I’m a little bit country, I don’t mean that I like country music(which I do), I literally spent parts of my formative years growing up there. Living in the city, there are certain things you don’t experience that you would in the in the country. Summers in the city are slightly more miserable than those in the country. The pollution, abundance of concrete/asphalt, the way we all live on top of each other, and the lack of foliage, all contribute to depressingly oppressive heat.
Of course there are ways to cool off, fire hydrants are popped open and city pools are available to cool off in, but city pools are dodgy and opening fire hydrants destroys water pressure. While I consider myself a resident of the universe, one of the two places I call home is in Pike County. Pike County is a charming rural area in the Midwest. I haven’t been in awhile but, this being summertime, I began to reflect on my trips there.
One of my favorite things do in the country was to go fishing. I still remember waking up at the crack of dawn and packing supplies while barely awake. My uncles didn’t expect me to know much about fishing since I was from the city. I remember proudly telling them that I fished with meal worms in boy scouts. They basically laughed at me. I guess city fishing had nothing on country fishing, ha. Sometimes we would stand by the shore and fish, but my favorite was fishing from the boat. Riding in the boat was extremely fun, I even got to drive occasionally. I recall vividly the feeling of the smooth metal as I would hold on for dear life as we sped across the river; the sensation of the clean country air flying into my face and the smell of the river. The power I felt when I was in control of the boat with one hand on the throttle and the other on the wheel. The looks of uncertainty on the faces of the other passengers when I gave the throttle too much gas. From the boat we would run trout lines. A trout line is a string with hooks attached. You put bait on each hook, tie the line to something like a fallen tree branch, and leave it for the day. The next day there would usually be fish on it, catfish to be exact, but I do remember on one occasion a snapping turtle hooked itself. Those creatures are evil but make for a great meal, or so I heard I didn’t try it.
I hope I don’t sound too sadistic here, but gutting fish was always fun. Being able to cut open and examine the insides of the fish was so fascinating to me. Once we caught a female fish with a sack full of eggs, I dug my hands into the egg sack and felt the eggs. It was amazing…..until my hands dried and it took forever to wash the fish stink and gunk off of them. But later on after the fish were cleaned and fried, they tasted better than anything you can buy at the supermarket. I definitely yearn for some real fried fresh caught catfish, the pickings in the city aren’t that great.
Random get togethers and barbeques, these were always entertaining. There would be copious amounts of beer, food, liquor, and conversation. We played spades, which I sucked at, but it was fun nonetheless. I also got to badger my cousins. These gatherings were also good for a laugh, or rather laughs, my abs definitely got a workout during them. I would hear embarrassing stories about family members and family friends. Some might find this boring, but when someone tells a story and someone else calls shanagians, it makes for a very entertaining spectacle. However, sometimes I just get nostalgic for those lazy summer evenings relaxing on the porch or in the backyard. We would sit for hours and just talk I definitely soaked in some wisdom listening to my aunts and uncles talk on those lazy evenings.
One of the first times I visited during the summer I was surprised by the food. Everything was pork: pork steak, pork roast, pork burgers, etc. As someone from the east coast I was a little taken aback by this at first; I was used to beef and turkey. Then there was the deer meat. It never occurred to me that people ate deer before I was exposed to it in the country. I tried a deerdog, it was not bad, but I would not try it again.
My love of country music started in Pike county. Well, the seeds were planted there. My first taste of country or almost country song was a song called Picture by Cheryl Crow and Kid Rock. However it was She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy by Kenny Chesney that solidified my curiosity about country. That song was so catchy. This lead to a lot of country songs clogging up my SD card at present lol.
The swimming pool in the country is where I first learned to swim. Everyone was jumping into the deep end. The lifeguard told me I had to swim 6 times from one end of the pool to the other before I could go to the deep end. I knew i wouldnt be able to pass the test. So naturally, being the rebel that I was, I jumped into the deep end anyway without taking the test. I was hesitant at first but was told that the water pushes you right back to the surface, so I jumped off the diving board and threw caution to the wind. I reached the surface in no time, over coming my fear of drowning which eventually lead me to actually learning how to swim. I would be at the pool almost everyday some summmers.
The people in the midwest are just like people anywhere I guess. They did seem less guarded than the people from my other home, Philadelphia. Although the cops are the same. One thing that used to annoy me about people from that area is when they found out I lived in Philadelphia, they would instantly launch into the Fresh Prince theme song. It got old really fast. And of course there were the random comments like “you’re supposed to be ghetto you live in the city” when they got to know me or my taste in music. I’ve lost contact with a lot of the friends I made there over the years but I still think about them from time to time.
