Tuesday, August 05, 2003

The Other Side of the Fair

Saturday morning started fast for Junebug Burns. He was up early to get his sheep ready for the Clay County Fair. He had been in 4H for a couple of years now. At 13 he thought he might be goin' to his last fair as a 4Her this year.

Junebug's Mama had called to him at about 6:00 a.m. an' told him he better get a move on or his Daddy wouldn't be a takin' him to the fair till later in the day. The mornin' was cool in the holler where they lived. The creek that ran down the holler kept the nights cool an' the days humid in summer.

He was up an' dressed right quick. A white tee shirt, ol' denims an' some P.F. Flyers was all a feller needed at the fair till judgin' day. His Mama had made sure he had enough shirts, drawers an' clean socks. she said no boy o' hers was gonna stink, even though they was a stayin' in the sheep barn all week.

Lordy, he better hurry. If his Daddy got on the tractor he would have wait an' go that evenin'. On top o' that he'd have chores to do all day instead o' bein' at the fair.

He ran out to the barn while his Mama was cookin' breakfast. As he went out the front door onto the porch he could hardly see the tobaccer field down the way for the fog. That fog was heavy on the barn as he reached it, swirlin' around it an' makin' it look like it was stuck off by itself. He could'nt see em, but he heard the chickens a carryin' on an' his sister's banty rooster crowin' like it was cock o' the walk.

As the big ol' door swung open, his sheep started callin' to him somethin' fierce. All the bleatin' made him smile a big smile. These were the best two sheep in all the 4H group. Well, that's what he thought. His Daddy weren't one to throw around words an he said they was good stock. That there was as good as a ribbon to Junebug.

He got his cane an' opened the pen. Them sheep was out an' into the barnyard quicker than greens through a duck. He walked behind an' beside them as he herded them toward the truck. His Daddy already had a ramp up to the back o' the truck. It took just a shake to get 'em in an' close the back end o' the pickup. They was big wooden slat sides on the truck that folks would build to haul livestock in pickup trucks. Junebug had put plenty o' straw on the bed o' the truck. He handed in some hay for the sheep to eat as they traveled.

One thing can be said o' Junebug's Mama. She weren't lettin' her menfolks go to the fair hungry. Her table was an old harvest table made o' poplar by her Grandad. The two long sides folded down when not in use an' could be pushed agin the wall to make room in the kitchen.

Today it were covered with a red an' white checked oilcloth tablecloth. Five plates sat on the table an' cloth napkins were by each plate. The plates was what folks call carnival glass an' had been won at the County Fair over several years by Junebug's Daddy when they first took up housekeepin'. The days before the Clay County Fair were always right special 'cause the carnival glass dishes would come out. They was a warm gold color, almost opaque.

The forks an' knives an' spoons was in each drinkin' glass like always. Mama always set the table like that. When folks was done they put their forks an' all right back in them glasses an' set 'em over on the sideboard for washin'.

In the middle o' that red an' white oilcloth was more food than a feller could shake a stick at. They was a big platter o' fried eggs, a bowl o' grits an' some fresh churned butter to dab on top. Down by Junebug's Mama's chair was Bob White Syrup an' some buckwheat flapjacks. A big ol' bowl held thick home cured hickory smoked bacon, sausages an' a little ham meat. They was two kinds o' gravy on the table; milk gravy an' red-eye gravy made from the grease off that ham.

Junebug's Daddy grabbed his Mama's hand, an' Junebug an' his two sisters joined the family circle as his Daddy prayed for the food:

"Dear Lord, I am right grateful for all the food sittin' before us, Lord. Y'all have done right by us from day one an' for that I thank thee. I give thanks for this farm an' for the crops. That rain the other day was appreciated, Lord Jesus, but I ain't gonna squawk none if y'all care to give us another one. I'd ask y'all to watch over they youngin's an' keep 'em healthy. Bless my Mam, dear Lord, cause she has taken the palsy something terrible. She is a shakin' so bad that she cain't hardly hold a glass o' milk. Now, Lord, y'all know I don't like to ask no favors or want special treatment for us, but if y'all see fit, jus' bless ol' Junebug with a champion this year. He has worked hard on them sheep an' done a right good job. Amen."

Junebug had opened his eyes when his Daddy started talkin' to the Lord about him. His eyes was as big as hen eggs when his Daddy bragged on him to the Lord Jesus. Junebug couldn't believe it. Them must be good sheep if his Daddy was a askin' the Lord to bless him.

He didn't stop grinnin' as he filled...an' emptied his plate. That grin stayed on his face as they rode to town an' even when they unloaded the sheep into their pen.

He had a sleepin' bag an' a suitcase with him that he put in the pen next to his sheep. A dozen other boys had done the same around him. At the other end o' the barn the girls was layin' out their beds an so on in pens next to their sheep. A couple of parents was there too, all set up in stalls in between for the rest o' the week. They were the 4H sponsors this year an' would ride herd on the youngin's in each barn.

Junebug hugged his Daddy an started to turn back to the barn.

"Ain't you a forgettin' somethin'?" his Daddy asked.

"I don't reckon."

"You ain't asked me for any spendin' money."

"Well sir, I saved a right smart bit this year. I thought I would do 'er on my own."

"Good man, Junebug. That makes me proud o' ye." His Daddy sounded real funny when he said that. Sort o' like he was chokin' or somethin'.

He hugged Junebug agin an' walked to the truck. "I'll be here Wednesday for the judgin', son."

"OK, Daddy. I'll be a seein' y'all then."

As his Daddy drove away, Junebug stuck his hands in his pockets. He felt somethin' in the left pocket where he kept his Case knife. When he pulled it out he saw the $10 his Daddy had slipped in as he was a huggin' him.

That grin crept to his face again. It didn't leave most o' the day.
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