Sounds of Vermont: Fair days

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(Host) Nothing says fair season quite like the Addison County Fair and Field Days. Last week, for the fifty-fourth time, Vermont’s largest agricultural fair had its run with familiar faces and familiar events.

As VPR’s Lynne McCrea reports for our series on the “Sounds of Vermont,” many value it as one the last true fairs.

(McCrea) In the fields off Route 17 in New Haven, there’s no mistaking that this is farm country. The crisp white buildings, the shiny red exhibit barns and large, airy tents stretch out over the green of summer at field days.

Good weather is always welcome, and today is a warm, clear August morning. It’s in sharp contrast to Dean Jackson’s memory of one of the earliest fairs here, more than 50 years ago.

(Jackson) “It was bitter cold coldest August ever registered. There was an old fella come in the tent, that morning. Come down out of upper Lincoln somewhere, and I think he’d had something in his coffee for breakfast perhaps but anyway, he said “You know, I think it’s snowing out there!”

(4-H girl) “My name is Harmony Hescock, I’m 16 years old. I’ve been coming to field days since I was born, I’ve been showing since I was five – 11 years. And I live in Shoreham, Vermont. The barn we’re in right now is the 4-H dairy barn. Lots of people, lots of people in show whites and frantically brushing their animals, getting ready.” (Sound of brushing.) “I’m about to go in for a show. I’m just brushing her up, making sure she’s not all covered with hay and dust and sawdust. Little nervous excited though. Showing is my favorite part I love the fair.”

(McCrea) On this 100th anniversary of 4-H, Harmony Hescock is the picture of a 4-H kid, with hair pulled back in one long blonde braid, her pantcuffs lightly splattered with mud. And now, Harmony’s cow, Starburst , is getting frisky just when it’s showtime.

(Sound of the public address system reporting results of the showing.)

(McCrea) There are plenty of ribbons for the effort, and Harmony and Starburst are among the recipients.

(Hescock) She was good, she wants water now, just a second.” (Sound of splashes, drinking noises from the trough.) “She’s very thirsty this is where they go first after the show run right to the water tub. She was a little hyper. I think she might be coming into heat, actually. She did a good job, I’m happy.” (Talking to cow) “Yeah, you are too. Smooch. Ready to go to the barn? Ready?” (Hescock and Starburst walk off together.)

(Sound of scythe swinging through grass.)

(McCrea) Meanwhile, out in a hay field Lucien Paquette gets a small crowd ready for the annual hand mowing contest. Men and women with long, heavy scythes wait to take their turn.

(Paquette) “It’s cutting down hay and there was time when that was a part of agriculture here in New England, especially in the Northeast Kingdom, where I was brought up on a little dairy farm on a hillside. And we had a lot of hand mowing around the fences, roadsides, streams, rough places.”

(Paquette, starting the contest) And one, two, three- GO!” (Sound of scytes in the grass, woosh, woosh.”)

(McCrea) Lucien Paquette organized the very first Addison field day and he’s passionate about Vermont’s agricultural legacy. It’s true of so many here. (Sound of old tractor motor starting up.) Take Earl Bessette. At the antique machine exhibit, he’s showing off a 1915 Thrasher.

(Bessette) “Still brings back lot of memories to us, see. Not to you, but to us – brings back memories of the way we farmed it.”

(Spectator at the bake sale.) “Oh, look at that cake! You know, your mom should enter her cakes…”

(McCrea) Frances Monroe is in the Home & Garden center that was named after her

(Monroe) “You take the handcrafts. I mean, the painstaking work. We have quilts, they’re hand-quilted. That means these teeny, weeny tiny little stitches.”

(Sound of a bingo caller.) ” N32 “

(McCrea) There are games, too. And rides and sizzling food. (Sound of a grill sizzling, cook taking food orders.) But this fair really IS about agriculture.

(Harmony Hescock) “Soon as a new year comes around, I’m ready for August. Getting ready, picking my cows, just a lot of fun to look forward to.”

(Dean Jackson) “It’s worth the price of admission here at Addison County field days, just to come and go through that 4-H barn. It’s the nicest 4-H show anywhere in the state of Vermont. I dare say it’s the biggest and best, nicest 4-H show anywhere in New England!”

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Lynne McCrea in New Haven.

(Host) Sounds of Vermont explores everyday sounds and the meaning behind them.

Suggest sounds for future segments in this series by visiting the “Sounds of Vermont” feedback page.

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