Want to go somewhere that is fair er, where it is entertaining and fun, where there is an older crowd much like you, where it is not crowded, where it is not expensive, and where we get to feel young again. Well, Chuck and I recently stumbled on just such an experience.
We spent Valentine’s Day at the Florida State Fair, but I think I need to explain the logistics. Because we found just the right time to go.
I worked for many years with the agricultural community, and over those years I probably went to the Florida State fairgrounds more than a dozen times for meetings and for the Agricultural Hall of Fame induction banquets.
In all those year I never went beyond those meetings out into the midway. For the induction banquets, I walked in and walked back out afterwards. For the meetings, the fair was always closed.
I even got a tour of Cracker Country one time when it was closed. I remember being told that I needed to come back when the characters in period costumes were there.
Fast forward to this year. Chuck and I were going to the Hall of Fame banquet again because my nominee was chosen, and Chuck had two of his Florida Land Council members chosen.
The banquet this year was on Valentine’s Day; but instead of dropping in and leaving, we decided to come down a day early and really go the fair.
I loved the fair as a young person. I always loved the livestock barns and other competitions. I used to pick up pecans to pay my way. Dad built our home in a pecan grove. Mom and Dad always took me to the fair and paid admission; but if I wanted to spend money on other things, I had to pick up pecans.
I remember how crushed I would be when the market fell just as the pecans were ready. Also, when I was in my mid 20s I chaired the Arts and Crafts portion of our regional fair in Tallahassee.
But we quit going to the fair many years ago when our kids became teenagers. As a teenager, I remember when it wasn’t cool to continue going with your parents. So I wasn’t surprised when they no longer needed us to take them to the fair. Chuck and I just quit going, and the thought of the crowds made me not want to go as I got older.
So this Valentine’s Day, I got to go to the fair with my date; and we had a great time. We got there at 10 am when the gates opened. It was wonderfully uncrowded.
We casually strolled taking in all the sights and sounds. The fairgrounds were clean and neat, and this is a testament to the great staff of the fair’s executive director Cheryl Fulford Flood, who grew up on a cattle ranch over in Polk County.
First stop for us was the Craftsmen’s Marketplace. Chuck quickly started holding tighter to his wallet. Unfortunately, not tight enough. He bought red-skin peanuts from Virginia, and I bought sea salt scrub from the Dead Sea. I hit bonanza, though, when he bought me a beautiful 14 karat gold filled bracelet for Valentine’s Day. It was handmade by a man from New Hampshire.
Then we strolled down to Cracker Country, but got sidetracked by a trip to see the Arts and Crafts competitions. Loved the paintings, photography, flowers, furniture making, you name it.
Embroidery was my forte, and I still have in my cedar chest what I made back in my 20s that took first place at the North Florida Fair, so I enjoyed seeing what was Tampa’s best of show.
There was also a special exhibit on the history of candy, and Chuck bought those horrible horehound drops that one can only find every now and then…fortunately.
A Quick Concert
Outside, we heard a band playing, and we quickly investigated, taking a seat in the bleachers at the Tampa Bay Times Stage. The band was great, and within minutes it was standing room only.
Dennis Lee and his band, mostly from Nashville except for the lady fiddler from Lakeland, did a great job of working the audience mostly full of retiree couples just like us. That is when we realized that this was our crowd.
The last few times I went to the fair, it was in the evening, but what Chuck and I realized was that the daytime is “our” time. It is a sweet spot for seniors. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The experience was nothing like going in the evening when the crowds of kids jostle you all about.
We stopped to eat at the Jerk Shack and had a heaping, enough for two, helping of Curried Chicken, boiled cabbage cooked like my Mama’s, and fried plaintains. At $10 for both of us, it was great. I think I got the name right, but it is located directly across the street from Cracker Country.
We shared the meal. Restaurants serve such big portions, that we always order like this and are seldom disappointed. Plus the Jerk Shack had a shaded table next to them where we relaxed and ate lunch. The couple running the shack were very accommodating and friendly.
Afterwards, we crossed the street and visited Cracker Country. Cracker Country was the dream of one of Chuck’s Land Council members named Senator Doyle Carlton, Jr. Long since passed away, this wonderful old cattleman, politician, gentleman, and son of a Governor wanted to make sure that Floridians didn’t forget their history.
We loved visiting the old Okahumpka railroad station, built in the 1880s…
And the early 1900s school house.
In them are volunteers dressed in period costumes to bring the whole experience alive. The telegraph operator had interesting stories about his job.
Inside are all kinds of displays.
Settled in the canopied shade of an old oak hammock (probably called a grove for you non-Floridians), Cracker Country is a wonderful place to stroll, listen to a blue grass band,
or maybe even buy some ‘log hogs’. No, we didn’t. I distracted Chuck and got us through there as quickly as possible.
Chuck and I especially loved the Hall of Governor’s. There is a painting of each Govenor of Florida from the first territorial Governor Andrew Jackson to today’s Governor Rick Scott. I’m a Florida history buff so I added my own thoughts to what made them famous, such as how Gov. Fuller Warren gave us Florida’s first fencing laws and how I once saw Gov. Bryant from the back of a whistle-stop train platform, the last Florida governor to campaign this way.
We also made a stop by the Agriculture Hall of Fame, where so many of those men and women who we had the pleasure of working with, are memorialized.
Chuck and I had a wonderful day at the fair. We left by 4 pm, because it was time to go back to the hotel to change for the banquet. Besides, it was a good time to leave anyway. The crowds were thickening.
The Mooternity Ward
We finished our fair exploration with a visit to the Mooternity Ward, where we got to see all the farm babies.
It was a great day. We plan to do it again next year, and maybe even ride some rides. Both of us want to go back and ride the new 155-foot tall Ferris wheel!
Best of all, though, admission was only $9 per senior person. What a deal.