The best thing about the Red Deer Fair, which is now officially known as the Westerner Days Fair & Exhibition, was the marching bands in the parade.
Especially if you were in one. I remember the spiffy shiny golden shirt and blue pants with the golden stripe down the side, and this kind of pointy military wedge hat we all wore.
And I certainly remember lugging a 400-pound drum 400 miles around the parade route with the Optimist Drum & Bugle Corps.
We would be banging and blatting our little hearts out, attempting classic band tunes that nobody could possibly recognize, and doing our version of “marching,” which always ended up looking like a bunch of kids in shiny golden shirts enthusiastically engaged in a rugby match involving brass instruments.
The best thing about the Red Deer Fair was the midway, which as I may have mentioned, was situated right outside the second storey window of our house in Parkvale.
For those fair days in July, I practically lived at the midway. If I wasn’t sneaking in under the fence down at the far end by the barns (don’t tell anyone), I was spending my allowance at the front gates a half a block from home.
Or, I was sitting at my window, wistfully gazing at the rides and the grandstand show and the lights and the people.
The best thing about the Red Deer Fair was the grandstand show. Part of the magic was the old grandstand building itself. When I was a kid, back in the Paleozoic Era, that humongous set of bleachers under the giant wooden roof, facing a big stage, and the dirt oval race track, was already about 400 years old.
But it was a very special place, where once a year at the fair, you’d see acrobats and dancers and semi-famous entertainers, and just about anything and everything you could imagine in a small-town, outdoor version of the Ed Sullivan Show.
The best thing about the Red Deer Fair was the Diggers. For a nickel (which for those who only carry plastic in your wallet or purse, was a five cent coin), you would turn a crank to try to control a little crane with a set of jaws in a vain attempt to pick up a stack of five more nickels wrapped in coloured cellophane.
This never happened (to me, anyway) and that, of course, is precisely why we (I) never stopped trying.
The best thing about the Red Deer Fair was the Salt & Pepper Shaker. This two-headed monster ride, with the bullet-shaped human-terror seating compartments, zoomed 400 feet into the air, around and around and upside down, in several directions at the same time.
It was guaranteed to make you scream like a girl, even if you weren’t a girl, and to cause you to lose all the nickels out of your pocket that you were saving for the Diggers.
The best thing about the Red Deer Fair was the food. Even though we were kids and didn’t really give much thought at all about eating – we had no time to eat, especially when it was summer and having fun outdoors took up all our time – who could not dive into a corndog, snowcone or Fiddlestick?
The best thing about the Red Deer Fair was everything. And while a lot of the everything isn’t really there for me anymore, I still love to go.
You never know when a five-cent Digger or a Salt & Pepper Shaker might be calling your name.
Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker. He can be reached at email@example.com.