By Dan Miller
September 11, 2008
Saturday brought one of those invigorating Tennessee evenings that simply commands everyone to be out in it.
So, out of the blue -- without spousal consultation -- I suggested a night at the state fair would be a fun thing to do.
My wife was immersed in preparations for a big event she's chairing, and said she couldn't go, but figured it would be a delightful outing for Daddy and daughter to do together.
"She'll enjoy going with you" my wife assured me.
Within a span of half-a-second, McKensie enthusiastically agreed.
McKensie has -- in recent years -- gleefully walked the midways in Wilson and Williamson counties, but this would be her first time at Nashville's iconic Tennessee State Fair.
As an aging father who no longer feels the inclination to climb aboard rides and contraptions that spin, twist, twirl and swirl.... what could be easier and sweeter than watching this still 9-year-old girl experiencing the magic of the midway?
And, you know what?
I felt a rush of confidence that I could win for her a big stuffed animal of some sort.
Somehow I've always managed to be pretty good at that.
As we entered the main gate, surrounded by crowds of laughing, spirited teenagers, a little obstacle suddenly appeared.
Right in the middle of the entrance was the one thing I knew McKensie always finds unsettling at carnivals.... the loudmouthed clown who sits over a tank of water, hurling insults at everybody, challenging them to dunk him with a well-aimed baseball.
I confess.... ever since I saw Gary Busey's chilling, over-the-top performance as one of those clowns in the movie "Carny" years ago, I've been a little disturbed by these guys myself.
We edged against a fence, and managed to make it around the dunk tank without even a sneer from the clown.
I asked McKensie if she was OK.
"Yes, I'm having fun" she assured me.
Since we'd not had supper, we headed straight for the building where I remembered the food court being located.
It's where various community organizations like Civitan, 4-H, Eastern Star, Scout troops and schools always offered delicious homemade barbecue, sandwiches and burgers.... even some vegetables.
After walking around the building for about 10 minutes, it became apparent that the food court was no longer there.
So we opted for classic midway hot dogs and lemonade.
"Was it good sweetie, did you have enough to eat?" I asked.
"Oh yeah Daddy, it was good."
First on our agenda after dinner was the livestock pens.... the cows, goats, chickens, bunnies , and a few other critters.
Except for unfortunately stepping in some spots where we wished we hadn't stepped, it might have been McKensie's favorite part of the fair.
She loves the animals.
We scraped off the bottoms of our shoes and headed for the midway.
The rides along the midway presented a bit of a dilemma for a girl who's almost 10.
She's slightly too big for most of the kiddie rides...
And slightly too small for the big rides.
But she never acknowledged the problem, being resourceful enough to find several that seemed to fit just right.
I felt a hint of melancholy as I caught the excitement in her little face... knowing all too well that very soon -- like my three already grown children -- she'll choose to visit fairs and other big events with her young friends, and (further down the line) even young men who aren't her daddy.
It's natural.... I know it's coming.
Before we left, it was my turn.
Time to show my daughter how easily her father could put the basketball through the small, sort of egg-shaped hoop, and win for her a giant teddy bear.
I bought six tries for $5.
This would be a cinch.
My first shot didn't even make it to the basket.
Whoops... my second shot fell short as well, another air-ball.
Hmmm... I should've zeroed-in by now.
Was the old man losing his touch?
My third shot bounced off the side of the rim... slightly closer.
My fourth and fifth shots bounced high off the backboard.
One more shot to go.
I couldn't believe my eyes... another air-ball, off to the left.
"Sorry sweetie," I said, "I'm a little off tonight, maybe I should try again."
"That's alright Daddy, you were real good, you came close."
Such a girl.
So we left, empty handed.
It was almost 11:30 when we got home, and McKensie started relating to her mother some of the things she'd done at the fair.
"What was your favorite part?" Karen asked.
My ears perked up.... I was eager to hear what part she would say she liked best.
"Just being there with Daddy" she said.
It was a September evening well spent.