Maryland State Fair

We hurried back out into the afternoon sun, still bearing down despite the cool breeze.  I held her hand as we weaved through the crowds and around the rides until I saw him.  His small frame held on for dear life, his eyes squeezed shut and his teeth clenched.  As the ride ended he kept his eyes closed and leaned his head back, depleted of energy.  “You’re OK, Matty!”, my brother called from the gate.  We looked at each other and laughed.
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I started the Baltimore Food Chronicle two years ago, really as a way for me to journal my experience of coming back home, linking my memories and emotions of growing up with the local foods that I had come to love and miss so much in the past decade away.  “The Fair”, probably more than anything else always evokes a flood of nostalgia.

As readers of the blog may recall, I’ve written in the past about my Nana and Papa, my grandparents.  When I was two months old, my parents still newly immigrated and struggling to make a living in Towson, put up fliers in their apartment complex looking for a babysitter.  Ruth and Bill Fitzpatrick were amongst those that replied, and soon enough they became my primary caretakers during the day.  They saw my first roll in bed, they watched my first steps.  When I got to elementary school they would pick me up, eventually with my brothers as well, every Friday to go to the mall and spend time with them.  We spent weekends at their apartment, we visited them for Easter.  They were at my high school graduation, and I was lucky enough to introduce them to the woman who would become my wife.  They both passed away while I was in California, not long from one another and one of my biggest regrets was not spending more time with them, visiting them or even calling them while I still had the chance.  I miss them everyday.

But every summer for as long as I remember, it was always our annual plan to go to “the Fair”.  Papa, an avid fan of horse racing would spend hours at the track.  Nana would take me to get some kind of treat no doubt, but it was at the Fair that she first introduced me to the lemon and peppermint sticks.  So two years ago, after not having been to the fair in many years those emotions and memories came flooding back.
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In that respect, this blog is very much for them.  Since then, it has also turned into a platform for me to praise and show off our local often unrecognized cuisine, especially to those outside of the area.  It’s been a way for me to highlight wonderful people, great businesses and new found flavors.  And for the most part, except sometimes for my little companions this blog has always been written from my perspective in the present, toward my memories in the past.

But I’m at a crossroads now, where I’m not on the young side of life.  In my own family, there are just as many behind me (if not more), than ahead of me.

A few months ago my brother returned from the Philippines, along with his newly immigrated wife.  And this year, for the first time in who knows how long we all went to the Fair together.  It wasn’t anything emotional, there were no heartfelt moments or pensive tributes.  It was, as it has always been, a great time of food and sights and spending.
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We shared what had always been only Dad’s in the past, the (truly) giant turkey leg.  We gorged on corn dogs and fries and deep fried Buckeyes and Snickers and Berger cookies.  We met up briefly with our friends, brothers who I grew up with and were and still are like my own family.  But now we have kids of our own.  And instead of my brothers and I, little brown kids with our White grandparents, we are our own adults.  And I get to share my past, my memories and my treats with my own little ones.  This time, three generations of Marana’s, my dad, my brothers and I, and my kids all watched cows get milked while fresh ice cream melted into our mouths.  This time it wasn’t my friend and I squealing on the Zipper, but him taking his nephew to see the beehives, and my brother paying for his nephew and niece to play games.  This time, it was us taking Dad around.
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I marvel now, days later in the dead of night how the perspective has shifted.  No longer just looking back, but facing the future and bridging the present with the here and now.  I relish pushing my son in his chair around the Fairgrounds just as I savor the still longing memory of my Papa, hat and mustache and all, still alive watching the horses thunder past.

My friends and my family, I’ve learned live on, move on and grow through life but stay with me in my heart, brought alive every once in a while in the simplest things I experience.  Time with my kids, time with my Dad and brothers, the rides, the sounds, the places and yes even in a lemonade and giant turkey leg.
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To those who have come back home, to those that never left, and to those that may stay far away, I am grateful for you all in my life.  I love you and miss you, and think of you often.

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