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Mack Williams: Memories of the county fair and my late father-in-law

No, my father-in-law wasn’t a midway barker, but he was pivotal in the starting up of the now non-extant Caswell County Fair.

Hoyt R. Moore passed in 2012 at the age of 88. For many years, he was the North Carolina Department Historian for the American Legion. He loved photography, and with the legion did it “officially,” traveling all over the state, including several trips to Salisbury’s Harold B. Jarret American Legion Post in that capacity.

His elder brother, the Rev. O. Dalton Moore, pastored Stallings Memorial Baptist Church for some years.

Hoyt belonged to Caswell County’s American Legion Post 89 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7316. In Caswell County, his name is synonymous with “Legion baseball,” as many young men learned to play the game under his coaching.

His life’s profession was teacher of Auto Mechanics at Yanceyville’s Bartlett Yancey High School.

He served in World War II with the Coast Guard, ferrying troops to Europe. While some branches of service complained about their food, Hoyt said the cooks on his ship were from the Philippines, and the best!

A hay-like smell of dried grass made me think of him via the Caswell County Fair he loved.

I remember that smell from the Rowan County Fair of my youth, but due to time passed, its hay remains only in mind, not in nose. Since the last year of the Caswell County Fair was in 2007, its bales linger in both.

Post war, Hoyt and several other Caswell veterans wanted to do something for the county (besides having helped defeat one of the greatest evils the world had known). They decided to start a local fair with something for everyone: rides, art, home canning, cattle, hogs, “biggest pumpkin,” etc.

The ladies of the VFW Auxiliary registered items for judging. I remember some decorative bales of hay at the door turned “golden” by the afternoon sun, so that image returns whenever the scent of hay or dried grass is wafted up my nostrils.

Another scene is of post judged pickles, preserves, paintings, home-sewn clothes, etc., many with ribbons attached. If some annual exhibitors had worn their ribbons the same way a military man wears his “salad,” they would have been almost hidden by them.

I won a blue ribbon for a large pot of Venus Flytraps (that plant choice coming as no great surprise to those of you from my youth). My very first sighting of that plant wasn’t around their native Wilmington or Southport, but in neighbor Ethel Cline’s window, as Mr. Cline had purchased one while hauling gravel “down east.” My late wife brought me one from a teacher’s convention, “peaking” my interest again!

The fair’s prize-winning steer was handsome, the cow-milking contest was “wet,” and the prize-winning hog was befittingly “gross.”

Only having ridden a couple of rides in my youth at the Rowan County Fair, I was consistent in Caswell.

My son, Jeremy got to ride an elephant in a “one-elephant circus” which visited there a couple of years. For the Caswell County Fair to have been able to accommodate the Clyde Beatty/Cole Brothers Circus, as the Rowan County fairgrounds did in the early 1960s, the three rings of that greater circus would have had to have been configured concentrically.

My late wife Diane, a teacher, appropriately enough ran the 4-H “Kids Club,” in which children looked for “concealed” agriculture-oriented words throughout the exhibit.

One night, the men had difficulty adding up the fair’s profits until my mother-in-law Doris discovered their numerical columns weren’t lined up properly. (Good men always need an equally good, highly intelligent woman behind them).

Concerning some of the fair’s home-canned goods, I think of my father-in-law’s garden, providing “canning fodder” for my mother-in-law and late wife.

Neighbor, Clarence Pemberton called Hoyt “The Tomato King,” presenting him with a vintage poster of a “tomato-man” wearing a crown. Hoyt set out over 500 tomato plants using an old hand-held tobacco planter.

The whole family helped in the garden; but I was more excited upon finding a large quartz crystal and Native American scraper (found in two pieces, one year apart) than I was about the picking of the peas!

Just as the Caswell County Fair dwindled with the years, so did my late father-in-law’s garden as he aged.

One great honor near life’s end was to have a hand cast and displayed in the Fayetteville Veteran’s Park.

Hoyt’s ashes lie in an urn atop his old dresser in my mother-in-law’s bedroom. Upon her death, she will be cremated and they will be buried together.

A stone will then be carved for both, but in a way, one already exists for Hoyt.

A boulder (common for Rowan, novel for Caswell) extrudes just a little above the soil on one edge of Hoyt’s old garden. Gashes made by the soil-tilling attachments of his tractor can still be seen there.

Until a proper stone is prepared, these “carvings,” once guided by a wheel in the grip of that “Fayetteville” hand, seem to suffice.

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