One of my life’s defining moments happened at the Chelsea Community Fair.
It was 1986. I had moved to Ann Arbor from the Pittsburgh Tri-State Area that spring, and during my quest to get to know Michigan, I stumbled into the Chelsea Fair. Well, I didn’t really stumble. I parked my car and walked in, but you get the picture.
The animals, the exhibit barn, the merchant’s building, the fair kitchen, and the people captured a wide-angle image of life in this community. As a city girl who grew up romanticizing 1970s family TV series, it seemed I had found the sweet spot between “The Waltons” and “Little House on the Prairie.” Even though it was completely different from my urban upbringing, it became a goal to make Chelsea my home.
I finally moved to the district in 1996, just in time for my oldest daughter, Jessie, to start kindergarten. Since then, my husband and I added two more daughters to the population – Katie Rae is a 2019 graduate, and Megan enters ninth grade in September.
In the 23 years of our life here, the Chelsea Fair has been an important tradition for our family. Every Christmas, when we get our calendar for the new year, we write “FAIR WEEK” in huge letters across the entire third week of August.
Nothing has kept us from the fair or the parade – until 2014. When we received an invitation to Jessie’s baby shower, I phoned her immediately.
“Did you agree to this date? Please tell me it’s a typo,” I said.
“It’s August 23rd. What’s wrong?”
I rolled my eyes, which she couldn’t see 45 miles away. However, my sigh came across loud and clear.
“Oh, no! That’s fair parade day, isn’t it?”
Yep, proof that Baby Brain is real.
This year, Katie Rae and I won’t make it to the parade. It’s hard to believe, but when the college scheduled move-in day and new student and family orientation, they didn’t consult the Chelsea Fair calendar.
But the Hayduks will still represent because the other half of our nuclear family is skipping the family stuff. Megan will be playing violin on the Chelsea House Orchestra float. My husband should be walking nearby passing out fliers to advertise the Hometown Show. (Just in case he starts chatting and gets sidetracked, the show is on Oct. 19.)
With the family in transition as Katie Rae embarks on this new phase of her life and Megan begins high school, I’ve looked at a lot of pictures over the last few months. But even though I usually left the camera at home during the fair, I can see snapshots in my mind’s eye.
In my memory pictures, two-year-old Katie Rae waves a United States flag the entire route of the children’s parade. With gusto, she dives in to hunt for pennies at the kids’ day games. And all of my daughters (and now grandchildren) pet and talk to the animals in the barns.
I see their excitement at first discovering the thrill of the rides, especially the big slide and the kiddie roller coaster. I see their disappointment when they’re not tall enough to ride everything, and later their relief when a growth spurt has solved the problem.
They make new art projects, learn to sew, experiment with recipes, and arrange flowers for entry at the Green Barn.
Katie Rae sprinkles cinnamon sugar on hot elephant ears and scoops egg salad onto croissants in the fair kitchen. She and her sister and a friend deliver door prizes on Ladies Day to help out in a pinch.
It’s like reviewing years through time-lapse photography. One minute I’m seven months pregnant, introducing unborn Katie Rae to Kiwanis dogs and the demolition derby. A few minutes later, she’s a high school senior, rooting for her friend at the fair queen contest.
Although the fair was the initial attraction that led me to settle in Chelsea, it’s become so much more. It’s a time when family and friends come together to simply have fun and enjoy life. It’s a place where memories are made.
So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and make some Chelsea Fair memories.