I didn’t notice until I got home at 11 pm Friday night that I was still wearing the apron. All five of us behind the stainless steel counter in the maple building were handed forest green aprons when we arrived at 5:15 pm to work the evening shift. When it got chilly around 9 pm, I’d put on a green fleece that covered most of the apron.
The county fair, called Lamoille County Field Days, comes around summer after summer on the last weekend of July. In early July we get a call from someone, always a man come to think of it, who is trying to fill the work shifts with fellow sugarmakers.
The maple building sits on the sedate side of the fairground, adjacent to the pavilion where a country band croons to an older crowd. Walk away, leave with my blessing, once in awhile let me hear from you. Out back is the ring where young girls with perfect posture post on their horses. A young lithe mountain bike pro, leaping goat-like from block to bigger block, wows a crowd of eight-year-old boys. At the other end of the fairground, the whir of the rides and the loudspeaker at the arm wrestling arena – most popular of all -magnetize young couples and clusters of kids.
My son and I, who split the Friday night shift, were assigned to the cash register, the cushiest job there is: No sticky syrup, no receipts, no credit card machine. Just tally and open the cash drawer where the $1’s, $5’s, $10’s, and $20’s pile up in their slots. $3 for a maple milk shake, $2 a small creemee, $1 coffee, $3 for the maple cotton candy.
Next to the cashier works the cotton candy guy, and it’s always a guy. It’s the worst job, and I think the women are just too smart to demand gender equality in this realm. The machine is the size of a tire, like a miniature gravitron ride without a ceiling. If we never meet again before my life is over, I’ll leave this world loving you. You pour the sugar into the center as the pan whirls and whines and spins out a ring of cirrus clouds. The trick is to gather the cotton wisps onto a stick before they collapse. The cotton candy guy on our shift swirled the stick around and around the edge of the pan, frenetically trying to keep pace. You can take everything but my memories for they’re good ones and they’ll see me through. Still, the holes gummed up and he shut the machine down often to clean it.
The cashier’s side job is to open each plastic bag, hook it over a metal piece on the edge of the counter, watch as the guy crams the blobs into the bag, thereby squishing half the air out of the cotton candy, and then tie it off. It took our guy three blobs to fill a bag. You were mine for a time and I’m thankful. Oh, but life would be so lonesome without you. “Two creemees, one milk shake, that’s $7 dollars, thank you,” – quick, reach for a bag and pull it open.
On Saturday afternoon, my son drove back over to the fair to return the apron. He reported that the new cotton candy guy really had it down. Instead of circling the perimeter of the pan with his stick, he waited until just the right moment, dipped the stick into the pan, and pulled the stick straight up, drawing the cotton into one big blob. If we never meet again this side of heaven I’ll leave this world loving you.
I thought of myself and others standing by the evaporator drawing off maple syrup, how we pick up tips over the years from watching others, how we aim to be smooth. And how there’s such beauty in watching a person do something so well that it looks easy.
P.S. Since the blog photographer is on assignment in Newfoundland, I trust you readers to enjoy providing your own images of a county fair. Lamoille County Field Days is set on a farm field above the town of Johnson, Vermont with the dark spine of the Green Mountains framing the view to the south.