Column: Fun fairs are hard work

Michael Ballway is the editor of The Westfield News. (MARC ST. ONGE/THE WESTFIELD NEWS)

Columbus Day Weekend came and went like any other in Granville, without a Granville Harvest Fair for the second year in a row.

For a second straight year, no bargains and surprises for flea market shoppers.

For a second straight year, no beautiful quilts on display in the Federated Church.

For a second straight year, no carnival games and face-painting for Hilltown children.

Unlike in 2020, though, COVID-19 wasn’t directly to blame for this Harvest Fair being canceled. Other fairs are being held. The Southwick 250 parade and fair are on schedule for next Saturday. The Brass Rail will hold its own vendor fair the same day. Westfield will enjoy Artoberfest and PumpkinFest during the next two weekends. The granddaddy of them all, the Eastern States Exposition, posted record attendance on several days this year.

In each case, fair organizers have had to think about how they’ll keep attendees safe from the coronavirus, provide policies, signage, supplies and enforcement for mask and hygiene requirements, where appropriate, and stay flexible in case the guidance from the federal government, state government or local Board of Health changes at the last minute. That last bit isn’t a small consideration. The Big E had to scramble to post signs throughout the fairground when West Springfield authorities decided, just days before the start of the fair, to impose an indoor mask mandate.

The Granville Harvest Fair could have happened — it just would have been more work than usual. And that’s the problem for an all-volunteer event. Though for most of us the Harvest Fair is pure fun, for a dedicated corps of volunteers, it’s hard and unpaid work, and adding all those public health tasks was one bridge too far.

This should be a reminder to all of us that building a community, including the fun institutions like concerts and carnivals, is work, and somebody has to do that work.

Part of growing from child to adult is the moment when we all realized that holidays and parties don’t just happen by themselves. Maybe it was when we had kids of our own, or maybe it was when our parents or grandparents died, or simply grew too old for all the shopping, decorating, cooking and cleaning. Suddenly it was our turn to stay up all night wrapping gifts, or to hang back in the kitchen peeling potatoes while everyone else enjoyed drinks by the fire.

That’s no less true in our hometowns than it is in our homes.

Six years ago, Southwick’s volunteer firefighters surprised families around town when they announced that they would no longer host an annual town carnival. The Firefighters Association, which ran the event as a fundraiser, determined it could make more money, and avoid a lot of scheduling headaches with vendors and midway ride operators, by hosting a golf tournament.

The announcement was a disappointment, but it was hard to fault the firefighters. Their core mission is to fight fires, not to sell corn dogs and roller-coaster tickets. Running a carnival is hard work, and if there’s an easier way to earn money for the equipment that keeps firefighters safe, it’s hard to argue with making a change.

Others in Southwick, like the Rotary Club, One Call Away Foundation and Southwick Civic Association, have stepped in to give families a fun event in the summers since then. For the people of Southwick and visitors to town, these barbecues and fun fairs have been a great way to enjoy the warm weather and reconnect with neighbors. They make the kinds of memories that kids will carry with them for a lifetime, happy impressions of growing up in a small town that cares.

But again, for those who toil behind the scenes to make the magic happen, it’s been hard work, and somebody has had to do it. They did it for the same reason that parents spend hours cooking a Thanksgiving turkey or fighting crowds on Black Friday — because the smiles on those children’s faces when the magic comes together are worth the hard work.

We’re all disappointed to have missed the Granville Harvest Fair this year. We all, including the organizers, hope the fair will come back next year. But even without any COVID-19 protocols, it will be hard work. Somebody will have to step up to do it.

Michael Ballway is the editor of The Westfield News.

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