Confessions of a Town Boy

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

It’s here. Finally, it’s here. It is officially Fair Week!

Debbie and I rarely miss a day of the Clinton County Fair. When I first met Debbie in 1987, her Dad, Vaughn Reynolds, was a member of the fair board.

Later, my mother-in-law, Doris became a member of the fair board, and for many years, she also ran the fair board office. If you walked into their office, Doris was usually the person that helped you or directed you to the right place or the right person.

Being part of the county fair was a family thing with the Reynolds Family. It was pretty much expected that we would be there every day. I just didn’t realize that, as a member of the Reynolds family, we were expected to be there all day – every day.

So, on the first day of the fair in 1987, I put on a pair of faded, old blue jeans and my scruffy old work boots and Debbie and I headed for the fairgrounds. I pretended that I knew what was going on.

I tried to look like I belonged, but I didn’t have a clue.

Other than going to the fair to sell Sno-Cones for the Wilmington Optimist Club, this was going to be my first real visit to the county fair. Oh, sure, I had spent time on the midway hawking frozen-icy treats, but I’d never enjoyed the unique fragrance of the hog barn. I had never tip-toed through poo-piles in the cattle barn. I had no idea that sheep wore coats.

In a 4-H-kinda way, it was going to be my first official visit to a county fair.

I was born in Dayton. When I was still an infant, the family moved to Germantown. My earliest recognition that there was a distinct difference between town kids and country kids came in the form of school buses. No matter where you lived within the village limits of Germantown, you were only about a mile from the school. So, if you were a town kid, someone drove you to school or you walked.

Anyone who lived outside the village limits, rode the bus. At the end of each school day, the bus kids got to leave the classroom about 15 minutes earlier than the walkers. I guess they wanted to get the school buses out of town before the town kids hit the streets.

That was a completely different time in American history. The Riley Family lived the traditional 1950s lifestyle. Dad worked in a factory. Mom stayed home and worked raising the four Riley children and keeping our little house on South Maple Street in tip-top shape.

It was a small house, but Mom worked hard to make it a wonderful home for the Riley Family. Growing up, we could easily identify with the situation comedies on TV about life in the suburbs. “Leave it to Beaver” and “Dennis the Menace” could have been filmed right there on South Maple Street.

We grew up with neighbors all around us, except for the back yard. Farmer Smith (that was really his name) plowed and planted right up to our backyard fence. He also maintained a huge red barn near our backyard. That’s the closest I came to being a country-kid; watching Farmer Smith’s corn grow and getting in trouble for playing hide-and-seek in his barn.

Then… I married into the Reynolds family.

The old phrase – “Fake it until you make it,” applied to me. With my old work boots and faded jeans, I looked like I should have fit right in.

I knew the difference between a steer and a dairy cow, but that was about it. I was amazed by the variety of hogs that were snorting around the hog barn. The rabbit barn was filled with a huge variety of bunnies, none of which looked anything like Bugs Bunny or Peter Rabbit.

That first trip to the 4-H end of the county fair opened up a whole new world for this town-boy.

A few years later, my daughter started living with her stepfather on a farm just south of Port William. They specialized in raising hogs. Jessi’s stepfather and grandfather were both Farmer Smiths (really).

They taught her how to be a country kid and those lessons became a huge part of her life and have made her into the dedicated farm mom she is today. Her kids (our grandchildren) have daily chores that include watering and feeding cattle and hogs. For many years, they raised chickens and gathered eggs every day.

Jessi grew up immersed in the country life. Now, she’s passing that rural upbringing on to her kids.

It’s a beautiful life. As a young girl, she helped herd hogs around the hog barn. Now, as a farm mom, she and Sean are up to their necks in the county fair. It’s a wonderful life.

Yep. Our grandchildren are school-bus-riding-country-kids. Debbie and I are still going to the fair almost every day, but now, it’s even more fun. Someday, I might even go the state fair.

Honestly, I still have never been to the Ohio State Fair. At least, not yet.

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and a former Clinton County Commissioner.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist