I was at the Van Buren County Livestock Premium Sale last weekend. It was the sole event of what would have been the county fair had COVID-19 not put the brakes on all that. Still, they had the part where animals were shown and judged, then the Saturday auction, the big event.

From a newspaper guy standpoint it’s a straightforward thing. You get inside the ring, off in one corner and out of the way as best you can, and as each auction is completed you take a picture of what-all came together in that particular sale.

This year, things being what they were, the winning bidder wasn’t always in the frame, or if they were they wore a mask. Next to them was some manner of animal and on one end of that was the young man or woman who presented. “Smile!” and get ‘em in the frame, click and go back to the corner, next one’s coming up.

It was refreshingly normal, a regular yearly event on the newspaper-guy dance card, in a year when not many events were normal or had not been canceled because of the thing.

I’ve taken to calling it that: “The thing.” People come down with the thing, someone’s out sick and “Oh is it the thing?” and so forth.

Everybody knows what you’re talking about when you say it.

And yeah, the Van Buren County Livestock Premium Sale in the year of the thing, that touchstone, that normal event, those smiling young people and well groomed animals. Those attentive members of the community, the bidders, the proud parents, the watchful ag teachers, auctioneers and PA announcements.

No carnival rides across the field this year, no bright colors tucked off away while the business of agriculture’s future in an ag-centric community went about its business, its traditions. Not this year. The thing took care of that. Now it’s just the old tradition, the new animals, the pride of accomplishment.

I was raised in the Philadelphia suburbs, “the” Philadelphia as I tell people. Not the one off outside of Jonesboro, but the one up east, Liberty Bell, cheesesteaks and toll roads, that Philadelphia. If I saw a live chicken before I was 22 I don’t remember it.

I mean, it wasn’t all burning trash barrels and do-wop songs, don’t get me wrong, but it was a long way from an FFA meeting. Street-racing was big when I was in high school.

And I’m thinking about this standing off to the side and trying to stay out of the way as the animal of the moment was being shown, as the auctioneer took bids.

And to be clear: I’ve been in Arkansas for over 40 years, been in the chutes for more than a few bull rides and all, I’m not from nowhere, but still, different school tradition watching everything come together so the animal gets top bid.

And it’s nice not to be raised in that tradition; it’s nice where it’s not quite normal to my own upbringing. It’s nice to be newspaper-boy having to watch where I step and think of what it all means.

It’s important to raise our children right, to set them up with goals and help as we can for them to achieve those goals. I don’t care where you’re from. When I’d take the picture at the end of each bidding cycle there was always someone just over my shoulder doing the same thing, quite often a parent. The picture, perhaps, winds up on a mantle, or scrapbook, or both: “That’s your aunt in 2020. The winning bidder there is wearing a mask because of the thing that year.”

“You’ll be doing that when you’re old enough.”

Kienlen is the editor of the Van Buren County Democrat and The Sun-Times.

Kienlen is the editor of the Van Buren County Democrat and The Sun-Times

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