I don’t remember the year or if it was Georgia or Texas when we went to the World’s Fair. Since this is an early childhood memory, I suspect it was when we lived in Texas. My dad took me to look at the agricultural displays. I remember hearing a man in a cowboy hat talk about having the world’s only six-legged cow. We walked by it and the cow was lying on the hay in a small pen. It looked like a taxidermist had preserved a cowhide with two legs, and then it was laid over the calf’s back. It was the same color as the cow’s fur, but that is where the resemblance ended. I’m sure I couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5, but even to my gullible eyes, it didn’t look real.
We wandered to the stalls and looked at the best cows the fair had to offer. They were eating toward the inside of the pavilion and we were walking on the outside. Perhaps inspecting their backsides was entertaining. Or maybe we were leaving. I was just following my dad and the front or back was the same to me. But then an interesting thing happened. I was walking behind a cow and his tail stood to attention. I stopped and wondered at the sight. Just as I thought, I wonder why his tail is straight up, my answer arrived.
A stream of brown liquid shot out with such force, it jetted straight toward my face. Time slowed. The cow’s behind disappeared from view as the rush of cow excrement blasted toward my head. The thought dawned on me that I didn’t want to be here when the chocolate soufflé arrived. It was too late to run, so I dropped and rolled. I caught a whiff of cow meals gone by as it passed. And then it splattered on the ground with what sounded like smashing pudding with a hammer.
I climbed to my feet, inspected my coat and pants, and was delighted to see the cow had missed. My dad walked over and said, “I sure am glad that didn’t hit you.” I had the feeling that it wouldn’t have been a pleasant ride home if I hadn’t dodged the cow pie ray of death.
The July 4th fair in Newton County was also a fond memory. Though I didn’t have the pleasure of playing dodge-pie, we had many other joys. I was 12 on the first year I went. It was the bi-centennial celebration and the fair was a ribbon winning paradise. There were sack races, foot races, eating contests, and every other competition the mind could imagine. I left with a load of ribbons. I still have those ribbons in my dresser. The ribbon I was the most proud of was my watermelon eating contest win.
For three minutes, contestants had to eat as much watermelon as possible. I had no aspirations of winning. I was only 12, skinny as a rail, but I had gotten to that stage of life where I had a pretty good appetite. At the concession stand, watermelon was $1.00 a slice. But I could eat as many as I wanted for free if I competed. So I got in line and took my turn at gluttony glory.
I went against grownups, kids, and there may have been an animal or two. The whistle blew and I started scarfing down as many free watermelon slices as I could. A couple of times I actually tasted it. The whistle blew again and the feeding frenzy was over. I pulled up my shirt to wipe the juice off my face and wiped my hands on my pants. They had paper towels nearby, but why waste paper? The judge evaluated my slices and counted the ones that were fully consumed. He called out, “Nine slices.”
The ribbon holder said, “That’s the most, we have a winner.”
I heard someone in the crowd say, “Where did it go?”
I wasn’t sure either, but my mom always said something about me having a hollow leg. For my win, I got a blue ribbon and several trips to the bathroom. I think watermelon has a natural diuretic. For every ounce of watermelon, you pass five ounces of water.
Several blue ribbons came during the foot races. I had long legs and little weight, so I was quite fast. While enjoying the easy wins at racing, I decided to take one last run before retiring from the Newton Olympics. I stepped to the starting line and an average looking black kid lined up beside me. The whistle sounded and we took off. No one was ahead of me or beside me. About halfway to the finish line, I heard a sonic boom. The kid beside me passed by like I wasn’t moving. I looked down at my legs to see if they were still going. They were. The boy hit the finish line and I was still only halfway. I didn’t think it was humanly possible to run that fast. I don’t know who that boy was, but I suspect it may have been Michael Johnson.
As a teenager in Marietta, I often went to the fair with my friends. Our church had a food booth at the local fair each year. We volunteered to help out so we could have free vendor passes. We’d work for a few hours and then visit the fair. One year they had a chicken exhibit. There were rows of chickens in glass front cages with quarter slots. I dropped in a quarter and Egyptian sounding music played, a door opened, and a chicken stepped onto a platform and started dancing. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen. I laughed while the chicken strutted her stuff. Then the music ended and a chicken treat dropped down.
I dropped quarters in various chicken exhibitions. Some were cute. Some were funny. Some were lame. Then we came across one with a tic-tac-toe board. I dropped in a quarter and the board lit up. The chicken went first. We matched wits and with great pride, I emerged victorious. I hate to brag, but there isn’t a chicken on earth that can beat me at tic-tac-toe. My friend’s strategy wasn’t quite as sophisticated. He lost.
Of course, it gave me great pleasure to see my friend, Ron, lose to a chicken at tic-tac-toe. It also gave the chicken great pleasure. She got a treat each time she won. Ron played again and lost. Then he said, “You just got lucky.”
I played again and beat the masterful chicken another time. Now Ron was getting frustrated. I might have added just a little bit to his frustration. Reminding Ron of how small a chicken’s brain was didn’t alleviate his annoyance. Ron ran out of quarters and said, “I’ll be right back. I’m not letting that chicken beat me.”
He left and returned with a handful of quarters and took his battle station again. Lost again. I tried to encourage him through my laughter, but he was inconsolable. He whipped out another quarter and played again. And lost. It came down to his last quarter. He looked at me, stared down the chicken, and dropped it in. The chicken pecked. Ron counter pecked. They alternated their shots until the board lit up with another tic-tac-toe. This time it was Ron’s. Though his ego was battered and bruised, he rose above his weaknesses and overcame the chicken’s strategy. The bird looked at Ron with an evil eye, looked at the dispenser for signs of a treat. None were coming. She then knew he had been defeated and returned to her nest.
As we walked away, a couple came by and the boyfriend decided to take on the chicken. We stood at a distance and watched. In a few moments, his girlfriend cackled with laughter as the young man said, “No way!”
Ron looked at me and said, “See. It isn’t just me.” Then he said, “Maybe you have to have a brain the size of a pea to be good at it.”
Hmmm. Was that an insult directed at me? And after all the words of encouragement I had given him when he was locked in combat. Where’s the love?