Hank stood at the door and peered through the screen. He could hear Essie’s shoes tapping lightly on the hardwood as she came down the stairwell.
There was a squeak of the hinges as she pushed the screen door open and the spring pulled it shut with a loud clap.
“Oh my gosh, isn’t it like a furnace up there?” asked Hank as he sat on the edge of the porch and kicked his bare feet over the side.
Essie sat down bedside him. She moved slowly, in a worn-out fashion. “Oh we’re doin’ OK,” she said. “Grandma’s sittin’ by the window and she claims to get a breeze off a butterfly wing now and then.”
The pair sat for a bit, the sound of grandma’s record playing in the background.
“What day you think you’d want to go to the fair,” asked Hank. He had plucked a piece of grass and was trying to string it between his thumbs like a reed. The dry conditions weren’t helping.
“I don’t know just yet,” sighed Essie. “I’m on the committee for Barton Day and we’ve got quite a few more vendors than last year. I’ve got to get some signs made, grandma wants to go over and clean St. Mary’s Church and…
“Essie,” came a voice from the upstairs window. “Are you going to make something for supper?”
Essie jumped off the porch and shading her eyes she looked up to the second floor window. “Grandma we just ate lunch. I’ll make something closer to 5 p.m.,” she said.
Essie walked back to the porch, her head down as if she was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders.
“You OK Ess,” asked Hank. “You sure look like you could use a nice night at the fair. I’ll win a prize for you,” he said leaping off the porch and throwing a mock baseball pitch as if he was about to topple over a pyramid of milk bottles at the carnival.
“I’m pretty busy Hank,” she said direct and with no attempt at being kind much less cordial.
Hank was in the midst of another high-kick windup, he stopped dead and dropped his arms to his side.
“Between work and grandma and everything else on my plate….” Essie’s voice trailed off.
“I really like you Hank but I just don’t seem to be able to find any time for you, much less me, …. much less us.”
Hank stood with his hands stuffed deep in the pockets of his bib overalls and toed the grass with his foot.
“Bubbles,” came a voice from the upstairs window. “Bubbles can you come flip my record over?”
Essie pushed herself off the porch and looked at wide-eyed Hank. “Bubbles was the nickname she had for my mother,” said Essie. “She’s been calling me that lately and she fell out of bed a couple times last week…
“Can I catch up with you later this week Hank? I promise… I’d love to go to the fair… I just gotta get this straightened out for now.”
As Essie bounded up the porch and the screen door squeaked and slammed Hank stood alone in the grass.
The stiff silence was broken by a backfire and hiss. “Let’s go buddy,” yelled Dan Vrana from Vrana Frame & Body Shop. He pulled up in a 1926 Model A and laid on the horn. “We gotta get this thing purring in time for the car show at Barton Day.”
Hank really didn’t have time to think. He looked at the house and then spun around in the grass and hopped in the car.
“The Kirchhayn Cruiser Car Club is coming to Barton Day,” said Vrana. “We have to make sure this car is ready for the show.”
Hank had pretty good knowledge of the vintage cars. He always thought the amount of gears was as simple as a days lunch in a lunch box. Sparks, battery, gas and valves – but not necessarily in that order.
“You taking Essie to the fair?,” asked Vrana.
“Sure, sure,” said Hank… sounding more confident than he actually felt. “Later… later this week.”
Barton Day vendor lineup
There are quite a few vendors who have already committed to Barton Day, August 13. Vendors include: Amway,
Arbonne, Arlene’s Creations, Barton Historical Society/Barton Roller Mill, C&C Business Mgmt LLC, Claudia G, Costco, Flowes & Gray LLC, Infinity Scarves, Isagenix, It Works, Jamberry, Joe Kards Caricatures, Laughing Mountain Gourmet Popcorn, L’Bri Pure & Natural, LuLa Roe, Maverick Tattoos & Jewelry, N’Dulge Salon & Spa, Norwex, Origami Owl, Ortlieb Leather Books, Pallet Wood Creations, Papparazzi Jewelry, Party Lite, Rita’s Jewelry Creations, Scentsy, Tastefully Simple, Thirty One Bags and Wildtree.
