Canton Flea Market

Well, we just had to do it again. Go to the Canton Flea Market, that is. It isn’t really a flea market, by the way, it’s really a craft fair, and what a craft fair! Although we’ve been several times, it’s a guaranteed good time and we couldn’t resist hauling ourselves down the Natchez Trace and back to do it again. It’s just fun. The anticipation is particularly fun, and that may actually be our favorite part. We felt like we were kids again, headed to the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show on children’s day – that wonderful Wednesday in September when school let out so everyone could go to the fair without playing hooky. And, just like on Fair Day, we were up early and on our way.

Mile after mile of trees stripped of bark, some with small outcroppings of new growth, line the Natchez Trace for approximately 10 continuous miles north of Highway 82. The site was eerily upsetting.
The Trace is beautiful this time of year. Well, most of it. There is one ugly patch, one huge ugly patch, bracketed by signs reading, “Tornado Damage, April 2011.” That was the line of tornadoes that all but destroyed Smithville before it hopped over the state line to ravage Culman, Phil Campbell, Pleasant Grove, and Huntsville. There is a good 150-yard swath running down the Trace for approximately ten miles. It looks like a Halloween-scape, and surely there could be no more frightening or dangerous place to be in a tornado than on the Natchez Trace, surrounded by huge old trees with no safe place to hide for miles around. We saw pine tree trunks of every height standing alongside the road, the bark stripped clean, the tips twisted like matchsticks; 30+’ trees lay on the ground, pulled up by their roots; scores of 30+’ trees still stood, but the winds had bent them all so far in one direction that they appeared to be growing sideways; and always, always, every mile or so there was the one lone tree standing virtually unscathed. Freaky.

We got to Canton around 9:30 or so and found that, incredibly, we were among the last to arrive. We had wondered why we didn’t see a caravan of cars headed down the Trace – or even one car that appeared to be carrying other craft fair junkies. We didn’t see anyone who appeared to be going our way until we got almost into Canton, where we found our favorite parking lot already full – along with several others. We paid $8 to park in someone’s “lower 40” and hiked into town, passing folks (i.e., women) headed to their cars loaded down with purchases or pushing carts/wagons/strollers filled to overflowing. We assumed they were making a run to dump their heavy loads before rejoining the fray, but many of them were actually leaving because they were through by 9 or 10 o’clock. Believe it or not, there were some people, strange as it seems, who arrived shortly after 6 am. And there were vendors there to sell them something!

But here’s the thing: Unless you have to go to work later in the day, there is no need to do that, no need to wake up in the middle of the night just to end up sitting in your car waiting for the sun to rise so you can start shopping. As far as we could tell, the vendors had plenty of everything, more than enough to go around. Maybe there were a few pottery people who didn’t have an unlimited supply of some pieces, but most vendors seemed to stock 6,000 of every item. And there was a lot of repetition. A whole lot. And any repetition seems like a lot of repetition when there are hundreds upon hundreds of vendors. The first time we went, several years ago, there were 1,000 vendors. There didn’t seem to be that many this year, but nearly.

So, you’re probably wondering, what’s big this year? Birdhouses. Birdhouses, birdhouses, birdhouses. And little girls’ dresses that tie at the shoulder. And monogrammed anything. Fluffy net wreaths were selling well too. We each bought a monogrammed necklace, a couple hand-carved wooden spoons, and some painted ceramic gift tags. I bought a soy candle and Marian bought a metal elf from one of the best booths at the festival and…well, that was it.

Metal elf can hang from the mantle or be used in a wreath. He's about 24" tall, green, and adorable.

We enjoyed seeing everything, but we never planned to buy much. As we are fond of saying, we already have two of everything and we spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning out and giving stuff away, so it seems counter productive to shop ourselves silly. Canton can’t count on us for much beyond being reasonably presentable and behaving ourselves. Actually, everyone behaves themselves at these things. Nice people go to craft fairs.

Oh, and we ate something wonderful. It was called Chicken on a Stick: a chunk of chicken, a dill pickle slice (!!!), a piece of onion, a chunk of chicken, repeat, repeat…. Then the whole thing is dipped in batter and tossed into a vat of hot grease. Yum. Finding out they had tucked a few fried pickles into our lunch just made our day. Don’t worry, we had diet drinks with that. Then we got bags of candied pecans and almonds for dessert. It was worth the drive just for that.

This building was refurbished to be used in A Time To Kill as the lawyer's office above a bank. The traffic cop and the portable johns are strictly there for the flea market.

Canton is a pretty town, by the way. It has cute stores, a stately town square, lovely old homes, and it claims to be where more movies are filmed than anyplace else in the state (A Time to Kill, My Dog Skip, The Rising Place, O Brother Where Art Thou…). We don’t know which came first, the movies or the paint, but many storefronts on the square are done in pretty pastels that would lend themselves well to film. But mostly we just have to admire Canton for coming up with the whole idea of the flea market in the first place – only two disruptive days a year, no infrastructure needed, thousands upon thousands of dollars added to the economy, a chance for locals to line their own pockets to boot – what a brilliant idea!