But the piece that we have come to be most proud of was the meat cleaver. For generations, the Elders have worked the meat stand at the Fancy Farm Picnic. It’s our job. We know it. We know how to do it. Every year, Picnic week, the men go out to Fancy Farm and clean out the building that will turn into the meat stand. Several years ago the Picnic committee concreted the floor. Before that, the stand was just dirt. Every year our nephews, now, make the tables where we bone and chop the BBQ pork and mutton that we sell by the pound. But before them their fathers did that work and their fathers before them. Every year we round up the aprons and the knives and the fly spray and have it all ready for when we get out to the Picnic. We collect the aprons over the years and we collect the knives over the years. Some of the aprons mean something, like Danny’s Kroger apron.
We hang that one up. No one wears that. But other than that if you want to wear a special apron you had better bring it from home. It’s pretty funny to see a big burley man with a meat cleaver in his hand wearing an apron that says something sissy. But, the knives. Most of the knives have been around for generations. If you get a good one that makes it easy to dig into a pork shoulder and get those bones out of there then you need to hang onto that all day long. Or if you’re chopping meat you want to make sure you get hold of a cleaver that won’t slip and has a good fit to it. Nothing’s worse than to develop a blister while you’re chopping meat.
You know how you get really excited that Christmas is coming? Or maybe you get really excited the night before you go on vacation. It's all about the anticipation, right? Well, it's no different in Fancy Farm as we prepare to spend the weekend with 10,000 of our closest friends and relatives. We can't wait.
The St. Jerome Fancy Farm Picnic weekend starts bright and early tomorrow morning at 7AM. For those of you who don't live here or haven't made it to town yet, you're missing one of the best events of the whole weekend. At 7AM we come together, like the small town of Whoville, to give thanks, to praise, and to pray for the weekend that is upon us. We go to Mass. The Mass is held at the Bingo stand where a little more than 24 hours later people will come from all over the country, and some from all over the world, to try their luck at winning something, anything, at Bingo. And I'm sure sometime during the time that Bingo is played, from 10AM to 10PM there will be someone praying that they win that wagon or that new bike or those St. Louis Cardinals tickets.
We come together to do what we do as a community throughout the year and then some. Because we will begin the weekend with Mass, and then we have work to do. Of course, we will attempt to “buy off” Fr. Darrell's prayers straight to heaven that the rain or the humidity or the heat will hold off just for the time when we expect over 10,000 people to visit our humble village and spend a whole lot of money.
After Mass, we visit for a minute or two and then we are down the hill, down to the BBQ pits, where the semi truck full of sides of mutton and pork shoulders waits in anticipation for another tradition, the Blessing of the Meat. A lot of people say that the Picnic wouldn't be the same without the politicians but there are those out there who believe that the Picnic wouldn't be the Picnic without the 9500 pounds of pork and 9500 pounds of mutton. So we take the time to bless the meat and our efforts in getting it ready for all of those visitors. And if we have a good year we may be lucky enough to have served up all of that BBQ by the time dinner is finished being served at 7PM.
And then we go to work. The Carrico and Hobbs families have all of that meat to put on the pits. Everyone has to make sure that their booths are ready for the next day. Finishing touches will be put on the meat stand by the Elder family. The hamburger stand is ready in anticipation of the crowd that will hit the Picnic grounds on Friday night and Saturday morning. The Knights of Columbus have to get ready for the huge fish dinner they will serve on Friday night. And just because someone is not out on the Picnic grounds doesn't mean they're not getting things ready. There are pies to be baked and last minute dishes being readied for the dinner served beginning at 11AM Saturday morning.
But a lot of things are being done in anticipation of family coming to town. Earlier in the week families have travelled to Nashville to pick family members up at the airport. We don't know exactly when those who are driving will be in town, maybe it will be before the One Mile Classic but for sure before the 5K takes off. They are just as excited to get to town. Coming to town Picnic weekend is like coming home for Christmas. Cousins will be able to see each other. Classmates who haven't been home in a year will catch up with each other. Brothers and sisters who live as far away as New York or California make sure they are home for Picnic, as they have done for the last 30, 40 or 50 years. Friday is a time to catch up, make over each other and sit down and play cards to prove that you can still beat them in Pitch/Sell. But everyone knows they can't stay up too late because they have an early day in the morning.
