“I can’t wait for the Magnolia Fair,” cousin Kathy said every summer of our childhood.
I could only imagine the fair, for I’d never seen it. Each summer vacation to Kentucky, those two words provoked a hope that this would be the year I’d walk the fair with Kathy.
Predictably, someone said “Magnolia Fair” at family picnics or baseball games in the McCoy Bottom. Kathy and her younger sisters whined to Aunt Eloise, “Mommy, please take us to the Magnolia Fair.”
I couldn’t understand why my aunt and mother wouldn’t leave their canning and laundry to drive us to the fair, just fifteen minutes up the road to Matewan, West Virginia.
Furthermore, I didn’t know that my mother delivered me in Matewan’s little hospital in 1949, just four days before Aunt Eloise brought Kathy into the world. The same year, Matewan established the Magnolia Fair.
No wonder our birthplace called Kathy and me to its a carnival along Tug Fork, just seven miles of hairpin turns from the McCoy farm.
I found it an amusing distinction to be born in one state and live in another it bordered. Both locales provided casts of colorful characters–family, friends, and merchants who earned my steadfast regard for the roles they played in my life and family legends.
The Magnolia Fair, for one. Although the event perseveres as the largest and longest running outdoor fair in southwestern West Virginia, it remains only an icon in my imagination.
On our drive back to Michigan, Dad passed the rail yard that for decades held thousands of coal cars heaped high with black gold. And without fail, a happy clown’s face painted on the viaduct at the town’s entrance welcomed visitors to Matewan’s Magnolia Fair.
Today, in the perennial succession of springtime blooms, I admire my little pink magnolia tree outside my kitchen window. It’s a wimpy specimen compared to the 50-foot mountain magnolia tree and her fragrant, white blossoms the size of a dinner plate.
The strum of memory hums in affection for Magnolia fraseri.
For cousin Kathy and the clown planted the seed of wonder into my young soul. There the mystery of the Magnolia Fair waited until this past January 31st, a cold, cloudy day when I needed Kathy’s laugh.
After she related several profound things her grandson said, we reminisced a while.
“Remember when y’all came in and our mothers peeled those little green apples and stirred applesauce in a copper cauldron over a fire by the homeplace? Remember how the hot applesauce popped on our skin and burned us?”
“I remember climbing the apple trees and eating around the worms, but I don’t remember the applesauce.”
“Why, other than the Magnolia Fair, it was my highlight of your visit.”
“I remember you talking about the Magnolia Fair, but I don’t remember attending it. What was it like?”
Dear Reader, Kathy laughed in a tone loaded with revelation.
“Well, it wasn’t much, but it’s all we had. And we loved the ice cream.”
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