Sunday, July 24, 2016

"Sell That Fine Pig"

Lily is wearing a sleeveless ruffled top with her shorts and cowboy boots. Her long red curls are tied back from her freckled face with two ribbons. She has walked into the sales ring at the Atchison County Fair from a Norman Rockwell painting. I cannot help but be charmed. But when the auctioneer reads her name, she bounds across the sand, with one finger beckoning to the shaggy lamb behind, who follows her, his leash trailing. This makes me clap my hands in delight and sing under my breath,
"Lily had a little lamb....."
And everywhere that Lily went,
The lamb was sure to go."

Surely this performance earned the young lady a couple more bids on the premium for her animal. The lamb knew Lily and Lily knew her lamb.

Jilli's sheep is tired by the time she is called to the sales ring. But Jilli isn't. With enthusiasm that is not entirely communicated to her animal, she somehow moves him to the center of the ring with her hands, rope, boots, and the sheer force of her personality and will. She is working so hard. The bidding takes a good long while, long enough that the reluctant sheep gives in, stands pat, and allows Jilli to mold it into the preferred stance. It may or may not matter at this sale, but her folks have impressed upon Jilli that she should never stop working until the job is done.
Because of the heat and humidity, the sale starts late this year. Whether its the hour, the temperature, or just the ongoing slow decline and consolidation of our county's business community, the stands are full of family members, but not as many buyers as one would wish for the number of exhibitors. Nonetheless, the bidding can be brisk; it is always good-natured; and whether the animal is a hog, a rabbit, a goat or a chicken, the kid will get a nice check and the buyer a round of appreciative applause.
When Lee and Ann and Ben showed animals for 4H and then FFA, the barns were full with up to 70 steers and one year, on top of 200 hogs. Six or seven Hurst cousins worth of cattle did contribute to the bounty. Today's show ring features a solid representation of pigs, a pampered lovely handful of steers, sheep, goats,and a rainbow's worth of rabbits and chickens in arms. Farms have changed in our county, but the faces of the parents watching from the barn, the fence, or the stands are ever the same: focused and intent, alert to the bidders and the auctioneer, poised to offer advice and encouragement to the showman in the ring.
Some of the bidders are the same too. It does my heart good to hear some of the self-same folks bidding that were buying animals at the fair almost thirty years ago when Lee and Ann first led a steer into the ring. Now Lee and Ryan and Ann and Matt are the ones reminding their kids when the pigs were born and how much they weighed and Aaron, Lizzie, Gabe and Abbie are the ones with whips and brushes, ever watching the judge, and stuffing ribbons in their jeans' pockets as they drive the pigs back to the pen.

"Sell that fine pig!" All the pigs are fine by the end of the evening as the stands thin and the buyers settle up. Every time the ring man raises his hand and calls,"Yup!", its a vote for tomorrow, a down payment on the success of the little girls with star spangled belts and boys with sweat running down their faces.
"Sell that fine pig!" and pay it forward for the kid whose pig peed on her boot or the kid run over by his animal in the alleyway. Raise your hand and you'll send a message in a bottle from the past to an unknown future where the lessons of responsibility and conscientiousness pay interest and more.
Sell that fine pig!" and record for posterity the common language of hard work between generations. Support your fair and vote for the heritage of blood and land and tradition personified in kids and pigs, moms and dads, goats or sheep, steers or chickens.

1 comment:

  1. Sale day or Auction Day at the fair - oh how we have the memories too. The culmination of their project come to fruition. Our daughters saved all their market animal money and each paid for 4 semesters of school in college. We have an awesome support from the community at our local fair. On average our hogs ranged $4.50-6.50 a pound and lambs $7.50 - $10. This isn't even grand champion material - those are incredibly high. Our county even gets better prices than at the state fair. We were blessed!