To get the best booth spot at the county fair, one had to be on site no later than 6 a.m. Even then, you might have to haggle with the other early birds for the spot you wanted. Rose being the best haggler, was nominated to be the spot grabber for the pie booth ladies. They wanted to be under the shade trees. This meant that the Greene apartment was buzzing with energy at the early hour of 4:30 a.m.
“They nominate me every year. They really ought to quit voting and just give me a badge,” Rose huffed as she carefully went up and down the elevator taking pies and other supplies to her car. She had Joe’s help of course, but it still was a painfully slow process. Pie carrying was a very delicate activity. As far as Rose was concerned, there was no room for error and she was in a terrible rush to get down to the park on time. She shooed Daisy away when she offered to help. “Please darling… go on and do your running. I can’t afford any accidents with this.”
Daisy retreated to the Bailey front door and peeked inside. “Davis…”
She knew he would be up because his bowling team set up a bowling booth every year as well. They didn’t care about being under the trees though. His team preferred being in the center where the beer was located. That was a much easier position to secure. Therefore, Davis was not nearly as stressed about his bowling booth as Rose was about her pie tables.
“Come on in!” Davis boomed from behind the ironing board in the middle of the living room.”How’s our girl this morning?”
“Thirsty.” She smiled a sleepy smile at his warm greeting.
“Well, you just go help yourself to whatever you can find in the kitchen.”
His southern drawl caused her to immediately relax. She walked to the kitchen and poured two large glasses of water and sat down at the counter to drink them.
Connor pulled his T-shirt over his head as he wandered through the living room. “Did I hear Day out here?”
Davis stuck his thumb in the direction of the kitchen while swallowing a big gulp of coffee. “She’s in there.” He put his coffee down and went back to ironing his bowling uniform.
Connor continued through the living room to the kitchen. “Hey, babe.” He wrapped his arms around her warmly and yawned a quiet yawn in her ear. “You got over early.”
“My house is a whirlwind, I had to get out of the way. How’d ya sleep?”
“Like a rock. Yesterday’s wild bridal shower wore me out.” He grinned and went to the refrigerator for his regular OJ fix.
“Sorry if my girl stuff was too much for you.” She rubbed her eyes and yawned.
Connor drank his OJ in nearly one gulp and then placed his glass in the sink. He walked over and wrapped his arms around her one more time and squeezed her tight. “I’m sort of partial to your girl stuff. Now are you ready to go?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be.” Daisy placed her two glasses in the sink next to his.
He took her hand and walked her to the door. “Dad, we’re leaving. We’ll see you there.”
“I’ll be down just as soon as I finish my coffee.”
The county fair was a huge event with tons of things to do, but the best thing about the fair was the opportunity to run. That was the reason Connor, Andy and the gang loved the fair so much. The activities would start off with the little kids doing sack races but later on the adult races would begin.
George always brought his tractors to the fair and displayed them for business. He lent them out for racing as well. He would only let ladies drive his tractors though. George always said that letting ladies race his tractors was good for business. Every year he had a big sign over his tent which read:
Even a Lady Can Drive a Palmer Tractor!!
Daisy and Connor walked around watching men raise tarps and ladies arrange homemade goodies underneath. Daisy inhaled all the lovely smells from the different kinds of foods being set out. “I’m hungry,” she announced as they walked through the hustle and bustle.
“Let’s find the fruit stand. I’ll get you a smoothie. After we run, we can eat more.”
“Yum!” She looked around for the fruit stand.
“There’s the Palmer Tractor tent.” Connor pointed. “Let’s go ask George if he’s seen Andy.” They wandered up to the tractor tent.
George appeared to be in a heated discussion with Coach Peggy. He was standing on a step-ladder attempting to put up his sign but Peggy was stopping him.
“George, that slogan is outrageously chauvinistic! I can’t believe that you would put a statement like that over your machines!” Coach Peggy crossed her arms giving him a scolding look.
