OXFORD — You probably wouldn’t want to pay me what it would have taken for me to go to the State Fair this year.
But there was a time when I would pay to go.
My declining interest in attending the fair has more to do with general disinterest in what it offers than the coronavirus pandemic, although that too raised the bar on what it would have taken for me to attend in 2020.
It has been decades — I can’t recall how many — since I set foot on those fairgrounds.
What brings this to mind is a report last week that State Fair attendance this month was down to about half of what it was last year.
The pandemic and the fear of large gatherings obviously had a lot to do with that.
Also, there was Hurricane Delta bringing rain to the first weekend of the fair. Commissioner of Agriculture Andy Gipson mentioned that in announcing that the fair would run an additional four days, this past Thursday through Sunday.
I hope 2021 is a better year for the fair — as well as a lot of other activities — than this year.
But I have my doubts the State Fair will ever be the attraction it once was. There are too many competing entertainment venues, along with the perception that Jackson isn’t the safest place to visit these days.
I was in high school at Petal the first time I attended. Our school offered courses in vocational agriculture for the boys and home economics for the girls.
Those of us taking agriculture were members of a club called the Future Farmers of America. Under the leadership of our teacher and adviser, D.W. Corban, we put on fundraisers and had our own bus, which could be used for field trips and occasional excursions to the big fair in Jackson and to events at Mississippi State University, which Mr. Corban dearly loved.
One trip that stands out in my memory was to the State Fair on a crisp October day.
A middle-aged man who ran a hamburger stand near the campus somehow got to go along. I guess he was invited by Mr. Corban, possibly as an additional chaperone. If that was his role, he failed.
He seated himself near the front of the bus and never looked back — not even when a couple of kids behind him started shooting spitballs with rubber bands at the felt hat he never took off the whole trip.
When a spitball would hit its target, it would release dust from the hat, which must have been in a closet during the summer. We all got a kick out of that. It didn’t take much to amuse country boys in those days.
After college I lived in Jackson for five years and probably went to the fair each of those falls. Later in McComb I would occasionally attend Press Day at the fair and take along my family.
I recall one year when actor Dale Robertson, who starred in the television series “Tales of Wells Fargo” and was a pitch man for Pall Mall cigarettes, was being featured at the fair.
He was a guest at a luncheon for members of the media, and a Jackson Daily News reporter-photographer selected my then young son Martin to pose on Robertson’s knee for a front-page picture in the newspaper.
Another entertainer I saw on one of my visits to the fair was Johnny Mack Brown, who was a great football player at Alabama in the 1920s before becoming a movie star, appearing mostly in cowboy flicks we kids loved in the 1940s and 1950s.
By the time I saw him in person at the fair, Johnny Mack was aging and showing the effects of probably some good meals and libations in Hollywood.
As he was putting on his show, the actor, in cowboy attire, occasionally fired his pistol. He was shooting blanks, but they were noisy enough to frighten a toddler near the front row. The child would start crying every time Brown shot, and each time the actor would apologize to the kid’s parents for frightening him.
• Charles M. Dunagin is the retired editor and publisher of the Enterprise-Journal in McComb. He lives in Oxford.