My Third Favorite Day of the Year

There’s Thanksgiving Day, with its turkey and candied sweet potatoes and parades on television.

There’s Christmas Eve, with its serene sense of anticipation, and hope.

Then there’s the Monday after The Great Frederick Fair ends.

* * * * *

54 years ago my grandparents, young and Amish and looking to start a new business, took ham and cheese sandwiches to the annual fair in Frederick, Maryland. They set up a little tent with two of their friends outside the grandstand, holding little in the way of expectations.  But in those days they occupied one of three food stands on the fairgrounds, and suddenly they were making sandwiches as fast as they could.  They’d go behind the tent, laughing so hard they couldn’t help customers, doubled over in disbelief at how busy they were, overwhelmed.  That week they were forced to buy ham in Frederick to meet the demand.  They bought out every grocery store in town.

My mom grew up attending the Great Frederick Fair every year, and, after she married my dad, the two of them would attend every year, taking us with them when we were old enough to stay out of the way.

* * * * *

29 years ago the colors and sounds of the fair represented all that was right about the world to this 5 year old boy. Grandpa slipped me $5 bills and I’d sneak across the midway, buy a pack of candy bars or a funnel cake.  Then I’d sit under one of the back tables out of the way of the workers. Eventually I’d lay down, feeling the rough gravel through the thin blanket, hearing the guy in the next tent bark out “the greatest deal of the century.” I’d fall asleep, dreaming of lollipops and stuffed animals the size of skyscrapers.

* * * * *

Around 20 years ago my grandfather died, and soon after that my parents took over.  As I grew older the week turned into an opportunity to make some money running the register, or rolling soft pretzels.  Now, 54 years after my grandparents couldn’t keep up with demand, I’m running it alongside them.

* * * * *

Three days ago my oldest two kids came down on Friday night, and spent all day Saturday helping at the fair. My son Cade ran pretzels from one side of the tent to the other, yelling out “special!” when someone sold a special order. My daughter Lucy fell asleep behind the trailer, just inside the tent. When I peeked back there and saw her sleeping, I was amazed and saddened at how fast 29 years can go.

* * * * *

But today I am home.  Including the time it takes to clean up and tear down, the Great Frederick Fair lasted 12 days this year.  12 long days working 8am to 11pm. 12 long days of food and customers and cleaning up. 12 nights in a small motel room.

Today, returning home from the Frederick Fair, is always a good day.

10 Replies to “My Third Favorite Day of the Year”

  1. welcome home…I laughed when your Grandma told that story about “laughing in the back….” too funny!

  2. What an awesome piece on your blog! We so enjoy having you folks be a part of The Great Frederick Fair! …truly one of our mainstays!

    My family is of Amish descent … and I spend a lot of time reading about the Amish … would love to visit you some time in PA!

    1. Thanks Becky – hopefully we’ll be there another 54 years, and my grandkids will be running the place…and my great-grandkids will be sleeping under a table somewhere!

      If you ever come up to Lancaster, let me know. We’d love to show you around.

  3. I read this 5 minutes ago and it took me that long to get my eyes to clear to type this. You can’t imagine the flood of memories that just came back. The Fair was such an integral part of my world for so many years, and your family’s place was a key in that.

    Every year, I would wait anxiously for the Fair for those ham and cheese sandwiches. My mom tried to make them at home, and it was just never the same. There has to be some secret “ingredient” in yours – but I doubt it’s in any recipe.

    I also remember that every year one of my “responsibilities” at the Fair was to purchase a Shoo-Fly Pie from you for my grandmother and see it safely to her on 7th Street. I never tasted it – the idea of eating “flies” never appealed to me – but she was so pleased to have one every year.

    So much has changed over the decades, but it’s nice to know that some of the best never changes. Your place at the Fair (and in many ways the Fair itself) are things that never change.

    Thanks for the memories – and thanks for the years of starting my fall off on a tasty note!!

    Be Blessed!!

  4. That is a awesome article. I will be sure to often check My Third Favorite Day of the Year | Shawn Smucker for more information!

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