And then it comes. At our house we hear the first car go up the road between 5:30 and 6AM. That's our cue to hop out of bed and get going. It would be nice if everyone had that ingrained alarm clock. But we have to bone out BBQ pork and mutton and there will be a line waiting when we get out there at 6AM. Those people in line know that the BBQ doesn't go on sale until 8AM. That doesn't matter. They want to be the first in line. If we started selling the BBQ at 6AM they would be in line at 4. It must be something about the excitement of getting meat right off the pit, the first meat. They want it good and hot. Most of them go home and have a sandwich for breakfast.
And that's what we do. We bone meat, chop meat, package meat and sell it until it's all gone. A good year for us is selling out about mid-afternoon. That's a bad year for those who wait to buy their BBQ. They miss out. Of course, we don't want everyone there first thing. But the BBQ keeps coming hot off the pit until it's all sold out so getting it at 8AM or 11AM isn't much difference, unless you believe otherwise.
The Picnic officially starts at 10AM. There will be those sitting up at the Bingo stand ready to start playing the minute the clock strikes 10. The funny thing is that there are some who never get up until the clock strikes 10, on the other side. I don't think I could sit that long. But they do, and I have, to some extent because I was bound and determined to win a cooler or a bicycle for a prize.
Dinner starts at 11. I cannot even fathom working in the kitchen or the dining room with the endless line of hungry people whose mouths start watering the minute they get out of their car because they can smell that BBQ all over town. And the thing about dinner is that it is “all you can eat”. I am here to tell you that you can eat quite a bit but when you consider the BBQ, the fried chicken, the corn (oh, the corn), the potato salad, the fresh sliced tomatoes, the beans (green, lima or black eyed peas), the slaw, the cucumbers and onions, you can't get it all on your plate. And once you have done that then there are the home made desserts. If anyone leaves the dining room hungry it's their own fault.
Don't forget to stop by the Country Store while you're up at the KC Hall. For a solid year the crafty people of Fancy Farm have been making items to sell in the Country Store. There are things for sale in there that you didn't even know that you needed. And if you've got a sweet tooth, and you get there early, there are some home-made bake sale items. If you haven't canned your pickles or jams for the year you can buy some of those too. And even if you choose not to buy one of the beautiful quilts that the ladies of Fancy Farm have made, you have got to go by there and take a look at the craftsmanship of those quilts. If you consider the number of hours and the material in those works of art you will realize that you can walk away with one of the best bargains around. They are a joy to behold. You can buy a chance on one that is raffled and if you're lucky enough they may call your name out at the end of the night to take it home with you.
Once back down on the Picnic grounds walk around and spend some money on the booths. The kids save their money to spend on Picnic day. If they're lucky they have an aunt or an uncle who give them money to spend. Most kids were raised around here to work a little extra around the farm or for a neighbor just to make sure they had Picnic money. There are all kinds of games and a great souvenir stand. It's always fun to see what the hot item at the toy booth is. The kids will be running around with their treasures and won't leave their parents alone for one minute until they have the hot item. Oh, and make sure you play the cane stand. Those canes are so popular with young and old alike. In fact, I think it's one of the only places that you can get a cane like that. I have spent many a dollar for one of my kids to win one and have to take it away from them 5 minutes later because they use them like swords and get into sword fights with their friends or cousins. The do come in handy though throughout the year in digging lost socks from behind the dryer. But there's a duck pond, a ping pong game, putt-putt, a bean toss. It's always fun to see if this is a year that they have the dish pitch. You throw a dime into a dish and if you get it in there you get to take that dish home. I always love it when I get all of this mis-matched dishware and the kids throw a fit if I don't want to use it.
