By Sid Salter
The Picayune Item
NESHOBA COUONTY —
CABIN #16 — For 27 years now, I’ve spent the week of the Neshoba County Fair with my daughter and it is without question my favorite week of the year.
From the time Kate was a baby, we shared the week and both seemed to squeeze as much joy out of the experience as possible. Our fair cabin walls are lined with photos that capture the changes that three decades bring — births, deaths, marriages, divorces — and that show the slow march of time on our faces, our waistlines and our tastes in clothes and hairstyles.
There is the photo of Kate’s mother, Paula, who was only able to enjoy the cabin for about a decade before her health failed and she could no longer take part in the fair. There’s the photo of Gale Denley, who was a second father to Kate and who had such a profound influence on her life and mine. There are groups photos made each year in the same spot that show the growth of our extended families.
And most of all, there are the smiling faces of kids who spent happy childhoods in the red clay and sawdust of the fairgrounds — replete with water balloon and Silly String fights, afternoons spent watching the harness races, evenings spent listening to the music on Square or riding the rides on the midway.
My favorite photo is one made showing the front of the cabin from a distance. In the photo, there is a little girl with big brown eyes standing on the top porch barely tall enough to see over the rails. She has a sun dress on and sandals and she’s blowing soap bubbles with all her might.
For me and for Kate, there has always been the quintessential day at the Fair each year and it came on Friday. On Fridays at our cabin on the Square, the politicians have gone home to be with their families, we’re done doing much cooking or entertaining and it’s just family. We spend the afternoon at the races watching the Morris Therrell and Jim Dance invitational races.
Some days we “chair-raced” for a good seat at the concert to be held at the grandstand and some days we didn’t. But on Friday night, we always tried to be together for the fireworks show. The fireworks show at the fair always signals the end of summer and the end of another week together with our fair family.
This year, Kate and I will have our last of those wonderful Fridays together at Neshoba. My little girl — now at age 27 a very capable English instructor at Mississippi State — is engaged to be married this fall to a very nice young man from Senatobia.
There’s symmetry to life, I’ve found. Kate’s late mother would have laughed to know that her daughter followed her lead in marrying a newspaper reporter. Nathan Gregory has joined our crew at Cabin 16 and we think he’s a very good fit.
But it occurred to me while we enjoyed an engagement party for Kate at the fair over the weekend that this would be my last Friday with Kate in which I would be the fellow she sat beside at the races or the fireworks show and that next year, there would be another man who would be her companion for those events.
That’s the way of things and I am so happy that she’s found a young man who thinks as much of her as I do. That’s what every father wants for his daughter. But I find myself wondering where the time went and what happened to that little girl with the big brown eyes blowing soap bubbles from the top porch of the cabin.
If I could define the Neshoba County Fair in one concept, it would be continuity. So much in life changes, but the annual campground fair remains surprisingly the same. Not even cell phones, iPads, air conditioners or satellite TV reception had led to really fundamental changes in the routines there.
Friday night, Kate and I will watch the annual fireworks show together — father and daughter — with fond memories and with more than a little trepidation about what the future brings as she begins her life with her new husband. But we will also know that in a year, we will have a chance to return to the cabin and see what changes a year brings to “Mississippi’s Giant Houseparty” on its 125th anniversary.
(Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org)