We moved to Heath in the fall of 1979 and attended our first Heath Fair in 1980. However, we had heard about the Fair years before when we were living on Grinnell Street in Greenfield. Deb Porter of Heath was visiting her friend (and my temporary boarder) Wendy Roberts in my kitchen, but she had to cut the visit short that day in order to race back to Heath and bake pies for the Fair.
Deb still works at the Fair in many capacities, as does her sister Pam Porter who is just finishing her stint as Co-President of the Heath Agricultural Society. The Porters have been attending and working at the Heath Fair from their childhoods, and have seen more changes than I, but we all agree that the essence of the Fair remains the same. It is a celebration of this piece of land that we are attached to, literally and emotionally, as well as a celebration of our productive, creative and cooperative community.
After moving frequently in my early years I have now lived in Heath for almost half my life. This year many exhibits and events at the Fair made me aware of the way my roots have sunk into my Heath hill and community, adding my own history to that of the town.
As usual I worked in the Friends of the Library’s 20 by 20 foot sturdy white tent filled with books for sale. I remembered the year quite some time ago when the weather was threatening and my husband and I donated the use of our 10 by 10 foot camp tent to house the sale. As it turned out the tent was needed and many sheltered among the books during a terrific storm. Using a tent for the sale became routine but it quickly outgrew our little tent.
My granddaugher Tricia Waitkus was born in July of 1986. That was the year that the Heath Fair t-shirt featured a big blue ribbon with the text – First Prize Person. What better t-shirt for to wrap around her stroller for her first Fair. She attended the Fair this year, mugging in the goat cutout. This year the Fair was also the scene of Margaret Smith Jones 100th birthday celebration with her family; Karen Brooks and Melissa Ortquist in the Music Tent sang out a birthday serenade for us all to enjoy. It is clear that while Tricia has been a First Class Person for a quarter of a century, Margaret Jones has held that title for a full century, six years more than the Heath Fair has existed.
Three years ago Pam Porter reinstituted the Speakers Tent which had been an element of the Fair during the 1940s and ‘50s. Rumor has it that noted theologians and summer Heathans Reinhold Neibuhr and Robert MacAfee Brown were among those who Spoke in those days. The speakers these days do not have such lofty reputations, but the speeches remain inspiring and practical. Young people from the Gardening the Community: Youth and Urban Agriculture project in Springfield provided inspiration as they described their gardens and bicycle delivery of produce which you can read about on their website www.gardeninginthecommunity.blogspot.com. Bob Bourke, Fair secretary, provided practical information with his talk on composting.
When we first began attending the Fair there was no big Solomon Temple barn, an edifice that the Historical Society had dismantled and rebuilt on the fairgrounds. Now the barn contains a collection of agricultural tools used in earlier days. The barn also houses a huge loom that was dismantled and reassembled by Bob and Sue Gruen. The two of them will be giving a talk about weaving at the Heath Historical Annual Meeting on Saturday, August 27 at 7 pm.
Sue Gruen was on hand at Saturday’s Fair to demonstrate and let fairgoers, like us, try our hand weaving on a small loom. My grandsons and I took turns gingerly shooting the shuttle through the shed.
The Exhibit Hall was filled with quilts, knitted sweaters, pies, cakes, breads, cookies, eggs, maple syrup, photographs, sculptures, beautiful jars of pickles, jams, and vegetables. My daughter Kate won a First Prize for her counted cross stitch wall hanging. She is three dollars richer.
Large organizations displays were set up against the back wall of the building. I enjoyed the Heath School Garden exhibit – and even guessed correctly that the mystery tool had nothing to do with gardening. It was a hair crimper.
I was fascinated by the beautiful signature quilt that was a part of the Ladies Aid exhibit. Theresa Peters told me that it was started about ten years ago when she was part of a quilting club, but the club did not last long and she put the unfinished quilt in a closet and forgot about it.
Last year she found it again and brought it to a Ladies Aid meeting where the ladies decided to finish it. Sometimes signature quilts are made for a special occasion such as a family moving away. The quilt is a memento of friendships. This quilt is also snapshot of connections. Anyone could sign it, they didn’t have to sew or quilt. Peters brought it to the Senior Lunch in the Community Hall for people to sign. A few of the squares are signed as memorials for people like Michael Peters and Catherine Heyl, both of whom left us too soon.
The Heath Fair has become my time to look back, but also to look forward to new ideas and projects. Never again will I be exhibitless at the Fair.
Between the Rows August 27, 2011