Greasy, fried onions. Those little doughnuts. Freshly-squeezed lemonade.
Yes, these gourmet delights can only mean one thing: it’s time to put aside all thoughts of fibre, anti-oxidants and diets aside and tuck into the delights that await at the 110th annual Interior Provincial Exhibition.
I fought the lure of the IPE for many years. As a transplanted Vancouverite, my fair was the PNE. Some of my fondest childhood memories are those of me and my siblings traipsing around the fairgrounds, laughing and giggling, making a masterpiece of spin art and daring each other to go on the Coaster, the Zipper or any number of other vomit-inducing rides.
I still have the stuffed dog, attached to a bamboo pole, that my dad bought for me, and the pink poodle I won in a game of chance.
We used to get the occasional smaller fair in our neighbourhood, which was always a thrill, but it wasn’t the PNE. It didn’t have the livestock, the hawkers of knives and shammies and it didn’t have the chance to “win a house, win a car!”
But when our daughter was two, our niece, who was then nine, was visiting from Saskatchewan and so of course we took her to the IPE, where we quickly burned through ride tickets. Our little one was a little less than enthusiastic about all rides, except the ponies.
It was another two years before we tried the fair again. This time, she was four and we brought along a little friend. Figuring they’d only go on a few rides, we didn’t bother with ride bracelets. We miscalculated how much joy two four-year-olds would get out of the midway.
I have since learned my lesson: get the ride bracelet, let them go nuts on the rides and then you’re not counting how many tickets each ride will cost you. And if you only have one child, bring a friend, so you’re not forced to go on the Scrambler. My tolerance for rides outside of the Magic Kingdom disappeared about the same time as my natural hair colour.
For last year’s IPE, my sister and I took my daughter and this same friend, now both almost seven. I experienced that same thrill I used to get as a kid arriving at the PNE with my parents. And I got the extra thrill of seeing these two youngsters, their faces lit up as they jumped up and down with joy, trying to decide which rides to check out first.
As the sun goes down, and the neon begins to shine, I am transported back to childhood. I remember that thrill, that joy of being in the moment.
As far as talking them into checking out the displays of livestock, the horticulture, the petting zoo or any of the other many exhibits that make up the fair outside of the midway, well let’s just say we were thwarted in our efforts.
The only thing I really need for myself is the chance to stop by and say hi to Meryl and Tony. Their friendly smiles and easy banter would be enough, but the fact that I can get a 99 — their amazing soft ice cream garnished with a Flake bar — makes my IPE experience complete.
Of course, I make sure to have first eaten one of the sublime burgers made by the women of St. Joseph Catholic Church, with those perfect fried onions, accompanied by fries and washed down with an ice-cold beverage from the lemonade stand.
Everyone has their favourite fair food, their favourite fair memory. And as my sister gets set to make her annual summer trip to the North Okanagan, the IPE is definitely on our itinerary. We look forward to seeing the fair through the kids’ eyes, as we reminisce about the fun we had when we were their age.
Mind you, in the old days, my dad wasn’t carrying a cell phone with the fair app downloaded for easy access to that day’s schedule. Yes, the IPE now its own Web app so you can keep track of when to check out the monster trucks, chuckwagon races or the lumberjack show.
I’ll be busy watching a couple of eight-year-olds enjoying their 12th ride on the Berry-go-Round.