Sun Drop. This was a beverage I always looked forward to drinking when heading down to Pike County. This was before Sun Drop was mainstream, it reached my city a few years ago and I am officially Sun Dropped out, but I’ll still take it over a Mountain Dew or Sprite any day.
Driving, I got to drive! This so exciting to my preteen/teen self. Only on country backroads of course, but it was still fun. I got to ride on ATVs, rode on the back of a motorcycle on a pig farm. I did almost drive my uncle’s car into a ditch once, but hey, we’re all still alive.
One of the highlights of my stay, was the county fair. I still remember driving into the parking lot…….well driving onto the grass. My heart would beat faster with anticipation. The fair had come to Pike county again. Me and my cousin(s) would be given our tickets and would set off laughing and horsing around. The adults would go….well I was never quite sure what they did. Inside, gaggles of kids and teenagers meander around. Some standing in line for the rides or buying junk food from the booths.
We would run into familiar faces from town. The main topic of discussion was, among other things, what rides we’re going to get on. We were pumped, caught up in the excitement of the fair.
The first ride of the night was usually the Sea Dragon, it always had the shortest line. That’s not what it was called at the fair, but most people know the ride by this name. I would always try to get the last seat, the only acceptable seat for thrill seekers. When the ride reaches full momentum screams can be heard. They rise from the left peter out and rise on the right as each side reaches its peak and slides the other way and apexes again.. When my side paused at its highest point, I would raise my hands as the ride and my stomach dropped. Screaming, not in fear but for fun. Slowly the ride loses momentum, the excitement fades, it ended too soon.
The Zipper, oh man the Zipper. This was the ultimate thrill ride of the fair. Many were not brave enough to tempt the fates by boarding. While I’m sure these rides have to pass some sort of safety inspection, this ride did look a little rusted. It never scared me though, I was always itching to ride it. If I was riding with someone as thrill seeking as myself we would rock back and forth as hard as we could, trying our best to make the car do a 360, usually succeeding. It made me kind of dizzy but it was fun. If I was riding with someone who was scared, I would rock the car and laugh manically as they screamed and begged for me to stop. At the apex of the zipper, when it was horizontal, you could get a glimpse of the entire fair, the sight was kind of breath taking.
The Gravitron, was usually one of the last, if not the last, ride of the night. Usually some top 40 song would be playing when we boarded. Some people would ask the ride attendant for a specific song as if he were a DJ, this always amused me, although it did work sometimes. As the ride started to spin we would all try to fight gravity. Climbing up the walls as the ride gained speed. Laughing at peoples failed attempts to climb or a random scream when the wall pad, substituted for seats, would slide towards the ceiling unexpectedly. Ha, I remember one particular rider was frustrated because their pad didn’t slide up the wall. I’m not sure why this ride appealed to me when I was younger. It seems kind of stupid now that I think about it, maybe it was the music? Kind if a relaxing way to end the night I guess.
There were more rides of course but those three were my favorites. Outside of the rides there were plenty of other things to do at the fair.
One of these things was the mud run. I attended a country music concert at the fair one year, but this is still the most country thing I have ever experienced in my life. A ditch would be dug and watered down creating a muddy stretch of….well….mud. Contestants would vie for first place by driving through it on ATVs. There were different classes depending on the vehicles, this was serious business. The contestants always started off strong speeding into the mud, then they would struggle, some more than others. Their tires would sink and they would throw their bodies around to urge the ATV forward. I would be on the edge of my seat wondering if the rider would make it through the mud or get trapped. The mud run gave me an appreciation for people who watch nascar. I mean, I sat on a bench for a few hours watching people drive through mud, and enjoyed it, who am I to judge them?
The food was the regular unhealthy fare you would find at any fair, although I don’t remember seeing any fried oreos or fried twinkies. The smell of funnel cakes would waft through the air overpowering the senses. No trip to the fair was complete without getting a funnel cake.
The turkey leg though, that was my personal favorite. I remember the first time I bought one, as I ripped into it with my teeth I felt like I should be clubbing someone over the head to take back to my cave. The meat was sometimes a little pink and while slightly dodgy, they tasted amazing.
Nights at the fair were definitely one of the highlights of my summers growing up. Walking around aimlessly between rides or after we had ridden everything we would catch up on the latest happenings in town. Spending time with my cousins and friends from town. Sitting and talking about everything and nothing. Hearing about the random people who snuck off to “get lit.” I even had the stereotypical one night romance, lol. All of this made the county fair an unforgettable event.
They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. That could be the case here but I cant deny the pining I do for Pike County has real merit. I learned a lot from these summer trips. I also have priceless memories that I take with me wherever I go. And of course I miss my family who lives there. I guess to put this all succinctly, I’m homesick.