“I just mean that you don’t have to be a professional machinist to operate one of my tractors, Peggy. That’s all. Don’t read so much into it. I have a great deal of respect for women,” George defended his sign to no avail.
“Women are very intelligent people, George. I am sure that there are professional female machinists among our ranks. Why don’t you have any working in your company?”
“I have never had a woman apply for a machinist position before, but if I ever do, I will hire her real quick, just for you,” he barked back.
“That sign, George…” Peggy shook her finger at the offending words. “That sign implies, that you think women are less capable than men to operate heavy machinery. If there are any women around Clearwater who are qualified machinists, they probably would not apply for work at your company because of that horrendous slogan you have waving over your machines!”
“Oh my goodness woman! Here!” George yanked the sign down, rolled it up in his arms and threw it at her. “Take the sign Peggy! I don’t need it!” He climbed down the ladder in a big huff.
“Thank you, I bet you’ll have better business today because of this little change.” Peggy turned and breezed past Connor and Daisy with the rolled up sign in her arms, looking for a dumpster.
“Uh, George?” Connor hesitated, not sure this was a good time to bother him.
George wiped his face with a towel and gave Connor a tired look. “Don’t talk to me unless you have aspirin. I have the worst stinkin’ headache the world has ever known. Do you think it is too early for beer?”
“Uh, it’s only 6:30, sir.” Connor cracked a smile but wagged his head. “Not a good idea.”
“I have some.” Daisy dug around in her bag for a minute, then handed him a small bottle.
“Thanks darlin’.” George popped a few in his mouth and chugged them down with a bottle of water. “Aaah.” He wiped his face off again with his towel and exhaled heavily.
“Uh, George?” Connor was going to try again but George interrupted him with, “Daisy darling, I have put that sign up every single year that this fair has existed. No one has ever said a thing about it. Do those words seem offensive to you?” George looked deep into her eyes like he really wanted her perspective.
“I’ve never really paid any attention to your sign. It doesn’t offend me, but Coach Peggy is a working woman. To women in the work force, those kinds of statements might, ya know, be offensive.” Daisy smiled sweetly hoping she was not hurting his feelings.
“Mm.” George took another swig of his water, thinking.
“Uh, George,” Connor tried again. “Have you seen Andy and the gang? We’re looking for them.”
“Oh, they’re sitting up there on the stage next to the fruit stand.” George pointed towards the stage.
“Thanks.” Connor and Daisy resumed walking through the huge park in the direction of the stage. When they reached the fruit stand Connor knocked knuckles with all his buddies. Then he looked down at his girl. “Do you want something?”
“I want a strawberry smoothie and a slice of watermelon.”
Connor ordered two of both. Then they went and sat on the end of the stage, next to their friends.
“Look, the little kids are lining up for the sack races!” Daisy exclaimed.
Connor grinned more at Daisy’s excitement than at the little kids. He kissed the top of her head softly. “So cute,” he whispered, meaning her not the sack racers.
“Look at ’em go!” Susan hollered out.
“They’re pretty fast for little guys!” Daisy giggled.
They ate watermelon and spit the seeds on the ground while the little guys hopped across the field.
Once the sack races were over and prizes were handed out, the tractors lined up across the field in front of the stage.
George yelled out the rules in his microphone and the races began. Everyone laughed as the ladies drove the tractors all over the field. When the tractor races were over, the winners received dinner coupons at a local bar and grill.
“Man, I wish he’d let me drive one of those things,” Mark mumbled.
“It’s not as easy as it looks.” Daisy wanted to share her experience with tractor racing but the announcer came on the loud speaker and blasted the words, “All runners, take your place at the starting line! The Fair Park Run is about to begin!”
“That’s us!” Andy yelled. “Let’s move!”
“Grace and I aren’t running. I’m saving my energy for the trick bike contest later on,” Willie announced to the group.
“Sure thing.” Andy knocked knuckles with Willie. “We’ll find you when we’re done.”
Maria, Andy, Susan, Mark, Connor and Daisy all jogged off to the starting line.
