Back to the Fair

It’s been a while since we visited Portsong. As its Mayor and chief historian, I feel neglectful that my fine little town has been pushed aside for the hustle and bustle of modern day. In searching through an old steamer trunk that is the town archives, I found this issue of the Portsong Guardian. 

It wasn’t in the best of condition – with torn edges and water stains. After I got over the putrid odor of mothballs and something that mysteriously smelled like lima beans, a quick scan took me back to simpler times to recall the era when the county fair was the most important event of the summer. Of course, small towns have their share of jealousy and competition. But in the end, harmony and community seem to win out.

Join me on the front porch and remember your county fair as I read the report of Portsong’s fair of 1921.


Photo Jul 21, 7 59 26 PM

Controversy Reigns as Ms. Corrine’s Cobbler Does Not

In what many have referred to as the biggest surprise since the hailstorm of 1897, Ms. Corrine Deaton failed to win her eleventh straight blue ribbon in the Pie Contest. She took home the red as runner up with her famous Peach Dream Cobbler. Coming in first was newcomer Hazel Gruber’s Blackberry Delight. Congratulations to Mrs. Gruber, who just moved to our fair city from Warbler’s Ridge.

The white ribbon was awarded to Mrs. Myra Culpepper, who ended the day nearly as bitter has a slice of her rhubarb pie. After finishing second to Ms. Corrine for a decade, she was quoted as saying, “Serves her right. Everyone knows a cobbler isn’t a pie, anyway!”

In less dramatic fashion, Sherman Peas won the Hog Calling Contest by unanimous decision. After hearing his grunts and chortles, every judge was inclined to go his way.

For the little ones, the Goat Roping Competition was a head-butting good time until Wilbur Clegg’s billie got loose on the midway, shutting down the rides for nearly twenty minutes. Unfortunately, Smitty’s Robbin’s girl, Little Esther, was at the apex of the Ferris wheel when it stopped and her notoriously weak stomach became a problem for the goat wranglers below. Order was quickly restored and Little Esther returned to the soil she had soiled with and empty stomach and three empty cotton candy sticks.

Mayor Earnest Shambley declared this year’s fair to the be the finest yet in a lengthy speech that ended when he realized he was alone save for Bess Lively, who he nudged awake.

The Fair Organization Committee is still looking for folks to clean up Hargett’s Field so Old Man Hargett can set his cows to graze again. There will be a potluck supper after Sunday church for all those who volunteer.


For those of you who might be new around here, the 1920’s sleepy southern town of Portsong is the setting of my first literary endeavors. Our young friend, Virgil Creech still hasn’t quite gotten things right, but he’s getting better and having a ball in the process.

Swanson Glassworks

Swanson Glassworks had been a fixture in Portsong for nearly sixty years. Situated on a small knoll on the western side of town, it was the single largest employer in the county. The company produced tableware and stemware, rising to the height of its popularity with a single product at the turn of the century. In 1902, the company began producing a uniquely long glass with a peculiar stem a full inch longer than the typical flute on the market. A shipment was made to a certain hotel in New York City, and the glasses were used before the angry restaurant manager could return them. To the surprise of many, the awkward glasses became all the rage. Orders flooded the little Georgia company, fueling its growth and expansion.


Truth be told, the innovation that brought the defective glasses onto many tables in the country was actually an accident. Many would dispute this secret as legend, but it was actual fact. In the waning days of 1901, the plant closed to retool before resuming operation after the holiday season. One of the maintenance workers at the factory disassembled the machine responsible for stemware production so that it could be moved. Not a soul could remember how to reassemble it at its new location. It took the entire staff to bring it to working order just before all of the employees returned in January.

A problem became evident in the product when the first glasses came off the line and would not fit in the crates prepared for them. They were too long. The quality supervisor summoned management to examine the glasses. A heated debate ensued, but they finally decided to repackage them in larger crates and ship the glasses to New York so that their order wouldn’t be late. After the run was completed, they worked feverishly to fix the machine. Night and day they tried everything they knew to no avail. Every glass that came out of it was an inch too long.

The machine ran for weeks producing the awkward glasses until someone finally had the idea to contact the former employee who had designed and built the machine. After much searching, they found him living with his daughter in Savannah, and he gladly took a ride back to Portsong to relive his golden days of working in the factory. His manner was slow and lethargic until he felt the factory floor under his feet. The familiar smells, sounds and sights seemed to take thirty years off of his back. A glimmer reappeared in the old man’s eye as he approached his machine with pride and gently touched every component in his tour around it. The company’s management stood over him, wishing the old man would move more quickly to diagnose the problem, but he wouldn’t be rushed. The machine that he had created had outworked him. It awakened an old feeling of pride in him. He beamed until interrupted by the men surrounding him.

“Well, what’s wrong with it?” one impatient executive asked.

Now hard of hearing, the old man needed the question repeated. A junior manager gave him the question twice, each time raising his voice.

“What’s wrong with it, you ask? Why, not the slightest thing is wrong with it,” replied the ancient once he understood what had been asked. “Lift this side up, will you? Right here at the corner.”

The stronger maintenance workers pushed through the managers and complied with his request. Once it was aloft, the old man reached in his pocket, took out a matchbook and slowly bent down to place it on the ground underneath the leg of the machine.

“Now, set it down boys,” he said. Once they had done so, he clapped his hands together. “It’ll run just fine now. That side always sagged a little lower than the others. Will somebody take me back to Savannah now? Virginia’s cooking pot roast for tonight and I don’t want to be late for it.”

The company’s carriage promptly returned him to his home and Swanson Glassworks began to manufacture fluted stemware to their proper specification for a brief period of time. That is until the day the hotels and restaurants all over the country began sending orders for the long glasses. As soon as they realized the awkward mistake was such a hit, the men lifted the machine once more and kicked the matchbook out of its place so the new orders could be filled. It was only replaced when the novelty of the item died, as all fads do. Then things went back to normal at the factory, and Swanson did a robust business year after year.

Excerpt from Virgil Creech Sings for his Supper, part 2 of The Portsong Series: