We drove to Auburn Indiana last weekend. It’s a four hour drive from our home in the forests and lakes of Northern Michigan, to this small town in the heartland. My son, his wife and “Legacy” a pet Gila monster, live and work there, and, it was also the week of the annual DeKalb County Fair. Brad (my son), had said that this was the biggest event in the region of the Hoosier state for the entire year. He was right. I didn’t know what to expect and, I really didn’t expect much.
Auburn is a farming community trying to come into the 21st century. It got its name from the famous Auburn automobile that was manufactured here in the early part of the last century, along with the Duesenburg, and the Cord…all beautiful and expensive vehicles during the 20’s and 30’s. Which also makes it a car town. Even the town logo and signs use the same unique font that was used on the Auburn auto nameplate. One of the biggest auto auctions in the nation is held here twice a year. I went to the spring auction with Brad, and was surprised by the vast acres of old and new cars. And, this is an old town, old money, big, old but lovely homes, and old folks. The people here are true country people, simple, insulated from big city issues, and likely the latest in a long stream of generations who lived and died in the same house that their ancestors lived in.
There is little to show for diversity in the population. The people are lily-white, conservative Republicans. Trump-Pence signs are everywhere, after all …Mike Pence is the Governor here.
Auburn is in the farm belt and, of course, anything agriculture is foremost in the people’s lives. 4H clubs are an integral part of the community and the upbringing of its youth, and they take it seriously.
We got in on Friday evening, and made plans to meet Brad, Corey, and their Aunt Missy, at the fairgrounds. It was raining when we got there, and Brad was waiting to lead us to a parking spot at the ATT building where he works, which happens to be in the middle of the fair grounds.
We walked along the avenues of food stands and tents with flashing lights, music, hawkers, pictures of the food, and inhaled all of the wonderful smells of fried fair food. We watched as people walked by with heaping plates of fried blooming onion, fried fish, sausage rolls, elephant ears, and everything in between. Finally, we settled on steak bits with onions, mushrooms, and mashed potatoes…a not altogether unhealthy meal.
Finished eating, Brad & Corey wanted to show us the animal buildings. There were buildings for cows, horses, pigs, chickens & ducks, goats & lambs, many of which were tended by young people, who proudly displayed their prize ribbons and trophies. It was refreshing to see this other part of America that seemed a thing of the past.
One building was filled with grandstands overlooking a coral, where a goat competition was being held. Teenagers mostly, showing off their carefully trained goats. The people watched intently and quietly as the goats, and their humans, where proudly put through their paces…goats!Saturday was the final day of the fair, and of course, there was a parade in the morning. Brad asked if we wanted to go, but not being parade people, I declined. After breakfast, there was plenty of time to head over to town so I called and said we had changed our minds and were on our way. I am glad we did. The streets were lined with hundreds of people waiting for the start. We found a good viewing perch, and watched as the parade started. And it kept going, and going, and going…endless. I have been to parades in the past, Macy’s in New York, Hudson’s in Detroit, all big spectacles. But none were as long as the DeKalb County Fair parade, or nearly as much fun. It went for and hour & a half, and we saw every business, institution, fire department, police department, and youth group for miles around. As it happened, a fire truck from a nearby town put on its siren and lights, and pulled out of the parade, they had to get back to their town for a fire.
We walked to the midway. Blocks of carnival rides manned by the traveling carnies. Blocks of game booths with the requisite teddy bear prize. Again, bright, colorful, blinking lights, hawkers trying to get people to play ring toss, or target shoot for a prize. One booth, even had a roulette wheel, and when it stopped, a mouse ran out and stopped on a number…the winner. There were many merchandise booths that had funny hats, NASCAR jackets, and of course, the Confederate flag.
It began to rain again so we found shelter in a food tent and sat at the table facing the midway. It was then that I really took notice of the people. And the longer we watched, the more I became dismayed at the state of our young people. Many were in their twenties, most pushing a stroller and followed by a trail of kids. All terribly obese, smoking, eating corn dogs, and with no sense to get out of the rain, just strolling and getting soaked. But they seemed to be enjoying themselves. This fair was likely one of the high points of their entire year. We were literally overwhelmed by the amount terribly fat people, young and old. This is the America that is on subsistence…food stamps, bridge cards, disability, welfare, rent and heating assistance. They work the system more than they go to work. It isn’t just black, or Latino America. This is the white trailer trash that you hear about. And they were likely raised by parents who were exactly the same…uneducated, unmotivated, uncaring, and all because…they didn’t need to care. The government took cared for them.
On our way back to Northern Michigan, it occurred to me that it isn’t any different where I live, or in Maine where we live part-time, or anywhere in this country. We just don’t see them all in one place, at one time, like we did at the DeKalb County Fair.
It was good to be with our family again and while it was good to see the youngsters working so hard in 4H, it was disheartening to think that many of these same kids, would grow into the humanity we saw on the midway.