People of all different shapes and sizes were stretching out at the starting line. There were even some Mom’s with fancy baby strollers warming up.
“Look at those three wheel strollers. Do you think those ladies can run pushing those babies like that?” Daisy asked curiously.
Connor looked in the direction of the mothers and pondered the sight. “If they want to. They look in better shape than some of these others around here.” Connor’s eyes roamed the crowd.
Daisy’s eyes followed his. “Yea, I guess you’re right.”
He leaned over and gave Daisy a quick kiss. “I don’t want to lose you in the crowd. Stay with me.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t leave you in the dust.” She giggled.
He grabbed her playfully and she giggled some more while he kissed her again. “You better not girl!”
The gun blasted!
“Oh crap.” Daisy and Connor abruptly quit their horse play and took off running with the group. They weaved carefully through the crowd until they found a comfortable middle spot next to Mark and Susan.
Andy and Maria pushed up closer to the front in the hopes of making a win.
“I’ll help you keep up with Daisy,” Mark hollered over her head in Connor’s direction.
Connor reached his arm out over Daisy’s head (which wasn’t hard to do given how short she was) and knocked knuckles with Mark. “Thanks, man.”
“I’m right here, between you two. I’m not that hard to keep up with.” Daisy wondered what all the fuss was about. “Is there something going on that I don’t know about?”
Connor put his hand on her head and lovingly rubbed her hair all around. “We just don’t know who’s here in this big crowd of people, that’s all. So you just stay right there between us.” He laughed at the irritated expression on her face.
She wanted to fuss at him for messing up her hair but she so adored his affection she decided to just dropped it and run on. She could care less who was in the crowd, she wasn’t quite sure what he meant anyway.
The particular running course that they were on roamed partly through a neighborhood and partly around Fair Park. They turned at the orange cones and ran out into the residential area behind the park. Ancient, brick houses lined the quiet streets. Large, moss-covered trees hung overhead creating a canopy of elegant shade as you ran under them.
“Breathtaking,” Daisy sighed. “It’d be wonderful to live in a neighborhood like this.”
“Do you think so?” Connor looked around thoughtfully. He spied squirrels scampering along branches and birds perched, watching them run. “It is kinda cool out here,” he agreed.
They continued following the orange cones and made a few more turns under the mossy canopy. Then they jogged out of the residential area back into Fair Park. The park had the same large, moss-covered shade trees that the neighborhood had, but it also had a nice soft running path. The kind that was made from recycled tires. It smelled like tar but was soft on your feet. You could feel the difference between the street pavement and the recycled tire material immediately.
“Whoever came up with the idea to use tires like this, should get an award,” Connor spoke up for all his buddies to hear.
“Yea, it really makes a difference on my feet,” Susan agreed.
The trees began to part and the orange cones led them around a large duck pond and then back into the center of the park where the fair games were being held.
“Let’s catch up with Andy,” Connor suggested.
They picked up their pace until they were right behind him and Maria.
“I was wondering if you guys would ever show up,” Andy spoke over his shoulder.
“We’re here, and I might just decide to beat your butt,” Connor challenged.
Andy grinned slyly at his buddy. “Don’t think so, man. That one time you beat me, you just caught me off guard. It won’t happen again.”
Connor looked over at Mark. “You got Daisy?”
“Yep, I got her.”
“Let me smear that silly grin off Andy’s face, babe. Will you run with Mark and Susan until the end?” Connor looked down at his girl for her consent.
“Yea, I’ll stay with Mark and Susan.” She was enjoying the day and not really in the mood to push as hard as him.
He gave a strand of her hair an affectionate tug. “I will see you at the end.” He moved up to Andy and Maria. The three of them ran together for a moment, then the alliance was over. They each pulled out of formation and began the race!
“Who do you think will win?” Susan asked Mark under her breath.
“Andy has always won, but Connor keeps trying. I don’t think Connor will ever be satisfied until he beats Andy in a real race,” Mark guessed.
“That’s true,” Daisy agreed. “He wants to beat him in a real race, not in just a random fun run.”
