There were nearly 30 of us packed on to the once large steps leading into the Salter-Denley Cabin on Founders Square at the Neshoba County Fairgrounds. The constantly growing family has made the annual group photo at the Fair quite the challenge.
“I think we need to expand these stairs,” someone said from within the sardine-packed crowd as Fair neighbor Dan Turner, a former newspaperman, got in position to snap the portrait to join the 27 others on the cabin wall.
All of us in Cabin 16 were either born of, or some how related to the newspaper business, which means vacations are a rarity, especially all together. For a couple of years, we tried to make a big pilgrimage to the beach, which initiated with niece Abby Rea’s wedding in Gulf Shores. The size house needed and the difficulty to keep the newspapers running smoothly back home with us all on the beach ultimately broke that up. Cabin 16 remains that one spot we’re all committed to.
There are over 600 other cabins on the fairgrounds, all made by the same general formula – a front porch, open kitchen on the first floor and an upstairs designed to sleep an army.
Our upstairs is filled with bunk beds, strategically positioned along every wall for maximum occupancy. We’re capable of sleeping 20 plus, which we do often. A giant air-conditioner blasts away on one wall while two ceiling fans spin at top speed all week. If you get the right bunk you could freeze to death at night, if not, you might be relegated to the front porch, which we’ve all experienced at least once.
The downstairs is filled with two refrigerators and a freezer, each loaded with casseroles and the like. Ice chests are stacked on the floor loaded down with everything you could ever want to drink. The walls are packed with shelving full of cakes, cookies, pies, and more. Chairs are squeezed in wherever possible for those needing to soak up a little free AC in between visiting, horse racing, concerts, shopping at the flea market and carrying kids to the midway.
Every meal is served up family style and treated like your traditional dinner on the grounds at your country church. Everyone circles the table, loading their paper plate down with all it can hold and then heading back out the sliding glass front door to find an open corner on the front porch, set up a lawn chair in the sawdust or hunker down on those front steps.
Every night at The Fair has a different theme come meal time. I joined step-son Marshall Bailey and cabin-mates Brandon Pratt of Meridian and Nate Gregory of Starkville for a big shrimp boil last Saturday. Potatoes, corn, sausage, more garlic than recommended, lots of Zatarains, 15 pounds of shrimp and an ice cream freezer churning the Fair favored flavor of Butterfinger, kept us busy just out the back door.
It’s one of the many unique aspects of the Fair, in that all the places you could go, a pair of lawn chairs squeezed in between a couple of car bumpers watching a boiling pot and an ice cream freezer was our piece of heaven for that hour.
Similarly, the night before I was at my friend Jim Prince’s cabin just down the red clay road from the Square, near the racetrack, where five us gathered on a tiny back porch. Myself, Jim, up-and-coming photo journalist Hunt Mercier from Southern Miss, Macon native and general all-around handy-man Harrison Hadaway, and Republican political consultant Brian Perry of Jackson, filled the wooden bench surrounding Jim’s grill. We basked in the breeze from an overhead fan with plenty of cool beverages to help enjoy the moment for what it was.
The five us couldn’t have comfortably squeezed into my Jeep, but somehow, that even smaller back porch seemed just perfect. Much like the now shrinking front steps on Cabin #16, special spots are aplenty at The Fair.