Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Memories of the Duchesne County Fair

Who remembers watching the horses come off the side of the mountain as they would sit back on their haunches and slide down?  Usually their rider would be out in front holding onto the reins, running and sliding just in front of the horse.  Eventually they would reach the bottom and drop out of sight momentarily…then in a mad rush horse and rider would come galloping through the river and into the rodeo arena.  As a young boy I knew of a few people who rode in the Crazy Horse Race year in and year out.  It seems most of the riders were younger guys who didn’t know better yet, but there were a few experienced riders that continued to race.

At the end of every summer I looked forward to the Duchesne County Fair.  Shortly after my family moved to Duchesne my dad was put to work fixing the old wood rodeo stands, repairing seats, gates, and fences.  I loved to spend time with him as he put up new lumber and painted it as the fair approached.  My dad, Reed Van Wagoner, would go on to serve on the Fair Board for several years and as Chairman for some of that time.  His service on the Fair Board and his work as a deputy sheriff allowed me to spend a significant amount of my time around the fair as it was set up, executed, and closed up.  I remember when the Blue Fair Building was brand new.

For a year or two I had plans to be a bareback rider in the Little Buckaroos rodeo.  I never made it, but one year, with a brand new set of school clothes on my body, I won the greased pig contest.  Both my dad and I got in trouble when I got home that night, but I did win a bag of Jolly Ranchers.

My dad was on the Fair Board the year the old rodeo arena was replaced.  I think he was Chairman of the Fair Board that year.  It was fun to go down every day or two to check on the progress, to watch the new chutes and announcer stands put together and to watch the huge light poles go up.  

That year Charly McClain put on a concert at the fair.  Sitting up front with my parents and family friends was a cool treat.  At one point in the concert Charly McClain asked for a ten year old boy to come up to the stage.  I happened to be 10 that year, the summer before I started sixth grade.  My dad shoved me a little and told me to get up there, but I hesitated, not sure if I wanted the attention and uncertain what would happen.  Suddenly one of my dad’s friends sort of grabbed me and threw me out in front of the stage.  Pretty soon one of the stage hands had me by the shoulder leading me up on stage where the beautiful Charly McClain took me by the hand.  I was thrilled and terrified at the same time.

She told the crowd that she was going to dedicate the next song to me.  Before she started she leaned over and whispered in my ear.  In the days and weeks afterward several people asked what she whispered to me.  I told most of them it was a secret.  But, here is what she said to that ten year old:

“The music is going to be really loud.  Don’t let it scare you.  Just smile and squeeze my hand.”

As they started the song I recognized it from the radio.  My mom always listened to KNEU 1250 AM at the house and car and I had heard this song more than once.  She started to sing the song “Men”.  Here are the lyrics and a link to the video.  Looking back, it may have been a little grown up for a ten year old, but I just kept thinking that a beautiful woman is holding my hand in front of my family, all of my friends, and everyone in my hometown.

Some men treat you just like a lady
Others treat you just like a child
And they can drive you so far away
Or they can drive you wild

Some you wanna show to your mama
And some you wouldn’t show to your dad
Some wanna take you straight to the altar
And some just wanna take you to bed

Women, I’m here to tell you about ‘em
Men, we couldn’t make it without ‘em
I’ve loved a few and I’ve a few that need a friend
There’s nothin’ better than men to hold
There’s nothin’ better than men

Some men are as cold as December
Some are ‘bout as hot as July
Sometimes they fill your life with happiness
Sometimes they make you cry

Women, I’m here to tell you about ‘em
Men, we couldn’t make without ‘em
I’ve loved a few and I’ve found a few that need a friend
There’s nothin’ better than men to hold
There’s nothin’ better than men

As she finished singing the song she turned to me and leaned over to give me a kiss.  In shock I turned my face away…I think I remember hearing a few gasps in the crowd.  Then, I came to my senses and turned back.  She kissed me on the cheek leaving a beautiful mark from her dark red lipstick.  The crowd roared and my knees felt weak. 

As I left the stage, I was given an autographed picture and a Charly McClain hat.  I took that hat to school every day for the first month of school.  I remember when Mr. Lowell Caldwell, our principal, came to my desk.  He saw the hat and asked: “What was better? The hat or the kiss?”  It wasn’t even close between the two.  (I was jealous later when I found out that my mother had lunch with Charly McClain and her husband Wayne Massey at the El Cid.)

Other concerts followed through the years—Pam Tillis, Earl Thomas Connelly (who was very drunk during his concert), and others, but none were as good as the Charly McClain concert.

I loved watching the rodeos from the announcer’s stand where I could watch the cowboys with their gear preparing to ride the rough stock.  I loved watching the demolition derbies and the horse pulls.  I loved listening to the corny clown jokes.  I loved walking through the displays in the Blue Fair Building.

Two summers ago I took my family back into town and we spent some time at the fair and the rodeo.  My kids loved the parade down Main Street, even with the rain.  They loved the food from the vendors outside the rodeo grounds.  Growing up my mom always warned me not to buy food from a certain food vendor.  As we asked one of my friends for a recommendation she shared several, and then, more than 20 years later, she gave me the same advice regarding the same food vendor—“Don’t buy food from there.”

As I’ve lived all over the United States and traveled abroad, I’ve come to realize how truly special it was to grow up in a place like Duchesne.  The Duchesne County Fair was and is an amazing opportunity for family, friends, and neighbors to come together every year and celebrate the community and way of life.