Summer heat is a thing of the past and the cooler fall weather ushers in the active lifestyle we sought in our move to South Carolina. We’ve been a little lax since our return from a short trip to Colorado, so we decided to call our own bluff and venture to the South Carolina State Fair. Ironically, the active lifestyle we crave is not one that comes naturally to us. Our remote location in Colorado and overwhelming demands from T.J.’s job caused us to become stagnant. Experiencing a southern summer was not as intense as we expected but we did find ourselves eating dinner a safe distance from the heat and mosquitoes our porch harbored. Well into October and we are making a late return to our outdoor habits. In an effort to soak up every drop of newbie firsts, we set off to spend the day in Columbia at the State Fair. Plans were to dedicate our Saturday to the event but in true southern fashion, T.J. was called on to help a neighbor. Annabeth was excited by the sudden free time. When asked where she’d like to go, she swung her head around with a wide-eyed grin. My heart sunk and I held my breath as I realized that her raised eyebrows indicated she fully grasped my open sense of adventure. I feared her imagination had taken hold and expected a request to turn into mermaids who swim to a hair salon in the stars. With her fists clenched dramatically, she exclaimed, “We can go to Taco Bell!” Man, if that is the bar she has raised for happiness, the fair is surely going to blow her mind.
We wanted the entire day to be as magical as possible for Annabeth, so we spared no expense. Bojangles was our first stop for breakfast biscuits. Annabeth will turn down every beloved toddler food for a plain biscuit, only trumped by a biscuit drenched in gravy or a straight bowl of gravy with a spoon. I think if she was more familiar with Waffle House or Cracker Barrel, Taco Bell would drop down a notch. Thus began our 1.5 hour trek to the State Fairgrounds. The interstate has a wooded median that prevents you from seeing the traffic going the opposing direction, so it almost felt like we were taking a back road. The sights along the way consisted of several deer that were casualties of passing vehicles, bodies of water peeking through the dense woods on either side, and a handful of homes scattered around. Before we knew it, we’d arrived at the edge of Columbia.
I had kept a secret from T.J. The fairgrounds shared a parking lot with the University of South Carolina Gamecocks Stadium. T.J.’s eyes sparkled as his jaw dropped to gulp down a deep breath of wonder. His child-like heart was awakened just in time for the fair. We pulled into a parking spot and jumped out to spray on some sunscreen before making our way to the entrance. Our enthusiasm was halted when we spotted the line weaving through the rows of cars. I teased about how we should have been more prepared to tailgate for such an event and that was all it took to make quick friends with the family in line behind us. As we chatted about life in South Carolina, the wait seemed nominal.
We set off to find the 150th Anniversary sandcastle. It took two seconds for me to get distracted and I led Annabeth to a face painting booth. Washing off the magical unicorn painted mask after her 3rd birthday party broke her heart in an unexpected way. It was as if losing the decoration demanded an end to the celebration. I shared in her sadness and promised to take advantage of the next opportunity to bring back that magic. She chose a Fairy Flower design and I suggested she select a flower crown to complete the look. The tiny rhinestones embellished by shiny pinks and purples won her over instantly. Impressed by how patiently she waited, we were on our way to the free circus in minutes.
Next we took a ride on the 150th Celebration Wheel in a private air-conditioned gondola. Annabeth got a little nervous the first time we passed the top but anticipation washed away her fears the second go-round. She held on to that bravery and begged to ride on the most daring attractions. Pizza and an Icee distracted her long enough to take a quick break before venturing to the show animals. The pigs won her favor and we stopped to empty shavings from her shoes before going in to see them for a second time. She tried to use her pouty lip to coerce Dad into carrying her on his shoulders for a third pass but the threat of rain trumped her request. We made it over to the carousel instead. I had been eyeing the log ride since I spotted it on our eagle view of the grounds from the ferris wheel. Fond memories of Six Flags Arlington brought a warm smile to my face and a determination to share the fun with my own family. We pushed pass the more intimidating rides coaxing Annabeth onward with the promise of a grand adventure for our little thrill seeker. No one left disappointed. Or dry. We stopped for a bag of cotton candy on our way to one last ride. The Baby Shark song perked her ears and led Annabeth to a fishing for sharks game. With the promise of a prize for every turn, I handed over $5. Annabeth caught three sharks with ease and chose a rainbow striped lobster as her reward. Staying true to the theme, we found ourselves at a whirling sea ship ride. Just like that, our day came to an end.
Annabeth’s star-filled eyes and toothy smile vanished when she noticed we were heading back to the car. It was only 7pm, so I suggested we grab something for dinner before going home. “Pizza?” I met T.J.’s eyes and saw a reflection of my own tilted head and gentle smile. It was as if she was clutching to suck a few more precious moments from this special day. Before we made it to the car, I had found a local pizza joint two miles down the road. Annabeth passed up a basket of fries in anticipation of her pizza but as soon as she caught sight of the blanket of bubbly cheese concealing my chicken parmesan, the pizza was forgotten. With content bellies and full hearts, we were home before we finished reminiscing about our little adventure.
Unlike the countless nights prior, Annabeth’s eyes closed before her bedroom door was shut but she managed to ask one last question. “Can we go back to the fair tomorrow?” Don’t worry, sweetheart. I’m already planning our next adventure to the Coastal Carolina Fair just down the road from our house at the end of the month!