All's Fair In North Stonington
North Stonington - Everyone in town attends the annual agricultural fair.
Children chomp on fried Oreos and screech aboard the rides. Adults watch tractor pulls, dog shows - and their screeching children.
And rounding out the crowd are the teenagers.
“When you get done with school, you're like, 'When is the fair?' “ said recent Wheeler High School graduate Mackenzie Robert, 17. “You can always tell when people aren't from here because they walk around thinking, 'Why is this so cool?' “ she said.
But everyone who grew up in town knows that the fair is a surefire opportunity to catch up with friends and family, teens said, as well as providing something to do in an area with few entertainment options.
Teens of various ages mingle in constantly morphing groups with a comfortable camaraderie, sometimes detaching to wander with family or buy french-fry baskets to share.
Some teens volunteer at the fair to maintain a family tradition. Other, more agricultural-minded youth use the fair as a showcase for their farming talents.
The Hollister-clad set came for the Thursday opening because, in the fair's 44th year, it's not summer in North Stonington without it. And some teens seize the opportunity to party on their own turf, bringing alcohol to the officially dry event.
”In the beginning of the week I'll ride by here because I like to see the progress” of fair preparations, said 20-year-old Kaitlyn Holliday, who worked at the fair information booth Thursday evening alongside her mother, Norma, the town clerk. Holliday also planned to help serve Saturday night's ham and bean supper, which her mother and grandmother have both helped organize in years past.
Alan Ladd, 17, rakes the ring after the oxen, horse and pony pulls. His cousins train oxen to pull. The Grasso Southeastern Technical High School student enjoys the chance to catch up with his North Stonington friends, whom he rarely sees during the academic year.
”At the fair, it kind of all just comes together for four days,” Robert said. She and her friends used to wash tables in exchange for complimentary ride passes.
An eye on alcohol
There's a quiet area beyond the livestock pens where farmers park their trucks, trailers and gear during the fair. Bats swoop above and fireflies flicker in the brush. Local teens talk their way into parking back there, too. After dusk, they buy Pepsis from a vendor in small groups and then wander back to the coolers stashed in their vehicles, seeking rum or vodka to make the sodas more interesting.
”I'm not too impressed with the Ferris wheel anymore,” one teen explained with a smile and a shrug.
”Over 17, it's pretty much guaranteed” that people will be drinking, another college-age teen said. Even adults are drinking at the dry event, the person added. “They'll be walking around with coffee cups. It's not coffee.”
At an organizational meeting Tuesday, a Grange member complained that some fairgoers brought alcohol with them last year. Organizers asked that resident state troopers keep an eye peeled for illicit beverages.
Johanna Wertz, 19, who was chosen as Fair Queen on Thursday, thinks that drinking at the fair is limited to “a few specific kids that can't keep it under control.”
Wertz, who helped organize the fair this year, won her crown before an audience of mostly adults and younger children who watched from bleachers facing the front steps of the Grange Hall.
Asked how to make the fair last another 44 years, Wertz mentioned the need to bring more young people into the planning process.
But before next year's planning begins, Wertz was busy preparing to show cows at the fair from her relatives' Stonington beef farm. Other teens will show rabbits or horses, or enter the pie-eating contest, or gorge on ham and beans, surrounded by friends and memories.
”Mostly we just walk around and make fun of people,” said Jon Banker, 18. “I don't know what else to tell you.”