Sid Salter

SID SALTER

Even for the hot and dirty clean-up after two years of absence, it was good to get back to our Neshoba County Fair cabin after last year’s pandemic hiatus.

Like most native Neshobans, my year dates from the Fair. There’s before the Fair and after the Fair. Despite that, I supported the 2020 decision of the Fair Association Board of Directors to shutter the event.

The Neshoba County Fair 2020 closure marked the first time since World War II that the annual event was not held. For the record, the event voluntarily shut down in 1942, 1943, 1944, and 1945 before resuming operations in 1946.

It was the right thing to do in the interest of public safety. While the day visitors skew young, the folks who live in the cabins and RVs are an older crowd with the usual vulnerabilities.

But the development and proliferation of effective COVID-19 vaccines make this year’s return a reasonable proposition. So, our cabin is clean, the beds made, and we’re ready for the return of our families and friends.

Since this is an “off” political year, the political speeches will likely be more nakedly partisan and pet project policy-oriented – think dealing with the broken voter initiative process than personal.

But the Founder’s Square Pavilion is still the state’s premier political stump in any year. Few places in the South have a more robust appetite for old-time political stump speaking than the Fair. For a full lineup of the political speeches and other events, visit neshobacountyfair.org/daily-events.

North Mississippians recently returned to the Jacinto Courthouse, so the two prominent surviving political stumps in the state will both be back in business in 2021. But the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over, and the emergence of the so-called “Delta” variant means that politicians will be talking about it and how the pandemic intersects with public policy.

One public policy debate that won’t find much of an audience at Neshoba is the call for a vaccine mandate. Few Democrats and virtually no Republicans in office in Mississippi at the federal or state level have embraced that notion even if they believe it to be the appropriate public policy.

For students of history, the anti-vaccine movement has been around globally for some 300 years.

COVID-19 is but the latest scourge that could be stopped by a vaccine that has encountered organized opposition. Mandatory vaccinations are a political non-starter in Mississippi under current conditions.

This summer, I will welcome my grandson Brooks Salter Gregory to his first Fair. He is the sixth generation of my Salter family to attend, beginning with my great-grandfather John Henry Salter. Brooks will share company with me on a porch where my father, his great-grandfather, shared time with me.

The Fair is what I have left of my childhood and is the sole repository of my memories of childhood days in Neshoba County, most of it centering around the Arlington community home of my grandparents, John and Emma Salter.

For me, there are friendly ghosts at Neshoba, and the return of an “open” Fair is a sign of progress and increasing normalcy. But even as a fully vaccinated grandfather, I see increased usage of masks due to the Delta variant.

In Omaha last month, I interacted daily with close-quarters crowds of 25,000-plus. There were a few masks present, but not many for what is primarily an outdoor event. So armed with the COVID-19 vaccine, I am looking forward to time with friends and kin at Neshoba.

But I do so with the knowledge that some will be unvaccinated. As a child of the Eisenhower administration who remembers both the deadly impacts of polio and standing in line for the oral Salk polio vaccine on a sugar cube, the scientific logic of the anti-vaccine movement eludes me.

The political logic? That’s another matter entirely. People mightily resist being forced to do anything and punish those doing the forcing at the ballot box.

SID SALTER is a syndicated Mississippi columnist. Readers can contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.

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