“That’s a tough goal.” Susan shook her head, wondering if it would ever be accomplished.
“Well ladies, shall we take it up a notch and pass a few of these guys still in front of us?”
“Yea,” the girls returned.
They picked up their pace and passed several people. They came to the ladies that were pushing the fancy baby strollers.
“Look at that Susan. They have pushed those strollers the entire way!” Daisy pointed out.
“Not too bad.”
Marks quickened his own pace saying, “Okay ladies, let’s move on up!”
They picked up their pace again and passed the stroller ladies.
The finish line was in sight now. Just for fun, Susan, Mark and Daisy linked arms and ran to the end.
Connor, Andy and Maria were waiting for them as they whooshed underneath the finishing banner. Connor grabbed Daisy’s hand and ran around in circles with her. When she finally slowed down he handed her a water bottle.
“Aren’t you going to pour it on my head?” Daisy was shocked.
“I believe that particular tradition has been amended,” he returned seriously.
“Really, how so.”
“Well, once the recipient turns 16 year of age, no one can any longer pour water on her head. Instead she must be kissed with great care and tenderness at the end of each race.” He pulled her close into his arms and kissed her tenderly. “I missed you,” he whispered.
“Missed me?” she repeated softly. “It was only about ten minutes ago you were running right next to me.”
“Maybe so, but it was an agonizing ten minutes, believe me.” He went for another kiss.
Andy came up behind them and gave Connor a mighty whack on the back. “Enough of that! Let’s go see the awards being given out!” He strolled off with Maria, Mark and Susan at his side.
The big slap startled Connor right out of his private moment with Daisy. “I hate it when he does that,” he mumbled into her hair. Then he threw his arm around her shoulder and followed his buddies back to the stage to see the awards.
A very fit, elderly man received an award for being the eldest to finish the race. A 12-year-old boy received an award for being the youngest to finish the race (babies in strollers didn’t count). Andy was the fastest guy in his age bracket and Maria was the fastest gal in her age bracket to finish the race so they both got awards. Connor came in at his usual second place spot for his age bracket. There was no award for second place. In the back of his mind he knew one day he would beat Andy. He just knew it. But when would it happen, that he did not know.
Jeremiah and Jason approached and knocked knuckled with everyone. “Who among you is brave enough to enter the hot dog eating contest with us?”
“Jeremiah, you were sick as a dog last year! Why are you doing it again?” Andy laughed, shaking his head.
“Yea, you were sick for days, man!” Mark added in.
“That’s just the price I paid for being the best! Now come on, some of you guys should be hungry after all that running you just did,” Jeremiah coaxed.
They all shook their heads. “No way!”
“Oh well,” Jeremiah punched Jason in the shoulder. “I guess it is just you and me. Come on, too many wimpy babies around here.” Jeremiah and Jason strolled off together to find the hot dog table.
“I am getting kind of hungry, though,” Maria admitted.
“Yea, me too,” Daisy and Susan both agreed.
“What’s good to eat around here?” Andy looked at Connor. “You’re the food expert. What can we eat without destroying our stomachs?”
“Well, there was a lady here last year who made homemade bread. She had all different kinds, banana bread, pineapple bread, carrot bread and pumpkin bread, even sweet potato bread. That was good. Then of course, if you want sweet stuff, Grandma Rose is around here somewhere with her pies. That’s probably safe. My all time favorite is the fruit stand here.” He held his hand out like a show host when he mentioned the fruit stand. “Your stomachs are the safest with the fruit stand.”
“Given those choices, I think we should look for the bread lady. I’ve already eaten enough fruit for the day,” Mark decided. Everyone agreed, grabbed the hand of their gal and wandered through the crowds in search of bread.
About midpoint in the bread search, they got side tracked by Davis’ bowling booth. When they saw it, they had a sudden itch for bowling. Pulling out their money, they challenged each other to a round or two. Then one or two rounds turned into six or seven rounds as their competitive natures rose up. By the end of it all, Mark proved to have the steadiest hand and Susan happily walked away with a very large panda bear.
