Fried Twinkie at Fall Festival: $2.00
Entry Fee for Rodeo Arena: $3.00
Fee for Greased Pig Contest in Arena: $1.00
Getting My Redneck Fix for the Year: Priceless
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s that fall festival time of year again, that time just after late summer when the sun has thoroughly baked our brains, and we suddenly think it’s a really good idea to eat lots of fried food, buys lots of handmade crafts, and watch lots of people act just plain stupid. The most popular festival in my red neck of the woods is “Barnesville Buggy Days” every September in Barnesville, Georgia (second right at Atlanta and straight on till morning). The festival is named after the horse-drawn buggy industry that used to exist there. Today, however, there are not many buggies at Barnesville Buggy Days. Oh, you may see some bugs, or some people that bug you, or a man with buggy eyes because he bit off too large a chunk of a fried pickle, but chances are that you will not see an actual buggy.
I had not been to Buggy Days in 4 or 5 years, but when a friend called to say that his family was going, I said “What the heck, I’ll go see what’s new”. Now, this friend was none other than the Campmaster, Steve Blackston, the man who we camped with last year and almost drowned with last year due to record October rains. But this time, the outing was just a fall festival – what could go wrong? And, even if the fall festival was an epic fail, there was always the chance that I could find a fried Twinkie to make everything better.
I was soon reminded of why I had not been to Buggy Days in years. Unfortunately, nothing had changed – same crazy people, same bad crafts, same greasy food. To make matters worse, there was now a tent in the middle of the festival where a tone deaf young lad was belting out song lyrics:
All you want to do is ride a cow, Sally
Ride, Sally, Ride!
Or something like that. Frankly, it was hard to hear all of it with my fingers in my ears. There were bleachers in front of the “singer”, and some people had the cruelty to deposit their grandparents on the bleachers while they went around shopping and eating. Looking into the eyes of these poor souls, I wondered if this is how Simon Colwell got his start. Or Charles Manson.
Craft selections always remain the same through the years – leather belts with designs etched into them, velvet paintings of Elvis, velvet paintings of dogs playing poker, and velvet paintings of dogs playing poker with Elvis. You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, cryin’ all the time belts the young singer behind me. (By now, an ambulance has taken away most of the grandparents on the bleachers.) Arguably, the best fall festival craft (scheduled to be inducted into the Fall Festival Craft Hall of Fame in 2016), is a small wooden frog with ridges on its back. By taking a wooden stick (included with the price of the frog) and slowly rubbing it up and down the ridges on the frog’s back, one can magically mimic the sound that the thousands of real frogs around your house make any given night. Picture the heartwarming scene of your child on your front porch, wood frog in hand, repeatedly making the sound Rodduppp!!, Roddupp!!, Roddupp!! until such time that you threaten to cut off his fingers and demand that he come inside and watch cartoons. Sadly, the charm of all crafts ends after about the first three seconds. Sort of like a pet fish.
Smoke wafting from the food area brought me out of my craft stupor, and I remembered that I had not yet seen a fried Twinkie. There were barbecue stations, chicken stations, funnel cake stations, and fresh-squeezed lemonade stands. In the center of this health food mecca, there was a shaded eating area, under tents graciously provided by local funeral homes. (No one found this ironic but me.) At last, I saw a fried Twinkie booth, and before you can say plop, plop, fizz, fizz, I was enjoying that golden, crunchy (yet creamy) goodness. Some might say that two dollars is way too much money for a fried Twinkie, but these same people probably also bought wood frogs, so what do they know?
