Fact: I would rather go to the dentist than visit the Tulsa State Fair; the crowds, the traffic, and all that walking is tough on the old man. I have lived quite comfortably in my later years with the firm belief that if you’ve seen one fair, you’ve seen them all. But, kind, considerate, and loving husband that I am, I reluctantly agreed to accompany the Missus to this year’s edition.
“I like to look at the crafts,” she said.
Several hours later, and back home at last, two images of the fair stayed with me. One was the nearly bald guy with a paunch the size of a beer keg, and dressed up like Elvis. I’m sure he wasn’t a performer. In fact, most people were avoiding him. No telling what he was about.
The other thing was, of all things, a doll. Under the lights and a glass counter, lay a doll in the form of an infant, an infant no more than a few hours old. It had the mottled complexion of a typical newborn complete with wrinkled face, tiny little arms and legs, and wrapped in a baby blanket. To complete the illusion, a clamp was fastened to its navel where the umbilical cord was clipped. The detail was absolutely amazing…and more than a little weird. Freaked me out to tell you the truth.
“That’s the latest thing in dolls,” the Missus informs me.
“Whatever happened to Barbie?” I ask.
I didn’t always dislike fairs. In fact, about a hundred years ago when I was just a young lad living on a farm in northeast Kansas, the local fair was a big event. Long before the first tent was up, my little buddies and I had spent hours deciding which rides we should try first. Money for such foolishness was limited of course, so each choice was carefully considered, rejected, or moved to the top of the list. But at some point in time, my parents made the dubious decision that I should join the FFA, the Future Farmers of America. Why they thought I would rather scoop poop and scrub down a smelly old animal at the fair instead of riding the Ferris Wheel is something I have yet to understand.
All the FFA boys were encouraged to compete with an animal of some kind. My dad thought I should show an Angus heifer that we owned. I was not so sure. The black behemoth was not the friendliest cow in the herd and most intimidating. I was eleven years old and weighed about 57 pounds. The Angus came in at about 40 tons, or so it seemed to me. I could tell, just by looking in her eye, that she would love nothing more than to stomp me into the sawdust before an arena full of people and laugh about it.
Maybe more scary than tugging a cow around by a thin little piece of rope was spending the night with your animal right there on the fairgrounds. Who made that stupid rule? The older boys being experienced in such things, made a fun time of it, laughing and telling jokes half the night. I just wanted my mommy.
Next morning. Show time! I took my place in line with the others, and at the signal we paraded our animals around the ring. My parents were in the grandstand of course, but I never saw them. I was too busy holding a death grip on the rope, knowing that at any moment, the stupid cow would say screw this and head for greener pastures with me being drug behind like a tin can on a wedding car.
But the heifer, bless her big black heart, took it all in stride and remained calm. A livestock judge moved slowly down the line, touching each animal, sometimes running his hand down their backs and along the haunches. I prayed my cow wouldn’t kick him. Next, he went to a table and picked up a handful of ribbons, white, red, and blue, and went back down the line handing them out. When he handed me a blue one, first place, I bout fell over. No way! My cow? A winner?
I couldn’t stop grinning. My parents beamed with pride. The cow was unimpressed.
It was the best fair of my life.