I grew up near a small town in Western Oklahoma, with a population of around 1200. It was one of the holdouts from the inevitable change taking over our nation’s agrarian past. Each and every shop and business depended wholly on the area farmers, either directly or indirectly supporting their livelihood. Naturally, many locally sponsored events would be concerned with agriculture. The Case Tractor & Implement dealer’s annual fish fry would equal any flower, watermelon, bluebonnet, or strawberry festival most small towns would put on today. The FFA sponsored the “mountain oyster” fry, and it was always was one of my personal favorites. My mouth waters, just remembering it. And if you aren’t aware what a “mountain oyster” is, bluntly put, it’s testicles from castrated livestock.
Though I loved all of the events, none surpassed the Tri-County Fair. Each year, three adjacent counties joined forces in the center of my small home town. Kids, participating in FFA and 4-H from all three counties, brought their best calves, pigs, chickens, ducks, and geese to compete in the livestock show for prizes and recognition. I still remember the barns housing rows of animals. I fondly recall the sounds of oinks, bleats, the crowing of roosters, the feel of treading on straw in the aisles, and the fragrant odor of manure. To city folk, brought up in an environment of exhaust, the honking of horns, and the feel of concrete beneath their feet, mine might be viewed as a not-so-pleasant memory. To someone that grew up with it, it is sweet beyond belief.
A carnival at the end of main street provided the usual rides and activities, albeit on a much smaller scale than those we are familiar with now. One might imagine that for small town kids, it would be the center of attention and the main attraction. Perhaps for some, but for most kids my age, the greased pig contest provided the most excitement instead. Along with three legged sack races, spoon and egg, and pole climbing, we tended to find the most enjoyment in contests of personal skill, rather than in carnival rides. At least a few of us didn’t have money to spend.
The main event at the Tri-County Fair was the parade through town without elaborate floats, instead consisting of tractors & implements, riders on horseback, and various livestock being led by kids who had won ribbons in the judging The highlight was one man riding, of all things, a longhorn steer. Yes, Keith Sellers would ride his longhorn, graced with an enormous spread of horns, in the parade with people cheering him on. I swear, my memory of those horns makes them seem as wide as the street. I stood in amazement.
It’s hard to describe the huge noisy steam-driven tractor with iron wheels lumbering down the street unless you’ve seen one. Of course, the school marching band rounded out the line of participants.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten some of the detail in that annual event, but I haven’t forgotten the importance of it to the community, nor the excitement surrounding it. We didn’t have cell phones, cable TV, computers, Facebook, nor tweets, or an ever-present digital connection to the world at large to keep us entertained or communicating with each other several times per day. Our connections to each other were face-to-face, and our meetings were always close and intimate.
As I write these words, for some reason the Kingston Trio song, “Where have all the flowers gone” comes to mind. I guess “digitally produced” is where many lovely petals have fallen.