And then there is the greatest anticipation of all, the political speaking. People watch the first Saturday of August for the entire year in anticipation of who are the serious candidates, what do they have to say, how will the crowd respond, and who's going to mess up. People come from all corners of the country, and sometimes the world for this part of the event. Many of those people don't have a clue that this is just a church picnic. Some of those people are sure that it's a political picnic. Some of those people just know that the event is held on a farm. They don't have a clue that they can have one of the best dinners they'll ever eat. All they know is that their politician, the one that they want to see win, will be there and needs their support. Some of these people travel in chartered busses. They get there in time for the speeches and usually leave not long afterwards. And I'm sure some of those people are so eaten up with politics that they don't see the picnic for what it is. But then there are some who travel down to one of the furthest corners in western Kentucky, year after year. They come to get a BBQ mutton sandwich, to play a little Bingo, to see if they can hob-knob with their favorite politician, and then to experience American politics at its best. Those are the people who get a seat early and make sure that every politician gets a piece of their mind. They are not shy about their opinion of what candidates from either party are saying. They want to make sure they are heard. And that, my friend, is what makes the Picnic at Fancy Farm so unique.
I tell people all the time that our Picnic just started as a get together. Most of the residents of Fancy Farm made their living as farmers. This time of the year was when they had all of their crops in the fields but hadn't started harvesting yet. They had some down time. So the members of St. Jerome Catholic Church had a potluck dinner. It was a time to relax and enjoy each others company. Then it turned into a homecoming of sorts. There came a time when children moved off to get a job in the big city. So once a year they would come home. The Picnic was a good time to do that because their brothers and sisters would be home or their cousins or classmates would come to town. Well, back then, when you had a get together like this, with a little bit of a crowd, the politicians would come too. They looked for opportunities to meet people and a little crowd would do it. But in 1880 was the first time that the public was invited out to Fancy Farm to join in with dinner and fellowship and some “gander pulling”.
I'd love to say that the Picnic grew and grew and grew. And it did. But I'd say it really started to build in the 1930's and 1940's. That's when Happy Chandler and Alben Barkley and others made sure they came to Fancy Farm right before the Kentucky primary. Happy Chandler was the one who made it known that if you wanted to win a state-wide office you had to come to Fancy Farm. Today there are some who discount that. That's fine. There are still many more who believe that it's a political necessity. And when the politicians come, the media comes. When the media comes the crowd comes. The bigger the crowd the more politicians. It's a never-ending cycle. Which is good. It was probably back in the 1980's, when the Picnic celebrated its 100th anniversary that we began to see the size crowds that we have today. And that is very good.
After the political speaking a lot of the crowd will disperse. Some of those people have a long ride ahead of them. The next wave of the crowd will come in. These are people from neighboring communities who come to have dinner, play a little Bingo and catch up with their friends. They might head back over to the Speaker's stand when the band starts playing and listen to them for awhile. This is when things begin to wind down. Of course, this is also the time when all of the workers are pretty worn out and really hot and ready for a break. Fortunately, this is also the time that a new crew of workers come in to take over the night time duties.
But then the Picnic does start to wind down. The anticipation of the raffle is huge. Every year a new vehicle is raffled off. For $5 you can win a brand new Jeep. Every young man and young woman is waiting with baited breath to see if it's their name that will be pulled out. Once the name is drawn there is great excitement and great rejection for those who didn't win. Sometimes the winner is there but most of the time the person needs to be called. Sometimes the crowd hangs around to wait on the winner to come and pick up the vehicle but most of the time the crowd leaves before that happens.
When we all get home and lay in bed, there is the anticipation of what happens on Sunday. We get out to the grounds early, clean up all of the trash and put everything back to normal. And once that is all done we end the weekend the way we started, with Mass.
We can't wait!
We were driving into town to go to a little league baseball game. That’s one of the things that we do in late spring and early summer. It doesn’t matter if you know someone playing or not. It’s something to do. And we’re not the only ones. There are people out there, all over out there, watching those kids play.
The kids play at all ages. They start at 3 or 4 years old, playing t-ball. They are so much fun to watch. But they are nothing compared to their parents. The parents of a t-ball parent are the funniest thing to watch, period. They try everything in their power to urge their child to pay attention, to run after the ball, to not run after the ball, to throw the ball, to hold the ball. You can tell that they are dying to play for their child. You can also tell the ones who grew up playing ball. They’re helping to coach and they are out there on the field with their child.