Now, for most people these events would already constitute a full evening, but friends of Campmaster Steve Blackston know that the party is just getting started. It was time for the main event – greased pig catching at the nearby rodeo arena. Yes, you heard that right. Billed as the 2014 Old Fashioned Games for kids and adults alike, the greased pig contest recalls this country’s colorful past, a time when we apparently all ran around trying to catch slippery pigs. We were told that the successful pig capturer gets to keep the pig, and I guess the prospect of this made up for the three dollar admission fee to get in the arena just to watch the event. We also soon learned that there was an additional one dollar fee for each actual participant in the greased pig contest, which angered many of the parents. I looked into the pleading eyes of my son and gave him a dollar anyway. I didn’t want him to grow up and become Charles Manson one day, because I denied him the chance to capture a squealing ungulate.
Due to the surprising number of people there, it took us a while to find empty seats in the stands. The large crowd either testified to the strong community spirit in Barnesville, or it exposed the fact that we were all slightly off our rocker. I haven’t seen this much clamoring over a pig since Arkansas Razorback pigskin coach Bobby Petrino got in a wreck with his girlfriend riding on the back of his Hog. Well, I thought, at least my son only paid for one race, so we will be out of here soon. Haha. We quickly saw that there were about 5 different age groups for kids and one group for adults that wanted to participate (not that there is anything wrong with that). In addition, there were 5 to 6 races per age group. That’s a lot of pork. Don’t tell the Tea Party. Or PETA for that matter. Unfortunately, my son was in one of the later age brackets, so I witnessed around 30 races before I finally saw him in action.
What I witnessed cannot be adequately described in words. Now, I have to admit that my family gets a bit animated fighting over the last piece of bacon at Saturday morning breakfast, but the greased pig contest was in a totally different universe from that. I envisioned one pig versus one kid, but there were 50 to 60 kids lined up against one pig per race. And these kids were determined, let me tell you. They were constantly leaning over the starting line trying to get that extra edge over the competition. It was obvious that their mama had told them to bring home the bacon. The pig for each round was rode around in a golf cart close to the spectators and close to the participants, I guess so they could all see the quality that they might be getting. It almost had a pageant air about it, like a reality show on TLC. I kept expecting the “singer” from Buggy Days to suddenly erupt in song – There she is, Miss Hamerica! (Sorry, shameful pig joke.) After the golf cart display, each pig was given to a man in the middle of the arena, who dutifully rubbed the pig down with slippery dishwashing detergent. From what I could tell, ladies, he was unhitched. There is nothing a woman admires more than a man that is good at his work.
And then, it was show time! 50 kids straining at the starting line, eyes on the prize. One pig in the middle, eyes on a peanut shell lying on the ground. With a sudden rush, the kids stampeded toward the pig, but the pig stayed where it was, sniffing the peanut shell. You could see what was going to happen before it happened, and you instinctively wanted to turn away. But, just like coming across a car wreck or an episode of Honey Boo Boo, you looked anyway. The first kid jumped on top of the pig and wrapped it up with his hands. The second kid jumped on top of the first kid, the third kid on top of the second, the fiftieth jumped on top of the forty-ninth kid and so on. From the bottom of the pile, you could hear a muffled squeal. When the umpires, or whatever they call themselves, broke up the pile the winner and the pig, looking slightly more crooked than before, emerged from the bottom. Several kids were limping, either from being trampled or having their foot stepped on. They received prompt medical attention, but I did not see the pigs get any medical care. Would that have involved a hambulance? (Second shameful pig joke.) I saw this same event 30 or so times, collision of pig and people, muffled squeal, kids limping, before my son had his run. And all the while kids and parents were flipping out dollar bills like they were going out of style. (The ironic thing is that most of these people would probably not buy premium sliced bacon in the store because it is too expensive.) My son lost his round badly, but I am not sure whether I am ashamed or proud of him for losing this event.
We left before the adults could start the competition. I didn’t want to risk seeing somebody I knew, like my doctor or dentist, participating. I could never again look them in the eye after that. In fact, I think I’ve gotten my redneck fix for a while, maybe even permanently.
Of course, I’m probably kidding myself. I’ll wind up going back to Buggy Days in another 5 years. That fried Twinkie will have been fully digested by then.