Yoked pair

The steam engines were muttering pukkita-pukkita in the background, and toward the southeast end of the fairground, you could hear the sheep bleating as their 4-H handlers straightened out their rear legs, tried to get the still-but-lambs to stop moving their heads long enough for the judges to take a look, to stroke flanks, to dole out the blue, red and gold ribbons that made all that bottle-feeding since lambing mean something. To the back left of the fairgrounds, there was the lemonade, the cotton candy, the meat on a stick. He always loved the steam engines, though the diesel fumes made her sick to her stomach. They both loved the poultry barn– the birds with their variegated feathers, some buff, some black and white, others with plumed feet and warty wattles, the rabbits, lop ears and angoras, the babies and full-grown bunnies looking disapproving in their competition-grade hutches. Too, they loved the agricultural exhibits. Paper plates of green beans, 49 apples in a diamond shape, multicolored eggs in baskets downstairs– quilts and flower arrangements, pies and tea breads upstairs. Sometimes, they rode the ferris wheel, or wandered the pellet stove and fudge stalls, perusing power tool displays and watching magic shows with huge white poodles instead of rabbits– other years they walked the barns, admiring the fringed lashes, shell pink ears, and chocolate eyes of the brown swisses keeping company in the barn. They always made time for the sheepherding exhibition– those ridiculous white ducks, scared silly by a quivering, harassing, perpetual motion border collie on speed.

And then there was the oxen pull. Who knows why they never wanted to miss it– they’d both grown up in the city. But every year, they cheered on the teams at this fair, a preliminary competition running up to the Big E at the end of the fair season. Watching the teamsters hitch their teams to the log, and gee and ha their beasts through the orange traffic cones topped with tennis balls. One nudge, one toppled ball, and it was over. Same thing if one of the boys was feeling ornery, and chewed the tennis ball instead of pulling, despite his yoke-mate’s interest in getting this over with. Dick and Dime were giant Holsteins over six feet tall, perennial winners, except when Dick had a hankering for tennis balls. In non-spec competition, they did actually haul lumber from a rural piece their handler owned– no wonder Dick goofed off sometimes at the Fair. It was just like work, except there were no pretty traffic cones and tennis balls in the woods. At the two later fairs, there were also horse races and swine showings and the all-important smack-up derbies, which allowed them to see their across-the-street neighbors smash their SpongeBob Squarepants 86 Buick Regal in mere minutes, undoing the months of effort gone into creating the car’s costume beforehand.

They rarely split up, to do their own thing. They had the whole day, there was plenty of time to see a little of everything, even if it bored the other, without splitting up the pair. They were yoked, but happily so.

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