Taking in the Cotton Pickin’ Fair

Published 8:51 am Wednesday, May 5, 2021

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So, I spent Sunday afternoon at the Cotton Pickin’ Fair.

Let’s talk about that.

Getting there is half the fun.  There are shorter ways to go, but they involve interstate travel, and on the weekend I try for back roads, light traffic, and cows shading beneath oak trees in the middle of a green field.  This time of year if I’m not passing pink buttercups, purple and yellow wild flowers, and honeysuckle hanging over old fence posts, my weekend isn’t what it should be.

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But as you drive from Lanett, to Pine Mountain, to Warm Springs,  and through Woodbury, you take a step back in time to wind up at the tiny but beautiful town of Gay,  Georgia, named after the people who founded it.

Back in 1972 the Gay family decided to use their old cotton gin and farm land to put on a fair, and that the funds from the concessions should be dedicated to local organizations—mainly churches, clubs, and civic groups.  The Cotton Pickin’ Fair was born.

It took about 45 minutes to get from the beginning of town to park. It used to hold cows, but Sunday it held cars and trucks from as far away as Connecticut and Oklahoma and California. The walk from the parking field (somehow parking lot doesn’t describe things) is an education in truck decals.    Things like “predator”, “4 x 4”, “We the People” shout from rear windows.

When you get out of your car, the smell of fried chicken and apple pie—good smells that bring back Sunday dinner–is the first thing you notice. You pay your $10.00 admission fee, get a map, and begin walking around.

We were greeted by an eight-foot tall man wearing a red shirt and hat, striped pants and bow tie, who was making balloon animals to the squeals and delights of small children.  An older couple stood by holding their grandchildren’s cotton candy, grandma with large arms and thighs poking out of her flowered dress, and grandpa with skinny sunburnt arms in a t-shirt with the sleeves cut out.  They were all happy.

Vendors were everywhere.  Many were in tents, but many were housed in old barns scattered around the grounds.

The Peach Pickin’ Shed was fun.  It had rough-sawn pine flooring that’s about a foot wide (I checked), and the hand rails on the steps are worn smooth from use by generations of farmers and fair-goers.  As you walk in, to your right a couple of older women fan themselves as they sit by a “Homemade Delites” banner and  sell their cakes by the slice or whole.   As you walk out the other side you can buy candles and soap made from things you’d never imagine candles and soap to be made from.  But they smelled good.

It would be easy to expect that only country folk showed up.

But if you walk near the honey or the candles or the soap, you see a different crowd:  men with their pony tails tucked behind their straw hats, Birkenstocks on their feet; women with long dresses and no make-up, all talking to each other as they try to convey that they are only there out of a sense of irony.  You might buy that, until you see that they all have sacks of things they’ve bought, and as they are eating  food from the vendors.

Speaking of food, you can’t be there without being hungry.  I always get my bar-b-que from the Greenville Masonic Lodge #321, where for $10.00 you get a barbecue plate with pickles, two slices of white bread,  and some stew, all washed down with a Styrofoam cup of sweet tea.  My next stop is always the vanilla ice cream sold by Boy Scout Troop 104, sponsored by the Greenville United Methodist Church.

Live music is everywhere.  At one end is the Honey Creek Band.  While they were on a break I talked to them, and they laughed when they told me they used to be called the Honey Creek Boys, but they got old.   

The enjoyed telling that story.

Just down the way The Glory Quartet was playing old-timey southern gospel music, and if you aren’t tapping something to the beat as you walk along, well, there is just a little something wrong with you.

It used to be that young women couldn’t wait for warm weather so they could show their long legs.  Not it seems that everyone can’t wait for warm weather to show off their new tattoos.  I saw more tattoos than I saw Harley Davidson t-shirts.  Not just on young women—a new phenomenon to me—but all the way up and down the age chain.

Leaving is part of the fun.

The exit is down a dirt road that is so dry that the dust from passing trucks turned the black fence an earthen red.

Just another day in the south as the spring pushes toward summer, as the warm days crawl toward hot days.

Not bad. Not bad at all.