Adventures from Back of Beyond

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Small Town Fair

Here in Back of Beyond we have a truly authentic old fashioned slice of Americana -- a local home-grown fair.

This annual event has all the typical features you would expect in a rural fair -- a traveling carnival with games and rides; competitions in categories like baked goods, arts, and crafts; and most importantly farm animals raised by local kids, which are sold at auction.

We recently attended our little fair, and I marveled at how consistent it is from year-to-year. Our community may change, but it's comforting to know some things stay the same: the fair is fun.

All sorts of people mingle here -- cowboys, Indians, Mexicans, Anglos, bikers, tattooed body-pierced types, staid community leaders, punks, rich, poor, young, old, and everything in between. Somehow everyone gets along just fine. Everyone has fun.

This year I took the time to just enjoy walking around the carnival rides, especially the ones designed for the youngest kids. These little ones were having a ball, driving the choo-choo train around, steering their little 18-wheel trucks on their tracks, wide-eyed at all the lights, sounds, and crowds of people. This is something they'll never forget.

For the older kids this is a must-do event as well. At that age, this may be one of the first times you can go off on your own, unsupervised in the real world, yet safe, while your parents are elsewhere. Nearby, but out of sight. They gather in big groups, the 12, 13, 14 year olds. Everyone gives them their space, we remember when we were at that age, growing up, becoming an adult, being independent.

Carnies worked the various games, barking out invitations to all who walked by, all running the same age-old scams of one sort or another, where it costs you maybe $40 to win a $2 stuffed animal and you're thrilled to do it.

And the food, all the junk food. Let's face it, you don't go to the fair to eat healthy. Sugar and fat rule the day. Everything's fried in who knows what, but tastes real good.

Then there's the phone. This is a unique feature to our little fair. The phone sits unmarked, unadvertised across from the fair office, outside on a building. No sign needed, people know about it. Kids know. If you need a ride, if you need to call Mom or Dad, if you need help, just pick up the phone and call. No charge.

The heart and soul of our fair is the auction. Kids, mostly FFA kids, raise all sorts of animals in the months prior. The big event is the Saturday afternoon auction, and it's the great annual social scene.

These kids, their families, lots of cowboys and cowgirls, and the buyers all congregate. Typically there'll be over 200 entries, consisting of everything from bunny rabbits to turkeys to chickens to sheep, goats and pigs, right up to the great big half-ton cattle that go for top dollar.

Kids vie for the coveted Grand Champion award, which gets auctioned first and sells for the most. The animal itself is judged, as is each kid's skill showing the animal to the judges. It's a whole art form.

During the auction, every single animal will be purchased by someone, usually local businesses. Not a single child will go home without selling his or her animal. It's never happened, no matter how many animals there are. The locals make sure of that. They don't leave until it's over, until every last animal is sold. And they go for big bucks!

I watched a little bunny sell for over $400. A single chicken will sell for that too. And it goes up from there. A pig will sell for over $1000, a Grand Champion steer will go for well over $5000. The larger animals head straight for slaughter, and to hear locals tell it, you won't find better meat than these hand-fed local lovingly-raised animals.

Sometimes kids get overly-attached to their animals, and show it in tears, because they know this is goodbye. Some kids will put a goofy little hat on their lamb or goat when they bring it out. For the buyer, it can be very tough to send an animal like that to slaughter. Often, an animal is returned by the buyer right back to the kid.

And this community takes care of its buyers, you can be sure of that. Like in many small towns, people remember. You know who you can count on. Buying at auction here is a very smart investment for any business.

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