Racing pigs

A few weeks ago, I visited my family in Uniontown, PA.

It was a nice visit—got to see my grandparents, family from Atlanta came up and we went to Laurel Caverns and Ohiopyle State Park, I got to eat at my favorite restaurants there, I sang at my family’s church, and spent some quality time at home.

Now that I’ve put in many a shameless link to my hometown and some of the cool stuff you can do there, on to the real post.

Michael wasn’t able to be there for most of the trip because of work, but he did fly up the last weekend, and then drive with me the 17 ½ hours it took to get back home.

And the day he flew in was the day the Fayette County Fair opened.

Now, for those of you with no experience at fairs, let me just say, you’re missing out.

When I was a kid, I loved to go to the fair. My family would start at the 4-H building, where they’d look at some of the amazing things kids were able to make, themselves, without adult supervision, while we entered the coloring contest to win a bicycle. Which I never won.

Then we’d get BBQ chicken and lemonade, followed by ice cream. From there, we’d visit the art building, the home economics building (even more amazing crafts and handiwork by local people), the commercial buildings, and the farm animals, including those in the petting zoo. There’d be events (more on that in a minute),  and then we’d get a caramel apple or cotton candy, and be on our way.

We’d always whine on the way out about going to the carnival section, but my mom said the rides were dangerous and we would be thrown from them and die, and dad didn’t trust the carnies’ games. They were both right, and in repeat visits on my own volition, I never even ventured into the carnival side of the fair.

My favorite event of the fair was the pig racing.

That’s right, racing pigs.

It was Nancy’s Racing Pigs, and you’d go to the event, and she’d hand out flags with a number on it to kids (or really excited adults) in the crowd. She’d release the pigs, who wore little vests with numbers, and if the pig with your number was the winner, you got a t-shirt.

It was quick, entertaining, and you sometimes got a free shirt out of it.

I wish I still had the many t-shirts I’d won from those pig races, but alas.

See, in the late 80s, when I was the right age for this kind of stuff, racing pigs was decidedly not cool.

This was a sad time for our country’s agricultural centers, and those who made their livelihood from it. Most people in our area were leaving the family farms, and going off to study something else that would pay better than farming. I remember my grandfather driving me and pointing out which farms were no longer producing, but were “hobby farms” for wealthy doctors and attorneys—he always seemed so disappointed.

This was a time where farm-to-table wasn’t even thought of, and backyard organic gardens weren’t the cool thing to do. I’m happy that these movements have begun, and that knowing where our food comes from has re-entered the forefront of American life.

But in the 80s, it was all about power hair and power suits and shoulder pads, and not racing pigs at the county fair.

And so, I am ashamed to say, I was embarrassed to enjoy the racing pigs. Thing is, I’m sure most of the kids I went to school with loved it as much as me, but, since it wasn’t Transformers or Barbie and the Rockers, we didn’t acknowledge its awesomeness publicly.

Into the 90s, the fair was made fun of my most—it remains a great place to see acid washed jeans and big hair, as noted in a song by a favorite regional rock band, The Clarks. Even when I was busy with summer camps and school, I almost always worked out a way to go to the fair with my family and see those pigs, though I sulked in the back row and pretended I didn’t want a flag to cheer on a pig and win a tshirt, like a “normal” teenager.

I wasn’t home much in the summer while I was in college or graduate school, and only went once, with my grandfather, for a 50th anniversary of the fair event. It brought back lots of memories.

Here’s the crock from New Geneva Stoneware that my grandfather gave to me on the way home from the fair. He gave it to me more because he’s got about a million crocks (mostly from the Pennsylvania Auctioneer’s Association) than because he thought I needed a keepsake. But I (and my pencils) appreciated the gift, nonetheless.

So this summer while I was home, I decided I needed to take my husband to see the racing pigs, along with the rest of the Fayette County Fair. I had coffee the day before with one of my best friends from college, and she, having never been to the fair, decided to join us.

I made my husband and my best friend follow my “regular” path through the fair, keeping a tight schedule before going to the racing pigs.

Nancy, the original purveyor of the racing pigs, had retired. But the pigs raced on! With a new leader, who chose a Hawaiian theme for this year’s fair. She made cracks about pigs dressed in hula being a little wrong, since typical luaus involve roasting a pig.

I have no qualms about eating something after it’s been dressed up in a costume, and let’s face it, farm animals in little grass skirts are funny.

By yelling “I want one, I want one!” repeatedly and jumping up and down, I was given one of the flags to cheer on a pig.

Go, pig!

Unfortunately, my pig didn’t win.
No t-shirt for Joanie.
But still, it was fun.

More fun than the petting zoo, only because hungry goats decided to eat my friend Emily’s clothes.
The unbearable lightness of goat slobber. 

We spent the rest of the fair wandering through the petting zoo, looking at more animals in pavilions with labels like "beef" and "dairy." Hey-if anything, they're practical.

We were "faired-out" not long after. Eating junk food and looking at stuff is tiring. 

So we left the fair. We were heckled by the carnies on the way out, but they couldn't get to me--I'd already had the real thrill: the racing pigs.