And when our first song ended and the crowd began to clap, I looked over to the north from the stage.

I could clearly see our old house in Parkvale, and there was a light burning in my old upstairs window.

For a moment, I wondered if a kid was glued to that window. Watching.

Knowing that anything is possible at the fair.

I hope so, I thought to myself. I hope so.

Harley Hay is a local filmmaker and freelance writer.

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