Everyone loves fall, or so it seems. Everyday I hear someone comment on how they love that it’s getting cooler, or how they can’t wait to bust out that cardigan, or how it’s so beautiful when the leaves change. It is beautiful. I love fall too. Our fascination with and love for the fall is a little strange. It is, after all, concerned with that which most of the human race is terrified of; namely death and dying. The leaves turn and shrivel. The grass that was the bane of our Saturday yard-cutting existence browns and retreats into the soil. The garden that only a few months ago was turning out more freaking butternut squash than even God would know what to do with is a dry patch with shriveled vines. We don’t go into mourning, though. We celebrate. We roast marshmallows and watch our breath float into the air like steam from a steam engine. We drink seasonal beer. We dress up as something scarier than ourselves (which is to say something really, really scary) and ask strangers for candy. And in southern Indiana, we have Harvest Homecoming.
It’s difficult to describe Harvest Homecoming to someone who’s never been to Harvest Homecoming, and even more difficult to describe it to someone who’s never been to southern Indiana. It is a festival of sorts: part state fair, part carnival, all crazy. It is at once a marketplace full of incredible food, most of it sinfully awful for your health (deep fried Snickers bars? More, please.) and an open air Wal-Mart. Scratch that. An open air Wal-Mart at 2am.
We decided, in our infinite parental wisdom, to drag the kids out to Harvest Homecoming last night. It’d been a long week, and I’ve been out of town for the better part of two weeks, so this seemed like a great way to get out of the house and go have some fun. Plus, I was jones’n for a deep fried something, anything. Just pick something up and throw it in a deep fryer, I’ll eat it. So we piled into the car and set out for New Albany. It seems to be a common theme at events like this that martial law is the law of the land. There are no more traffic laws or laws governing how pedestrians are supposed to behave, etc. I saw a guy with a beer and a shotgun which may have been perfectly legal but certainly didn’t seem appropriate. It’s every man, woman, child for themselves. Parking seems to be the worst. When you’re competing for a parking spot you have to give the guy in the other car the crazy eyes. You know, the ones that say “take this parking spot and I’ll jump out of this car, rip your side mirrors off and bust your windows with my forehead”. I have perfected this look.
We manage to find a decent parking spot.
We walk down the sidewalk with constant reminders to the kids about the importance of holding hands, paying attention, holding hands, not talking to strangers, holding hands etc. I think aloud “why do we do this to ourselves?” We walk into a mob of people with two little ones in tow. Anna is at the helm of the stroller, doing her best to point and direct us to “the games”. Ryan asks repeatedly, “why are we walking?” Is this rhetorical? I don’t know. I make a typical half-focused parent comment along the lines of “we’re walking so we can get there”. Where is there? I have no idea, basically wherever the fried stuff is. There are booths lined with crap. Lots of crap. Find some junk in your basement? Go sell it at Harvest Homecoming. It’s gotten dark and the lights on the food trailers cast a glow over the mildly inebriated crowd. Those that are farther gone stumble a little and repeat ‘sorry’ as they pass by. Southern hospitality at its finest. We go for the food first. We take care of the kids quickly with some hot dogs and french fries. Anna, who certainly has the most developed, if not strange, palette in the group, takes the hot dog out of the bun and throws the bun to the concrete in feigned disgust. “I don’t like that one” she says. Oh boy. As the kids eat I set out on a mission to find the two of us something to clog our arteries with, but to my dismay it seems that everyone in southern Indiana has decided to clog their arteries tonight. Lines for fried chicken, pork tenderloin, fried God-knows-what stretch down the streets. The kids are finishing up. Waiting in line for 30 minutes while my 8 months pregnant wife keeps a handle on the little gremlins in the middle of a giant mob of people is not going to go over well. The fried stuff will have to wait.
We walk the streets and try to find some games for the kids. We come across Ryan’s favorite: it’s a trailer that is setup like a racetrack. There are a half-dozen remote control stock cars and for 3 bucks you can race 10 laps. Ryan picks car #14. I help him race around the turns and we do pretty well, 2rd place behind #18. Ryan isn’t happy though, he wanted to win, and he yells as much as step away. He tears up a little as I talk about how it’s important that we had fun and that winning isn’t everything. He looks at me and tells me that his least favorite number is now 18. Fair enough.
After a few hours we’re ready to call it quits. The crowd has gotten rowdier and the kids are starting to drag. We make our way back to the car. Though it seemed a bust, the kids are crying that they don’t want to leave, which, for the little gremlins, is the best indicator of a good time. I figure if we can get them kicking and screaming as we walk out, the night’s a success.
As for the fried Snickers bar, I’ll be back. And I’m eating two.