Friday, August 08, 2008

Tractor Pull and Opening Ceremonies

Today we went to the Venango County Fair to see our friends who do 4H here. This is the fair where I showed my horse, way way back before the dawn of time when I was a kid in 4H here in rural PA. Today we saw the 4H dog show, the West Texas Rattlesnake Show, a magic show, and the Pedal Tractor Pull. The dog show was amusing, the snake show interested Benny, the magic show delighted Sadie, and the Pedal Tractor Pull was like nothing I've ever seen.

I will tell you right now that I forgot all cameras and did not document this at all. I could be making it up. You will never know.

Interspersed throughout the more serious and competitive fair events are "Barnyard Olympics" events which include pie-eating, skillet-throwing, milk-drinking, and other contests. The pedal tractor pull is one such event, in which children attempt to pull weighted sledges across an arena strewn with sawdust, dirt, and the detritus of a week of animal showing, using a toy pedal tractor. If you google-image-search "pedal tractor pull" you will see pictures of children pulling weights across pavement, tile, cement, even boards laid across the ground. Not in Venango County. Here you pedal over bump and lumps, pig leavings and cow footprints, and you make the best of it. While other pedal tractor pulls involve liability waivers, rules, and registration, the Venango County one involves only telling them you want to pull, getting your name on hand-written list before the thing starts, and then pedalling like a maniac. There is one rule: If your feet touch the ground, you're out.

So. First up are the three year olds. None of them manage to move the sledge at all. Next, the four year olds completely fail to move the sledge, including Sadie, who was the only child in any age division to do the pull in a frilly dress. How I wish I had a picture. Curse this messy mind! The five year olds couldn't move the sledge. The six year olds tried valiantly -- they really tried and a few of them moved it a few feet. A strategy began to emerge -- it wasn't about pedalling hard but pedalling and then scooting, pedalling, scooting, pedalling, scooting, etc. Scooting was critical. I don't mean scooting with your feet on the floor, because that's against the rules, but scooting where you're not braced against anything, but you're just scootching, scooting, hootching it along by throwing your weight forward. And willing it to go.

So I said to Benny, Son, you've got to scoot that tractor along. If you can't pedal, then scoot.

When it was time for the eight year olds, several kids managed to move it several feet along. Benny, during all this time, was alternating between "warming up" by running around wildly all over the place, and trying to MC the show by shouting at the audience things like, "He's done it! Let's give that kid a great big round of applause!" about random contestants. I was beginning to think that between his hysterical behavior and his unfamiliarity with the whole tractor situation, we'd be lucky if he managed to move it at all.

Finally the first true contender stomped into the arena. We'll call her Susie. Now, I'm not going to sit here and speak ill of a child, but this girl had not missed any breakfasts, if you catch me. I'm sure she was solid muscle, spending her mornings wrestling steers and her evenings felling trees with her bare hands, but she had fifty pounds on Benny, easy. She got on that tractor and drove it like a mule train right down the course to the end of the measuring tape. The crowd went wild.

Then a couple more skinny kids mounted up and attempted to move the thing, to no avail. Faces were made, arteries were popped, howls were howled but the sledge was too heavy.

Then another child of ponderous size, apparently a cousin or sparring partner of Susie, took his seat. He rode valiantly, but only got the thing about two thirds of the way down before he stalled out. He seemed horrified at having been beaten by a girl, especially a girl of his immediate acquaintance, but really I think that under the circumstances it hardly counts, you know? The definition of girl being at this point inarguably broad.

Benny's turn. Ahno and I, sitting in the bleachers, prepared to cheer and then console. Because obviously, none of the scrawnier variety of child had scored well at all. He took his spot on the tractor, started to pedal, and LO AND BEHOLD, the thing started moving. AND MOVED QUITE FAR.

Oh the straining at the pedals. Oh the frantic and almost seizure-like scooting. Oh the grim intensity in the face. I'm telling you, it cannot be described. Here was a skinny kid, a skinny CITY kid, no less, powering that pedal tractor along like the big beefy kids had done. We screamed ourselves hoarse. Ahno kept shouting, "Benny, you're DOING IT!" I think I might have ululated. It was an exciting time! As he got closer to the end of the course, everyone in the place was shouting him on. At one point, he looked at me across the arena, a bit desperately. I think he was getting tired. Between every massive push at the pedals he had to rock that thing forward -- an exercise of will and aerobic scooting. Then he put his feet down to push and it was all over.

At the end of the experience, when the kids were eating ice cream, fondling their "participant" ribbons, and all tired out, we reflected on the sight of Benny doing what I had felt sure was impossible. I was reminded that Benny is always surprising me. Whatever you expect, he is bound to do something completely different. While often frustrating and mystifying, Benny has a deep core of awesomeness that is undeniable. It comes out at the strangest times. Today was one of those times, when I look at my son and think, "Who is he?" But in a good way. It was very moving.

I watched the opening ceremonies tonight. The display was incredibly impressive. The technology, the originality of ideas, the art, were all so interesting. I loved the picture of the mountains and sea, and how it developed throughout the ceremony. I loved the globe with the people running around it. But the recurring sight of all of those human beings moving in perfect unison, so practiced, so precise, was both exquisitely beautiful and very hard to watch. Watching other opening and closing ceremonies, I have cried. Tonight, I was not feeling that way. It was almost scary to me, in a very base, primal place in my brain, to see the people behaving that way, the thousands of people. I get upset when I'm in a big crowd all clapping politely. That's the way I felt watching those dancers tonight. Alarmed by the sameness of them all. Maybe I will never see anything like that again -- so synchronous and planned and perfectly executed. I'm almost relieved. It's not something I want to see. The nervousness I felt started with the drumming at the beginning and went on through the parade of athletes past those cheerleaders, all in lines, moving together.

I don't know enough about China to say this, and maybe I'm completely wrong, but I don't think such a display would have been possible in the United States, and maybe that's not a bad thing.

1 comment:

  1. "Now, I'm not going to sit here and speak ill of a child, but this girl had not missed any breakfasts, if you catch me. I'm sure she was solid muscle, spending her mornings wrestling steers and her evenings felling trees with her bare hands, but she had fifty pounds on Benny, easy."

    Apparently no one told you that Honey Nut Cheerios were not meant to be aspirated! You crack me UP, lady. lol