Updated: Aug 19
It’s coming. The Bridgewater Country Fair. For two years, Covid stood in its way, denying the good folks of Bridgewater their annual rite of innocent country joy.
But it’s a new year, and a more wholesome breeze is blowing across the rolling hills. The sun seems a bit brighter and the mood more genuine. We’re back to the days of just being weird again.
My first time at The Fair was as a 16-year-old volunteer firefighter from Citizens Engine 6 in Danbury. It was a highly-anticipated event each year for the guys at the firehouse, including my brothers. It wasn’t a very long ride here, but standing on the back of a fire truck, the ride was never long enough.
The Friday night Fireman’s Parade, of course, was the highlight. We didn’t spend the previous couple of days cleaning the fire truck and having mom iron our uniforms for nothing. We carried our flags, flowers, and brought the antique (man-drawn) fire engine too.
That first fireman’s parade for me was an initiation into adulthood. As the parade route ended, the line of firemen slowly ebbed out of formation yet continued, without hesitation, to this magical place. I felt like I was in The Twilight Zone.
We were directed into a roped-off area where no one but firemen were allowed. “What the heck is this?” I thought to myself. “We’re allowed, but no one else?”
I soon discovered that they served free hot dogs, hamburgers, and - most importantly - beer to the firemen. I was too young to have any, but seeing the guys have a good time was fun. Not sure if I remember correctly, but if you weren't holding a beer they asked you to leave. The guys from Engine 6 knew firemen from other towns, and they knew them very well after an hour or two.
I took the opportunity to visit the fair - the rides, games, contests, animals, and events. It wasn’t that big, but it was charming. What money I had, I spent on games and rides before heading back to the firemen’s area. By that time, the captain of our department was relaxed enough to offer me a cup of beer. I played it off like I was experienced, but it was, in fact, the first full beer I’d ever had.
I drank it and don’t remember what I thought of it, but it was all I had, and I was happy enough with all the food and the laughter and hijinks that followed.
The ride out is the one thing I’ll never forget about that first Fair is the ride out. The guys crowded back onto the firetruck, strapped in wherever they could - if at all, and we were on our way. But we had to wait for the other firetrucks to leave before we could get out of there.
That’s when the image hit me. This one truck passed in the dark where one bare streetlight illuminated each passing vehicle. There were a few guys on top of this truck and they were popping open beer cans and you could see the spray of beer majestically reaching for the streetlight as they passed laughing and yelling in no particular direction.
I’d never seen a situation like this before but now I knew what the big guys did when they dressed up and traveled out of town to parades.
It was innocent and exciting. After so many years hanging around the firehouse as a kid, I was one of the guys.
I wonder if that's going to happen to some kid this year?