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A fair of the heart

August 12, 2013


The transformation starts on the drive out to Bergton. Most of us have to drive 10, 15, 20 or more miles to get to the Bergton Fair, known as the “biggest little fair around.” You can be harried and hot from a bad week at work and the spell of the eastern-facing slopes of the Shenandoah Mountain range of the Appalachians begins to fall over you with the deep green trees waving a wand as the winding highway carries you back to old Virginia.


… Past Martin Luther Lutheran Church and the steep road to the cemetery where my husband’s grandparents and great grandparents and scores of cousins and aunts and uncles are buried

… Past the hollow (low place between hills where a path and then a dirt road gets beat down) where Stuart’s uncle used to live, way back at the end. All the cousins remember the fun of playing in the creek near the fresh water spring.

P1030923P1030925The “homeplace” for my husband’s  grandfather, Perry Hottinger, near Bergton. Top, Uncle George with two of his sisters, Aunt Leila  and Aunt Ressie, 2001.

At Bergton Fair, the admission price is $1 per person, paid as you enter by car.


The tomatoes and green peppers and canned goods and needlecraft are shown off in the old white clapboard school house, where some of my husband’s relatives went to school.

Privacy and prudence forbids me from snapping and sharing the best photos, such as the ones of:

… a young father struggling to pull leggings onto his toddler after her tiara competition; she stifles late day toddler crankiness with a snuffle or two, while the mother puts away a poufy blue princess dress.

… young couples holding hands or pushing a stubborn stroller over the trampled grounds.

… older couples all spruced up in their fair-goin’ best, lined up in lawn chairs as you enter the grounds and enjoying an evening’s respite from canning green beans (I remember hearing of folks canning 110 quarts, 150 quarts. I do not lie.).


And harmonies: whether it’s a soulful “Rock Me Mamma” or splendid “Bringing Mary Home,” you’re sure to find toes tappin’ and hearts lifting.

And no matter how hot you were down in the valley, there’ll be a chill back here; you always tote a sweater or jacket, just in case, and generally use it.

P1030894You have to line up for the fried chicken; tonight we’re early and lucky, the line is short. Cousin Johnny is somewhere in the booth helping but he’s too
busy and too deep among the cookers to see him just now.


P1030305If you’re from these parts you will probably sit down to eat beside a second cousin or third cousin once removed you’ve never even met and if you’ve got Swiss-German roots, way back you too are likely related.

P1030896For seconds on eats there might be a country ham or tenderloin sandwich, or a hamburger or hot dog, all the better in the crisp mountain air.

Then dessert, later in the evening, maybe right before going home: shall it be ice cream, funnel cake, cotton candy or kettle corn? I’ve long since learned to be wise in these indulgences which sometimes wake you during the night.


In earlier years of course, I’d supervise the kids on the rides, my husband chatting up the tractor, implement and outdoor woodstove dealers circling the grounds, I’d play a round or two of bingo. The coins flow at the booths and tables no matter how lean the year and who was just laid off. The money all goes to a good cause, they say, as they plunk down another quarter in hopes of winning a stuffed bear, or toss another dime for some discount store glass.


Fair season is just beginning in earnest in these parts. So go to your county fair, your state fair, your world’s fair (do they still have those?) but next year, pencil in August 5-9 in the Shenandoah Valley, just over the line from West Virginia (almost heaven), where the food is real and the people are too.


Just ya’all don’t all come at once or there won’t be room for ya’ll and they’ll run out of chicken and country ham early. That’s the only thing that will make for a bad night at Bergton Fair, our little fair of the heart.



The beauty of Bergton Fair, along with the prices, is that there’s not even a website, but here, here and here are a few pieces and photos others have snatched at the Bergton Fair.

In my book, Why Didn’t I Just Raise Radishes: Finding God in the Everyday, I wrote about Aunt Mae’s “Dinner plate dahlias” in a loving tribute to Uncle George’s wife, grown at the homestead in the hollow near Bergton Fair.  In years past we would see both Aunt Mae and Uncle George lined up among the unofficial greeters you pass through when getting to the grounds.


From → Family Life, Food

  1. Pert Shetler permalink

    I didn’t know any of this before now. Very interesting..sometime we’ll have to visit you in August during the fair!

  2. I was telling Mom about it and she wants to come too … there’s a nice line up of older people just sitting and watching others. Maybe after her 90th next year!

  3. Dick Hottinger permalink

    I am originally from Bergton . Just left from up there last week where we just had the Hottinger reunion. Cousin George passed away a few years ago. However, he was always the first one at the reunions when he was living and the last to leave. He really enjoyed all of them and I can’t remember of him ever missing one. We really miss not having him there anymore.
    Dick H.

    • How great to hear from a cousin! We always wish to get to the wider Hottinger reunion but it rarely suits as we are often on vacation then or just returning, as we did last Sunday. That’s interesting to know he was the first to come and the last to leave. Sometimes he missed his own Perry Hottinger reunion because of needing to be near the poultry houses in case of electrical outages. You don’t say where you’re from but I’m glad you posted a note. We miss Uncle George too. The Perry Hottinger family reunion is this coming Sunday at Mt. Tabor UMC in Lacey Springs and you’d be more than welcome at that one too. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Gay Hottinger Kirby permalink

    I am another Cousin from Bergton, having just returned from there yesterday 7-22-14) was not there for the fair but was for the Hottinger reunion, I am Dick,s sister , he sent me this web site I really enjoyed reading., I also miss George, but so glad Johnny and Judy are still coming.

    We still have a brother Bob who lives at the homeplace and our oldest sister Ruby who is 93 also there in Bergton.

    I live in Ky and Dick lives in Phenix City Al

    Maybe we will meet you next year.

    • Nice to meet you! I’m confused though, are you saying 7/22 or 8/22 since it is now August. Thanks for the greeting. We might come if we knew when it was for sure. My husband is always delighted to meet more Hottingers!

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