By most accounts, the Hector Firemen’s Fair last weekend was the embodiment of the well-known Nat King Cole 1963 recording “Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer.”
“Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Those days of soda and pretzels and beer
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Dust off the sun and moon and sing a song of cheer.”
The more than six decades-old Hector Firemen’s Fair fundraiser is an annual community celebration that brings people from miles around the lake for a carnival of rides and games, food and drink booths, a vintage car show, book sales, music, fireworks and a parade that closes down Route 414.
Oh! And bingo.
The Hector Firemen’s Fair and parade were the main events of the east side of Seneca Lake way before there were so many wineries, restaurants, Airbnbs, wine fests, and other choices we now have.
And everyone usually attended all three nights.
The parade this year featured the usual array of bright-colored, muscular fire equipment. But it also had bagpipe-squeezing musicians, cleverly designed floats, a sprinkling of political candidates for Schuyler County judge and even a sometimes comical contingent of people weaving across the highway’s striped lines on roller skates.
Hundreds of people lined both sides of the highway, many scrambling to collect candy thrown by firemen and people on the floats.
The three days of the fair were right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
For many who live along the east shore of Seneca Lake, it’s still the one time they can count on catching up with friends and relatives from outside the area who come specifically to Hector for the weekend’s events.
Local residents still bake dozens of cakes for contests. Many of the same families still work in the clam tent.
This Americana-like scene has been boosted in the last few years by a strong social media presence posting fair photos, videos and commentary before, during and after the fair concludes.
In one particularly touching report, well-known Finger Lakes musician Brett Beardslee offered a personal history of how important the Hector Firemen’s Fair was for him growing up and is an event that continues to be big part of his life as he helps put on the event.
For the record, Brett Beardslee is a shirt-tail relative. What follows is an edited version of what he published on Facebook.
“As a boy, this fair was the biggest thing in the world. It was bigger than Christmas ... I started playing and singing there as a young teenager ... I was a Hector Fair kid.
“There was a time when I wanted to be famous. I thought I could use that platform to change the world, or at least make it a little better. I went to school for it. I moved to New York City and then to LA for it. I struggled for it. Now, as I stand here listening to our volunteer Fire Chief talk about the people we’ve lost in the past year ... I feel the tears welling up in my eyes and this big froggy lump in my throat. These are friends. This is my family. And I am making a difference in my own little way.
“I am right where I need to be. I am me.
“It’s the Hector Fair, and this small-town boy feels pretty big right now. Pretty big indeed.”
The Hector Firemen’s Fair and so many other events like it around the Finger Lakes reflect the heart of our communities. They are joyful reminders of how much we are connected, what this region gives us and perhaps how much we value each other — or should, anyway.
For at least the three days in July of this year’s Hector Fair, the crushing woes of the rest of the world seemed to be on hold while a calm normality of small-town America life took their place for an event many communities have discontinued.
More doses of that calm would be quite the curative for all of us living in small towns in upstate New York.