Eli Berry “The Fair”

Eli Berry

This story appeared in the 2020-2021 winter issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener in response to the theme, “The Fair.”

The first time I went to the Fair was in ’79 or ’78. Mort Mather, who was a deeply involved member and founder of a lot of wonderful things at MOFGA, was running a station with an old carnival setup called a tippy ladder. It was a rope ladder with a swivel on each end, suspended between a stake in the ground and a screw eye in a cedar post about 7 feet off the ground. Above that was a bell. Underneath there was a big pile of sawdust or shavings, and you gave him a quarter to try and climb up and a ring the bell. This, and the rest of the Fair, was how MOFGA was making money to pay for its early organizational development. What better way to raise money then to have a big fair, have a big party? I considered myself pretty agile – a tree-climbing kind of kid – and I thought, “I’ll go right up there and ring that bell.” But I fell right off! Not only did I fall off a couple of times, but I fell off until I was pretty much out of quarters. Right when I was about to leave with an empty pocket, a girl came along and zipped right up that ladder and rang the bell. And I thought, “Oh, man! I’m going to do this!” So I went and borrowed a few more quarters from my brother, begged a few more from my stepmother and headed back to try again. When I came back I saw that the girl was talking to her dad, Mort Mather! She knew how to do it! And I don’t know whether it was just knowing that somebody else could do it or that maybe there was a trick to it, but I did – about $1.75 later – manage to ring the bell. It was a good exercise in that I would have likely given up if somebody didn’t show me that it could be done. I think that’s something that the Fair does. Whether it’s, “Wow, I’ve never seen a dog that could make sheep do that,” or “Did you see what that little girl and that team of oxen were able to do?” The Fair opens up your imagination and your confidence. 

Eli Berry

Washington, Maine

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