illustration by Michael Hoeweler
I grew up in St. Paul with six sisters and a brother. My dad, who worked as an accountant for the Great Northern Railway, had his hands full raising eight kids, as far as meeting our needs goes. We didn’t splurge very often—maybe a trip to White Castle every now and then—but he always tried to take us to the Minnesota State Fair, once every year.
My first experience there, I was probably 3 or 4 years old. Obviously, with the disparity in ages among eight kids, all of us didn’t get to go every year, but there was always a fairly large group that would climb into Dad’s big Buick. We would go on the first night, before it really kicked off. The smells were so good, and it was still clean. And there was just a sense of wonderment, as a young boy, to see the enormity of the fair and the Mighty Midway.
We developed a routine as a family: We couldn’t go out there and try every food, but my dad would try to get us some mini donuts and a caramel apple, and we would ride on the Old Mill, and we’d go see the cows and the horses and the chickens and the pigs, and we’d go up to Machinery Hill, and we’d sit on the tractors. And for a life of normalcy, back in the ’60s, that was the highlight of my year, each and every summer, for quite an extended period.
It’s a tradition I’ve tried to carry on with my own kids. Of course, things have changed a little bit. Our resources are good, and we can try a few more things. They like the horses, but they would much rather go to the Midway and do the rides and the games. I always make them go on the Old Mill, though. That’s the one thing that we still try to do every year.