Why is it that 4-H fair week always happens to be the hottest week of the year?
OK, maybe not always. But hyperbole is easier to use than precision. Who wants to say “often one of the weeks in which the sun shines more often than the rain falls and the temperature rises to the mid-90s like it does at least five times a summer”?
In the county where I was working last year, it certainly seemed like the hottest week of the summer, if not the decade. The sun beat down on the animal barns, baking the poor chickens and grilling the hogs.
I was never so glad I was not a hog. Those things can’t sweat! And for all that, they don’t even lose the awful smell of body odor.
But the 4-H’ers who have to stick it out under the hot sun to care for their animals? Kudos to them. (And to their longsuffering parents.) Although I was in 4-H, my home in the suburbs wasn’t allowed to play host to farm animals. No goats for me. So I had the enviable position of displaying sewing and cooking projects at the fair, but no animals. Mom was allergic to hay anyway, so it was like pulling teeth even to visit the animal barns.
Granted, we always tried to pick the coolest day of the fair to browse the various exhibits and barns. Weather forecasts are infallible, you know, so that one 88-degree day was usually what my family pegged for our annual meandering route around the fairgrounds. Never mind that it rained late the next afternoon, cooling the grounds to a comfortable 79 degrees.
But I took my first job after college in a different county from where I grew up. Surely the phenomenon was limited to my hometown’s fair. Right?
Take last year, for instance. If memory serves me right, the week before averaged a perfectly balmy 75 degrees. A little sun, a little cloud cover, and everyone was happy.
For fair week, the mercury boiled at a sweltering 95 degrees. Or so it felt. Are we talking about the actual temperature or that strange mixture of heat and humidity that TV meteorologists usually label “feels like”?
The 4-H’ers couldn’t even handle hogs in the Showman of Showmen contest, it was so hot. The two water vendors in the merchant’s barn filled cup after cup for thirsty fairgoers. And I’m pretty sure the flower arrangement display had more than its share of visitors just because it was in the coolest building on the grounds.
Unfortunately, kids don’t have the passion for flowers that dehydrated adults do.
So that’s what those mist tents are for. A friend of mine from Chicago informs me that that metropolis sets up mist tents around the city during heat waves. I picture those blue- or white-topped misters placed at every other street corner with lots of little children jumping up and down under them. Wouldn’t that be a great thing to have all over the city?
Alas, I don’t live in Chicago. So during fair week – invariably the hottest week of the year – I look for the mist tents on purpose. They’re roughly 80 percent of the reason I attend the fair in the first place.
The other 20 percent is a combination of the animals, the model railroad display, the merchants’ buildings and the food. But those mist tents. You can’t miss those.
They come around only once a year – just like the fair.
So even though the online almanac predicts the weather for fair week to be “sunny” and “hot,” take a quick trip up there. It’s worth every drop of sweat. (And I’m kidding about the mist tents. They're only, like, 70 percent of the reason.)
(P.S. Originally written at the request of my old editor, for some local content for her fair-themed supplement. I was happy to oblige.)