Baxter Black: Fair board drama

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I went to America last week … the middle of America, Kansas, to a county fair. I flew into Denver and drove across miles and miles of green prairie. If America has a heart, it’s out on the plains. It’s not an easy place to live. You have to earn its respect. It will test you with blizzards, tornadoes, floods, droughts, dust, plagues and loneliness. It is often all or none. One learns to be self-sufficient.

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Baxter Black

The county fair is often the biggest event of the year in many plains communities. Carnivals, tractor pulls, rodeos, cotton candy … where else can you get cotton candy? And the occasional traveling cowboy poet. For the agricultural folks it has two purposes: to train the next generation of farmers in the profound knowledge that it takes to feed the world, and second, to meet and educate consumers about where their food comes from.

This summer, the plains have turned into a garden. Less rain at the right time is better than more rain at the wrong time, which brings me to my trip. By the time I reached the little town in Kansas, the clouds were beginning to huddle, planning their next play. I went by the fairgrounds to greet the fair board and check in. My performance was to be in the outdoor rodeo arena. The bell horn speakers sounded like the announcer at the Kentucky Derby.

We, the board and I, worked on the sound system so it didn’t sound like a tornado warning. When it was perfect, we moved it and broke one of the connectors. Repair required a trip to Radio Shack in the next town 42 miles away. The sky was turning a bruised blue color in the north. I went to the hotel and changed into my fancy shirt. The show was advertised as a 7 p.m. performance. At 6 p.m., I was back at the fairgrounds. The crowd was beginning to gather in the stands. Many of them had driven 50-plus miles to be there. The carnival temporarily had shut down in anticipation of rain. The clouds looked ominous. The storm hit at 6:30 p.m.

The next hour and a half was the equivalent of a fair board SWAT team. Can we have it inside? Will the rain quit? Will anybody come? Will the speaker short out? Will people go home? They examined each alternative and waited … at 7:45 p.m., the rain fizzled to a drizzle. The clouds were moving south. The word went out …8 p.m. in the grandstands, show time! It was still light, the flag was standing straight out in the wind, the crowd was bundled up, and I stood on the front walkway with my back to the rain. The whole bunch of us just smiled and shed water. Cancel the show? Not on your life.

That was the moment we shined. All of us, from the fair board, to the volunteers, the farmer who fixed the sound system, the parents of kids who had projects, the local radio announcer, the county agent and all those in the grandstands who came to see the show. I began, “I have called you all together here this evenin’ to thank the good Lord for the wonderful rain we’re havin’.” The crowd cheered and I heard an “Amen.”

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