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Every year the first week in August brings us the Boone County Fair where we remember and see people we haven’t seen in a year. Bruce’s mom used to call it her vacation, and I wondered how an event that comes during the hot, humid time of year (the corn is high, sweating humidity like a rain forest)  could be a vacation. But she was right.

Every year Bruce and I spend the week. We each enter something for the Home Ec building so we can get visitor’s passes. This year Bruce entered two jars of jam–blackberry and raspberry, along with a Christmas ornament. I entered a bunch of pictures.  (Bruce earned a blue and two reds, the judge writing beautiful on the card for his blackberry jam. I earned a red for my winter scene with Night. 

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We celebrate because going on Saturday to watch the draft horses was our first real date. He’d just bought me a fancy bicycle so I could ride with him. Afterwards he took me to meet his mother, whose dog bit me hard in the calf when he was opening the door. I watched how Bruce responded, worried that he might shoot the dog, for defending Bruce’s mom from the strange woman, but all he did was scold the dog. I wondered if Stormy, a black rescue, knew I would be taking Bruce from home.  Bruce’s mom welcomed me, looking embarrassed because her hair was tied up in a bandana and she was vacuuming with an ancient Electrolux.

That day I ran my finger down Bruce’s soul, to see if there were shards of glass that might cut me. I found none. I kept thinking about the balls of clay we’d dig up while doing archeology and how I’d have to break them with my fingers. Sometimes they caught a translucent porcelain fragment. That’s how it was that day with Bruce as I listened and walked around the fair. I’d learned spend a few hours with a man and he will show you how he will treat you. But Bruce held no arrogance. He wasn’t sarcastic or mean. He was good company. While his quiet frustrates me at times, quiet is good and rich and full of presence.

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We both fell in love with the draft horses, making friends with Belgian breeders, Howard and Mable Buerkley because I wrote an article about their horses, “Does a Horse Push a Wagon or Pull it?” Watching a team of six horses pull a wagon around the arena impressed us with their power. You hear the wheels and the jangling of the harness. But we also knew they were too big and two spirited for us to handle.

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This is where my love for fjords began. Around this same time we visited a friend and met her fjord. Here was a draft horse but smaller, down to our size–a horse that could do anything–small farm tasks, riding, carriage work. Soon I would sell my Arab Quarter horse cross and begin a twenty year career in teaching, with no time for a horse. I began a young adult book about fjords, imagining what it would be like to own one my imagination helping me let that dream go, until we found our way to a farm and my two mares, Tessie and Morgen.

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There are people we only see at the Boone County Fair. When we were younger I’d shiver a bit, afraid of running into relatives we weren’t quite speaking too. And I’d delight in walking around and seeing people I knew from our community. I remember conversations with Julie N. about how farmers were now using GPS to plant their crops in straight lines way back when the technology was new. This year we talked to her and her husband Marshall about wind farms, about what they’d learned in helping Boone county write its ordinance that made it difficult to establish one. There’s something to the continuity of living in a community where people become familiar even if your conversations are a year apart.

When I first started coming to this fair I was a young person stopping to talk to the old-timers that taught Bruce in 4H or watched over him when his father died. That first year he was proud to introduce me to the Johnsons and the Landmeiers.  Now I’m the old person. Years ago we could hardly walk around the fair without stopping and visiting with people we knew. Now days at the fair are like walking through New York City, crowded with people here to enjoy themselves, but not neighbors or members of our church or people Bruce grew up with.

The last decade I’ve found my way to the pony barn because ten years ago I’d been bitten by the horse bug, yet again, and was considering fjords or halflingers. I talked to people about both breeds and decided to check out Patti Jo Walters, a well respected fjord broker who matched people and horses impeccably. Before I knew it, I was driving north to visit her farm even though I insisted I was just looking. (I had to buy boots with a heel and a helmet before I left.) I left her place having purchased Tessie because I felt so much confidence welling up from her within minutes of sitting on her back. Even Patti Jo said she could tell we clicked.

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I have thought of showing here but have been too afraid to bring my mares here. I am afraid they will go over threshold and be frightened. I admire Dorothy and Cindy and Donna and Ann who bring their horses out and show them. I tell them how much I admire their ability to just get out there and play with their horses. I have held back because of too much caution. I tell Dorothy I suffered from fear for several years, that I’ve only just now gained my confidence. Dorothy says  I would enjoy a mini, that driving one would be just plain fun. They get together to practice drill team and trail drive. It’s easy to put the cart in the trailer along with the horse. She’s right but I am overwhelmed as it is with my two mares. I watch Bob Champion drive his fjords in hitch classes. I ask him if he would help me with my mares because they are fat and driving is good exercise and I love driving. He says he is busy but he will think about it. He smiles as though life tickles him.

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I feel something open wide, a joy I haven’t felt in a long time because of the people I’ve talked to who are my people. The inertia, the fog that held me in a state of overwhelm have left. My mind has cleared. I can set Facebook down. I know that training Tessie to drive and tuning up Morgen is the way as in the Quaker saying, “Way will open.” This is an old dream of ours that began watching those six horse hitches at the fair thirty years ago. If I can drive them as a team, I can exercise them both at once, conditioning them while having a good time watching the sun and shadows play with the land around us.

When Bruce said he misses driving Morgen down the road I almost wept.  I know how something unfolds and relaxes in me when we do this. I can feel how he enjoys our time. Big herds of cows both ways overwhelmed us and Morgen, so we stopped going down the road. We need help to get by them. I feel hope again.

(It could be that I’ve asked for prayer from a few people and those prayers have cleared the mental fog and overwhelm because I can feel people’s prayers bringing joy. If the Lord longs to bless us, he delights like a father in giving us good things. All we can do is be thankful, something I’ve found  widens my joy like a well watered river and eases my dread about the other shoe falling.)

We need community. We need our people. We need conversation and county fairs that bring us together. I leave the fair with phone numbers and promises to stay in touch. I’m not sure we will until next year, but it’s a kind feeling knowing there are people you can talk to about your dreams and fears and hopes. 

What is your story about experiencing community at a local event? 

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