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Mendocino County Fair 2022: The Fairest of Them All

Great Fair! So many connections, so much laughing, so many babies, such an unforgettable three days. It seemed like a dream from the past to see hundreds of people flooding through the fairgrounds like a candy-colored river on Saturday night. 

Sunday night (when things are usually a little bit sad as the fair winds down) the Mexican dance band “Los Cautivos & Los Elegantes DTC” rocked the arena. As exuberant dancers filled the space in front and onlookers filled the grandstand the band gave the people what they wanted and they responded by dancing like crazy - many in the graceful Mexican partner style where bodies are very close together and taking small steps they move as one. As they band members dressed in black and orange sequin suits embedded with tiny electric flashing lights played on it was beyond delightful. I know Dean Titus, Susan and band rocked the field on Saturday (minus the light-up jackets but probably in cool cowboy boots) but I wasn’t there to see that party. Music filled the air all day as the harness jumper booth rolled out tunes to jump by that also served as background for the squeals from kids and grown-ups as the AVVFD fire hose manned by fireman Terry Farrelley cooled them down nearby.

Taking Jay Newcomber’s sage advice from years ago “It’s always good to get your corndog early” (to take advantage of fresher cooking oil) was a wise idea as always. Probably 5000 corndogs hit the grease this year along with deep fried Oreos and Twinkies (Only the culinary fearless need apply!)

With such a cornucopia of human experience unfolding all around it is hard to know where to put your attention. Ultimately all you can do really is wander around letting your senses be bombarded and overwhelmed while hoping for the best. One minute your heart is being warmed watching several giggling toddlers with bubble machines blowing and popping each other to death. The next minute you are at the hog judging where a witty hog judge (Hayden from Orlando - near Chico) reassures a teen hog owner with a very uncooperative and very megawatt loud pig that “Sometimes a hog just gets up on the wrong side of the shavings”. Isn’t that just the truth? He also commented that “She isn’t as co-coordinated as we would like but at 305 lbs. I don’t think I would be either. He probably looked like a rock star at 280.”

Matthew Gilbert sheep shearer of 4000 sheep a year and super textile geek was asked, “Do they feel better after they get sheared?” Which is a logical question when it is over 90 outside. Matt said, “I keep asking them but I’ve never been able to get a straight answer yet”.

Heard in passing snippets of conversation, “I don’t really see my husband all that often”, or “I was selling hash to the owner of a gay bar in Reno”. .. Sighted also some pretty funny stuff. In the hall of agriculture the Grange Booth exhibit titled “Lettuce Turnip Up the Beet” sitting right next to the Cattlewoman’s booth where “Beef - It’s What’s for Dinner”. Peacefully co-existing of course. T-shirt reading “If you can read this you are too close to my fishing hole”. Amazing fact - over three days of fair attendance I saw exactly one-person vaping and one person smoking in unauthorized areas. People really do respect the fair, as they should. It’s the one time all year we all come together across all lines. Old, young, multi-races, multi-genders, animals, people and everything in-between. People sometimes ask with exasperation, “Why can’t we just all get along?” and for three days by and large in Anderson Valley we can.

Kind of amazing in the fine arts/home arts building a photo called “Upside Down” by Antoinette Von Grone of a bronco bucking a cowboy whose head is where his feet should be - fingers splayed and mouth open as he heads for the ground. A photo by Linda Nunes of Rossi and Sons Hardware taken at night with windows glowing titled, “Boonville Treasure”. Frankie Delgados “Lady Liberty” worked in metallic threads on satin and framed - beautiful. Looking delicious Willow Douglas’s blue ribbon coffee cake and Anthony Fashauer’s blue ribbon chocolate apple cookies.

Charming - Lexi Reed’s large collection of “My Little Pony” figurines. Kevin Joe’s coastal cluster of photos including one of a pelican looking like an absolutely prehistoric figure skimming across the water. Also lovely one of a seagull over a stormy sea. His pictures give you a real whiff of the salty powerful ocean out there.

Helen Papke

My very favorite entry was by Rowan Newcomber a small effigy about 10” high that looked like a cross between a Kokopelli figure and a tiny skeleton. It was so alive and soulful I thought it was going to start dancing before my very eyes. Helen Papke’s Kimono in her inimitable patchwork style most excellent, as were Evette LaPaille’s subtle and technically perfect large quilts. Trent Lopez’s peacock photo with the long flowing tail majestically sweeping the ground was breathtaking. Angles Dewitt’s macro wildflower photos astound - glowing with inner light. Polly Palecek’s lemon meringue pie painting must have been inspired by the pie you can eat at Laurel’s in Fort Bragg - a really BIG piece of luxurious pie. Robert Gardner’s “Blue Robler with insect” was so in the moment. A wonderful bird shot any birdwatcher would love. Betty Campbell McConnell’s crochet collection in the outside window was wonderful. The story that she always made a wedding handkerchief for each family bride and even left behind handkerchiefs for brides to come with personal notes is the kind of detail and sweetness that you can’t make up.

The fair is the time for seeing old friends. If you’ve lived here for a while it is kind of like walking through the chapters of the book of your life. A very rich experience that maybe larger place living people can never experience except on their wedding day. I spoke with Jill and Jim Rathe special ed teachers for 40 years. Nancy Finn there to initiate the Hall of Fiber in 2000 - with lots of stories to tell. One person can do a lot. Stephanie and Jerry Karp with their always-witty repartee and a report on their Rosh Hashanah Feast. Erica Scharfen goat girl and cheese maker at Penny Royal Farms on her goats’ “Best of Show” win. Eric, Mea and Amy Bloyd on all aspects of the Lion’s Club Beer Booth. (It’s a lot of work). Liz of La Buena Michoacana and her Mexican Popsicle company in Ukiah, Aurora Bucio on the birth of her first granddaughter. Erica Gattlin on child development. Angela Dewitt, Clay Eubanks, Mike Zaugg to praise them to the skies for their dedication while they hemmed and hawed and humbly minded the AVVFD booth. Steve Sparks and Jim Hill while they held down the fort for the Anderson Valley Historical Society. Marvin and Colleen Schenck while we discussed flowers and jewelry. Christine Clark, Justin and Christy Riley and Vickie Center at the Sam Prather Memorial BBQ. AND scores of other fascinating Anderson Valley residents too numerous to name.

A great big thanks to Vicky Johnson who saved my bacon by dropping everything to drive me to Santa Rosa to pick up flowers for the fair at the very last minute when my cars failed me. Also to Jim Brown, Gina Pardini, her Mom, Jo and everyone else who works so hard to make the fair happen. Whoever landscapes the grounds – thank you so much the flowers and grounds looked just beautiful. Palma Toohey you knocked yourself out as always. Francine in the Hall of Flowers worked very hard. Brenda Hodges is a force of nature in the both art/home art and fiber buildings. Ellen Fontaine and her sister protected all that art for hours on end. It may seem like a lot of work for just three days of happiness but those days turn into memories that in some cases last a lifetime. At the end of my life when I am thinking about my joys and sorrows I know that the Mendocino County Fair and Apple Show will be there shining in candy colors, neon flashing and a remembered whiff of corndog as a major joy.

(Fair Photos by Wynne Nord)

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