Next, the group passed by the Palmer Tractor Company tent.
“Hey look, George made a new sign.” Daisy pointed at the new sign which read:
The Palmer Tractor Co. has the greatest respect for all women everywhere!
“Maybe Coach Peggy will forgive him for his other sign now.” Connor chuckled as they continued their search for the bread lady.
Eventually, they found the bread stall in the middle of the hubbub. It was displaying several different kinds of freshly baked breads. The lady had a small oven that was hooked up to a generator and she was busy baking more tiny little loaves for her table.
The group split up and wandered around the tables looking for what they wanted.
“Aren’t they cute?” Maria admired the petite loaves. “What kind is the best?”
“Put your hand on them. The warmest ones are the freshest,” Connor explained.
The miniature loaves were nicely wrapped in plastic and tied up inside clear, plastic baggies. Maria and the gang began touching the loaves to see which ones were the warmest.
“Ya know, I uh, stumbled across an email to Gary from someone with the initials A.A.,” Maria whispered as she stood near Connor.
With raised eyebrow and a scolding eye he replied, “I’m not even gonna ask how you access someone else’s email. But you oughta quit do ‘in it.” Connor moved off to the other side of the table.
Maria followed. “It wasn’t hard to figure out his password. It’s just the name of his horse.”
“That is sooooo not legal.” He picked up the loaf of bread he wanted to buy and moved to another table.
Maria followed him again. This time Andy was on her tail. “Did you tell him about the email?”
“I’m trying, but he won’t hold still long enough for me to finish,” Maria whispered.
Andy moved to Connor’s side. “Who do you suppose A.A. is?”
“Sir Adams the Annoying, who else. His father’s name is Arnold.”
“The emails were about missing land deeds.” Andy found the loaf he wanted and followed Connor to the pay table. “What do you think?”
“I think they aren’t my land deeds. It’s got nothing to do with me.” He paid the lady for his bread and smile politely at her. “Thank you.”
“He had a prank done at your apartment,” Andy pushed in a hushed voice. “That’s got to do with you.” He handed the lady his money for his bread and thanked her for his change.
“Dad says because we cleaned it up without reporting it, we can’t prove it happened,” he returned, angry with himself for handling the prank that way. “What does it have to do with land deeds, anyway?” He passed Andy a sharp look. “Nothing, absolutely nothing.” He quickly changed his angry expression when he spotted Daisy coming to the pay table. “Hey babe, you ready?”
“Yea.” She took his arm and smiled.
Comforted by her closeness, he kissed her cheek, whispering, “I’m glad you’re here,” in her ear.
Andy bumped him as he and Maria walked by. “Quit kiss ‘in your girl, man, let’s go.”
The flame of annoyance rose in Connor’s eye once more. “Maybe if you kissed your girl a little more often she wouldn’t feel the need to cross lines!” He hollered after his buddy.
Andy kissed Maria, took a bite of his bread and kept on walking. “I can do all three at the same time, man. You gotta learn to multi-task.”
“I am so not doing that!” Connor hollered back.
“What’s that about? Did Maria cross the finish line before Andy?” Daisy looked up at him wondering where the angry, line-crossing jab came from.
“Yea, I mean no, I mean, aaah… let’s drop it for now.” He squeezed her tightly to his side and gave her another kiss. He paused to look in her eyes and sighed. “I am, really glad you’re here. Let’s just scratch out everything else.”
“Kay,” she snapped her fingers, “Poof, it’s all gone.”
He chuckled at her lighthearted response. “Thanks, babe.” They walked off to find the group and watch poor Jeremiah and Jason get sick in the hot dog eating contest.
Jeremiah won the contest, just like last year. Afterwards, he lay moaning in the grass next to the gang while everyone laughed at him. Jeremiah threw handfuls of grass at them. “Stop laughing, man! You didn’t eat as much as I did!”
“Who can eat as much as you? You’re a vacuum cleaner!” Jason laughed.
