Friday, August 15, 2008

Sheep show time! Part one.

Yesterday I returned to the State Fair with my parents. This time was different, because this weekend was the Suffolk sheep show. (Note: the lambs at left are Dorsets. More on them later.) It’s like a family reunion. Certain “sheep families,” as we call them, have bonded over the years. We come to each other’s weddings and funerals. Some families, like mine and the Van Arkels, have gotten so close that we spend minor holidays together and help with events like graduation parties.

Some of us grew up together at the State Fair and various sheep shows. Now we’ve moved to different states, and few of us have taken up the family business. Some of us have vowed to make it back to the fair, though, no matter what. Each year, we reunite there.

Friday my parents and I went to the fair to see the other sheep families. Friday is the prep day for most of our friends, so they have a little more time to chat than on show day, when things can get frantic. There’s plenty of time for bystanders to stand around and chat while the owners fit their sheep (a process in which they wash, blow-dry, and rough-cut the wool with clippers, comb it out with a special brush called a card, and then sculpt into perfect shape with hand trimmers).

I got to chat with lots of people I hadn’t seen for a while. With each year, though, there seem to be fewer and fewer of the sheep people I knew as a child. People have retired and passed away and like I said, few of us have taken up the family business. It’s kind of sad. On the plus side, for a while now there had been few kids in the barn. Now, there’s a new generation of sheep kids running around. They’re very cute. (Almost as cute as the kid sleeping in its food dish below.)

Mom, Dad and I had lunch at the Beef Tent (which may have been an actual tent once, but now is a large, vaguely tent-shaped metal building). I talked Dad into the Prime Rib dinner. Usually, I argue for moderation; in this case, however, I argued that—although it was pricy for fair food—he would never find a giant, perfectly-prepared piece of prime rib for a better price. Once he tasted the prime rib, Dad didn’t regret it in the least. Mom and I got gorgeous steak sandwiches. They were so good. Why had I never ordered it before?

After we had made a few rounds of the sheep barn, Mom and I went for a walk to see things we hadn’t seen yet. We visited the buckskinner’s market, which we’d never visited in all our years at the fair. The market sold rain sticks and boxes carved out of shells, pop guns, coonskin caps and such. Some people were dressed like 19th century frontiersmen and women. It was interesting, indeed.

We also explored the animal learning center. The building has pens full of mother animals, either pregnant or with their babies. The animals were all bred (inseminated, actually) to give birth during the fair. Visitors can watch births that take place during the day. Those that take place over night are filmed and shown on television screens hung over the pens. The building also featured a sterile surgical facility with a glass wall so people could watch various veterinary procedures (for example, the spaying of a dog). That didn’t exactly lure Mom and I. We were enthralled by the piglets, lambs, calves, kids, ducklings and chicks; but the threat of public surgery sent us fleeing.

After that, we’d been at the fair for about 9 hours, so Mom and I headed for home, planning to return on Saturday and Sunday. When we got home, Mom told me one of the sheep people we'd chatted with told her I get prettier every time he sees me (Aw!) and and he doesn't understand why no young man is currently following me around. (Double Aw, and WORD!) Why isn't one? I should probably go back to dating, but as far as I know, all the guys in the MFA program at ODU are married. ALL OF THEM! Well, maybe the new year will bring new single guys. I'm not going to ODU for an "Mrs. degree" (just writing that made my inner feminist cringe), but an occasional date would be nice.

Note: I just realized the adorable piglet above looks like his back leg is messed up. He was fine! That's actually the front leg of another piggy who I cropped out of the picture. The animals in the learning center were well-cared-for.

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