Anyone interested in participating can contact Stacy at [email protected]
Memories of the Washington County Fair
Essie’s mind was on the fair too. She and Hank had been to one picnic at Barton Park. They had a heck of a good time but Essie felt a commitment to what was going on at home.
“Grandma let’s go visit your friend Lillian Moritz Oelhafen,” said Essie.
Lillian was 99 years old and a bit of a firecracker. Essie liked her for her storytelling and she felt the camaraderie was good for grandma.
“Oh I remember the fair,” said Oelhafen. “I remember when it was held on a 25-acre plot on the northeastern part of the city of West Bend, known as Fair Park.”
Oelhafen attended the fair as a child in the 1920s. She remembers growing up in Kohlsville how she would go to the fair with her family.
“It was very dusty,” said Oelhafen. “There was always a dark man with a good suit on and he was standing where you entered the fair and he had a whisk broom and he would offer to brush the men’s suits because it was so dusty.”
Oelhafen said it was normal for families to go to the fair together. “They had rides like a Ferris wheel and merry go round,” she said. “And kids would show their animals.”
Oelhafen explained how she was 10 miles from West Bend and if kids showed their animals they would walk them to the fair. “They didn’t get trucked, they walked,” she said. “We got a ride – in a Ford car.”
For the women there were handicraft exhibits like crochet. “I participated in the baking and canning and I made strawberry and raspberry jelly,” she said. “Winners would get blue ribbons.”
Some of the entertainment included country singers at the grandstand but it was the horse races that were really popular. “They were very exciting and we had to pay separate admission to see those races,” she said.
Oelhafen doesn’t recall carnival games. She said there was a ball toss but the more popular event was a baseball game involving the West Bend Lithia team. “My father Art Moritz was one of the big players,” said Oelhafen. “He was the catcher and the games always drew a big crowd.”
Oelhafen recalled the fair only ran two or three days. She said her favorite thing was “the recipes.”
“They had a section where women brought their favorite recipes for cooking and baking and you always could get a copy and I really enjoyed that,” she said. “My mother Anna would make the best homemade bread, and kuchen,”
“I’d pick up recipes like a date cake, something that was different,” she said.
Chocolate cake and chicken noodle soup were some of Oelhafen’s specialties. “Yes… those were made with homemade noodles,” she said. “And I killed the chicken all by myself.”
“The chocolate cake was an old family recipe. You had hot water and you made your own chocolate with coco,” she said.
Fair food hasn’t changed much. Oelhafen said they had cotton candy but Orange Crush, the soda – was her “favorite.”
As Essie and grandma wrapped up their visit Lillian reached over and put her hand on Essie’s arm. “You’re a very good granddaughter,” she said. Then in a whisper she leaned over and said, “You need to take some time for yourself – go to the fair and have a little fun. You’re only young once!”
Build. Boost & Buy in Barton – – Shop these local businesses
Wisconsin House Woodworks
Lake Lenwood Beach and Campground
Do Your Hair Justice
Play’n for Pennies – Resale and Consignment -Featuring adult and children’s clothing
Sandy’s Barton Cafe
St. Mary’s Parish
The Sign Shop of West Bend, 1624 Schmidt Road All exterior signage including Banners, Yard Signs, Sandblasted, Illuminated and Monument.
Interior signage including, Engraved, Way finding, and Room Identification Decals include: Corporate branding, Security, Serialized, Safety/Warning/ OEM decals, and Control Panels.
Vehicles graphics for Corporate, City, and County fleets, Recreational and Personal Vehicles, and also Window Decals identifying business name, and hours of operation.
Vrana Frame & Body Shop
West Bend Glass Block, 1527 N. Main Street
Woodland Iron & Firearms