On fall fairs and longing in southeastern Louisiana

Writer David Armand remembers the magic conjured by fall fairs in his native Louisiana
St. Tammany Parish Fair

Illustration by Harry Tenant

When I was a kid, one of the few salves for the end of the summer and the beginning of another long school year was the St. Tammany Parish Fair in Covington, Louisiana. There was always that sense of anticipation and excitement as the weather cooled and eased into fall, the days growing shorter, a feeling that things were changing.

I remember the schools being closed on opening day of the fair, the parade that marshaled it in with its streamered floats and high school marching bands; how the rides and booths had seemingly gone up overnight, filling the dusty, hay-strewn fairgrounds with their lights and music and the din of commerce.

My parents and I always started in the livestock exhibit, the sweet smell of hay and manure and animal sweat filling the cinderblock barn, a few metal fans turning lazily overhead. I knew a couple of kids from school who were in 4-H, and I would see them standing next to a calf or a potbellied pig or a large golden rooster, its waxy feathers glistening in the dusty light. The judges would go around with their wooden clipboards and place blue ribbons next to the best ones.

After that, we walked out onto the midway, where you could hear the metal-on-metal skirl of the rides, the sounds of gears and well-oiled chains as bright, colorful cars moved over steel tracks and their riders screamed in delight (or maybe terror). There were the bumper cars, the Gravitron, the Ferris wheel.

I remember all of that. And I remember the tanned leathery skin of the men behind the wooden booths—the carnival barkers—and how they beckoned us over with a palmful of plastic darts. You could throw them at a balloon on a corkboard wall, they said, and win a stuffed animal that was dangling from a drooping clothesline. One time I won a knife that you could slip into a leather case and clip to your belt.

There was a sense of magic about it all: the things people make and do so that they can come together and spend time around each other, how we take in all of these experiences to have something worth remembering and thinking about later.

But many years have passed since then. Now I come back to this same fair with my own family, my wife and two kids, with this feeling of what the Welsh call hiraeth, a nostalgia so deep it creeps through your bones.

Part of me wants to be that kid again, to remember when everything had the sheen of being new and life felt comfortingly overwhelming. So I look down at my children, the lights glistening in their eyes, their hands sticky with cotton candy, and I can almost be there. Almost. And somehow that’s close enough.

David Armand was born and raised in Louisiana. He is the author of four novels, two poetry chapbooks, and a memoir. His latest projects, a full-length poetry collection and a book of essays, are forthcoming next year. Armand has also recently completed a second memoir and his fifth novel, Walk the Night. He is a professor of creative writing at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond.

This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2021 issue of Southbound.