We woke all curled up in little balls, thin-blooded and thin-skinned, summer dwellers not yet hardened to the chill. We had worn our socks to sleep and zipped into our sleeping bags grateful for a calm night without wind or rain, but nobody could say we were surprised to wake up cold. That has become tradition.

Last week, in our sweet little campsite under the pines behind the sheepdog demo area, we pitched our tents among others who volunteer for the duration of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Common Ground Country Fair in Unity. My husband is one of the electricians, helping to set up the fairground and then available, with two-way radio and pocket full of tools, to answer trouble calls during the event (and there are fewer such troubles each year as the permanent fairground infrastructure is gradually improved). Our daughter Emily helps coordinate the Information tent and thus is busy with maps, frequently asked questions and a few pretty wild ones, and the (thankfully rare) lost kiddo. She has been helping out since she was a kiddo herself and is one of a group of 20-somethings who can remember being there as a little sprout, marching around dressed up like a bee or a ladybug in the Garden Parade, and who now are reliable fair volunteer staff bringing their particular expertise, be it troubleshooting an internet connection or comforting a worried toddler.

I’ll do most anything. Over the years I’ve painted faces, sold tickets, caught stray pit bulls, directed traffic, and driven the car back to Belfast for a woman who broke her ankle stepping out of a blue plastic comfort station (and was therefore in an ambulance). I’ve been on First Aid/EMS duty, on overnight safety patrol, sorted trash, counted money, signed up new MOFGA members, and confronted that onerous traffic to venture out to the hardware store after circuit breakers or pipe fittings. For the last couple of years it’s been my job to get on the loud hailer and make announcements.

But much of what has made the fair special for my family is not the fun that the fairgoers see. Behind the scenes is a special experience, hard-working and heartwarming. My gang has been camping and volunteering at Common Ground for close to 30 years and I doubt our children have any memory of not going. Eric was there, sleeping in a basket in the back of the pickup truck under the cap, when we celebrated his dad’s 40th birthday by passing around a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream in the parking lot with some of the musicians who had performed that evening (in those days the fair was held at Windsor). Both kids were there, pulled around in a little red wagon, as I was asked by countless other parents where they might buy or rent such a little red wagon for their own tired toddler (we had brought ours from home, but that would still be a great idea). As the kids grew big enough to help they strung out miles of baling twine to mark off parking lots and did other kid-friendly jobs, but mostly they tagged along with their dad and the electrical crew, learning how to wire a fairground.

Now, our daughter’s responsibilities have nothing to do with ours, but meeting up for a weekend of camping together is happy tradition. If the morning is cold — like the morning last Thursday, when we saw our first frost of the year — we pull on our wooly hats and mittens — hand-knit because that, too, is customary. Common Ground becomes a regular fashion show for the fiber artists. We make hot chocolate on the Coleman stove, just like when the kids were kids, and some days, if there is time, we make bacon and eggs. For years before Rock City Coffee was available at the fair (because in the old days coffee was not sold), it seemed each pickup truck tailgate and every empty cable reel sported a camp stove with a perking coffee pot.

That morning, as we woke in our tent my husband asked, “What time is it?” “Just a sec,” I replied, reaching for my iPhone. “Hold on, I’ve got to find my watch. It’s too cold for the phone to work.” In another campsite beside ours a little fellow, probably not yet 2, was bundled into a thick homemade sweater with a hood. I used to make sweaters like that for Emily and Eric. That day I had errands to do before the fair began and drove toward Belfast on Route 137, seeing brilliant, fire-engine-red maple trees, and sea smoke on the pond in Brooks. The weatherman on the radio mentioned that Waterville had hit the freezing point.

That just makes the hot chocolate taste better.