The kids are climbing into our van for school drop off amidst the Southern lie of a cool 70-degree morning in early September.
“By noon they’ll be sweatin’ through their blue jeans,” I think to myself as I slide into the driver’s seat.
We wait all summer for school to start, only to realize that the heat of summer will linger as long as it wants. Arkansas’s summers are almost as stubborn as her people.
Whether it’s weather or a state of mind, we know that fall doesn’t start with back to school. It hardly starts with football season or Labor Day weekend.
Here in Arkansas, fall begins with the county fair.
We’re smack dab in the middle of county fair season, and communities all over the state are coming together in celebration of their own.
Outsiders might think it’s as simple as ferris wheels and funnel cakes. They would be wrong. Our local county fairs in Arkansas are treasures of the communities they serve.
Livestock exhibits feature our youth, the county’s pride and joy. Kids have worked hard to raise and train their animals in hopes of taking home a ribbon to display in their bedrooms. They’ve waited months for this moment in the spotlight as their family, coaches, teachers, and trainers watch in wonder at their hard-earned accomplishment. Not every kid gets a ribbon, but everyone gets a lesson in responsibility and commitment.
We gather for the rodeo, standing together as our American flag is carried on the most gorgeous Quarter horse in the county, decked out in a sequined saddle blanket, bridle, and headstall to match their rider’s outfit. Together we bow our heads to ask for protection over participants before the announcer’s voice grows excited for the first event.
One by one, our neighbors show off their hard work. Team roping and barrel racing are impressive competitions in our county fairs. The bleachers are filled with rows of fans and friends ready to cheer for our people, no matter the outcome of their run.
Mamas hold their breath as bulls buck their boys into soft arena dirt. This is where cowboys learn courage and mamas learn to let them grow up.
With our shared values of hard work and dedication, everyone’s a winner with a county fair Arkansas audience.
The summer can linger as long as it wants — nothing can stop our fall tradition. We’re showing up for our people, and that’s as Arkansan as it gets.