“I think you’re ‘eating contest’ days are coming to an end.” Andy chuckled. “You need to pass that baton on to someone younger and emptier than yourself, man.”
“Maybe, but sometimes I make a lot of money at it. Like that night at the pizza place. I made a ton of money for eating all those hot peppers,” Jeremiah reminded the group.
“Yea, but we were farting fire for days after that!” Jason threw in with more laughter.
“Shut up Jason! That was you in wood shop, not me!” Jeremiah defended himself.
“That was Jason in wood shop?” Mark hollered out.
“Yea it was!” Jeremiah pointed at Jason laughing. “It was him! It was him!”
Jason laughed hilariously. “I think I might have a little something coming up for all of you now too, compliments from the 15 hot dogs I just ate!” Jason then released a gigantic earth shattering fart!
Everyone rolled in the grass laughing at the rip-roaring sound Jason made.
“My goodness Jason, you sound like a fog horn, man!” Andy hollered out.
Everybody laughed until they ran out of air.
When they regained composure they wandered off to the basketball courts to see if the games were still going on. The competitions were over by the time they got there so they moved on to the pie competitions.
Grandma Rose and several other ladies had their pies all lined up in neat rows on numerous large tables. The judges had been handpicked by the community council leaders. These judges had to be people who did not know any of the contestants at all. It was hard to find someone who did not know Rose. She was a very social lady, she traveled often, she knew everybody, everywhere. There were five judges, three of which had to be flown in from other states especially for this event because they did not know Rose.
Daisy, Connor and the gang came to stand next to Rose as the judges began the tasting. Rose was so nervous she reached out to hold Connor’s free hand.
“It’s going to be fine, Grandma,” Connor tried to comfort her. “No matter what they say, I know you make the best pie in the whole world.”
“Thank you, I know you have a real appreciation for good food. You would know if a pie was good or not.” She leaned her head against his shoulder. The stress of watching the tasters was almost too much for her to bear.
Connor just stood there, holding both his favorite ladies, hoping that Rose would win something.
The tasters finished their tasting and began comparing their choices with each other. The categories were apple pie, cherry pie, sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate pie and banana cream pie. The winners were announced dramatically and slowly, which Connor thought was just plain mean. He mumbled his dislike of the way they were handling the winners to Daisy, “They shouldn’t drag it out like this. These ladies have been up all night making these stupid pies. They should just announce the winners quickly and get it over with.”
At the end of the whole ordeal, Rose won two, first place ribbons. One for apple and one for her banana cream pie. She had made pies for every category. She was bound to win something.
Connor turned triumphantly to Grandma Rose “Look-a-there, Grandma! Two blue ribbons, that’s pretty good!” He gave her a hug.
She beamed with pure joy at her success. “Thank you, thank you! You and your friends can pick whichever of my pies you like and go eat it somewhere!”
Connor turned to his buddies and shared Grandma Rose’s offer. “Now the important question is…. which flavor do we want?”
“Which is the best?”
“Her banana cream pie is the best by a long shot.”
Everyone agreed and Connor grabbed one off the table. Rose gave them paper plates and plastic utensils and the gang walked off to find a spot to enjoy the pie quietly together. Of course, Jason and Jeremiah politely declined their piece of pie.
Connor laughed at his sick buddies. “Not to worry, I can eat yours.”
Later in the afternoon, they watched Willie do his bike tricks. They were very impressed with his skills. They had never seen him do tricks before. Andy, Connor and Mark made him promise to teach them some of his tricks at a later date.
As it approached evening, the electric lights flashed on. “Well, that’s it for me, man. I’m in desperate need of a shower.”
“Yea me too, later man. Each couple said good night and wandered off in the direction of their vehicle.
When Jeremiah got to his car he turned on Jason and commanded, “This vehicle is my sweetheart. There is absolutely no fart ’in in this baby, ya got it?”
“Keep your window down, your precious baby will survive.” Jason laughed as he climbed in.
“Daisy girl, I’m glad I’m taking you home and not Jason.” Connor chuckled as he started the engine.