I mentioned to another parent that when I was growing up, playing ball, they sold beer at the ballpark. Sometimes I think these parents would do well with a beer and just enjoy the game, instead of trying to make their child into the next Babe Ruth.
But the ballpark is a huge draw in the spring in small town America. There’s usually a game every night and some nights those games go on way past the little kids’ bedtime. So, the little kids play first and then the older kids get the later games. So if you want a night of entertainment all you have to do is get out there after work and you can stay until it’s past your bedtime.
Most of the ballparks in the area have a concession stand. You will hear applause or moans from the parents, depending on how good the concession stand is. The kids don’t care. As long as they can have a gatorade or water during the game and a bag of popcorn and a Sundrop after the game, they don’t care. They are truly in heaven if they get to get a ring pop. It’s the parents who are looking for the best concession stand food. They don’t want to go to that ballpark, they don’t grill. They don’t want to go to that one, they don’t have jalapenos for their nachos. They don’t want to go to that one at all, they don’t have anything. But when all the forces come together, they don’t mind going to that ballpark at all. Nothing is better than a grilled burger with a Sundrop and popcorn afterwards.
When you get to the ballpark the first thing is to find out where the team is that you’re going to cheer for. Then you have to find out who you’re going to sit by. Then you go to the concession stand and get that taken care of. Then you get ready for the game.
I’ve never been a nice spectator in little league sports. My children have had to endure me. My older children played soccer, not baseball. But I can remember my son, dribbling the ball up the soccer field, me cheering him on, him turning towards me as he went by screaming “shut up, Mom!” I have had to learn to shut up. But in little league baseball, back when my brother played, and my father and I were routinely thrown out of the ballpark, my passion still runs high. Yes, I was thrown out of a number of games. That was because we sat behind homeplate and called every ball. We were fine as long as the umpire called the pitches the way we did. But if he didn’t we had a tendency to get billigerent. It was all in good fun but most of the umpires didn’t see it that way. Well, anyway, that’s one of my favorite stories about my dad.
After a year or two of that I was asked to become an umpire. I never hollered at an umpire again.
Well, not until an umpire called strike upon strike at my kid who obviously had a better eye than the umpire did. I was fine if some other kid got called out. But I knew what it would do to my kid. So I became a little vocal. Now, my husband has figured this out about me. He has come up with a wonderful diversion for me. He sits me with someone who is not that into the game so that I can sit and gossip. Or he has me stand with him behind the bleachers so I can’t see the game very well and really don’t pay attention until my kid comes up to bat. My kid has learned to hit so if he’s struck out it’s usually because he swings at the ball coming at him. You can’t argue with that kind of strikeout.
I will tell you that I’m not the only one like that. I may be the most vocal but I’m not the worst parent out there. But those parents usually have younger kids. By the time the kids get older the parents are worn out with the game and are there to support their kids and to socialize. And for the concession stand.
I am fortunate to live in a community that is full of history. Everywhere you look you can put your hands on things that are 200 years old or more. There are many places where we know our great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents lived or farmed. History is everywhere we look.
And our community is more than fortunate to have many people who I would consider to be living history. We are fortunate in many families to have four and five generations who get together on a regular basis. Some of the great-grandparents are still very active and “still have their mind”.
I'm not one of those families. I wish I was. But what I do have is the curiosity so that I can “adopt” some of these great-grandparents and listen to their stories. Or I get to listen to their kids and grandkids to hear their stories. Because they have stories.
We lost one of those living historians this week. He wasn't one to boast about his stories but if you got him talking he would tell you stories throughout his life. I was usually on the outskirts of those conversations but I always enjoyed listening to what he had to say. He was a quiet man, always pleasant, and always spoke to you if he knew you. He had a habit of sitting on his front porch, having a smoke, and talking with anyone who came by. There weren't a lot who did but those that did he would appreciate being able to just sit and visit.
I became aware of some of his historical stories a couple of years ago. It was around picnic time and there was a camera crew coming in, wanting to get a story on the essence of the picnic. They wanted to know about the politics but more about the history of the politics than anything else. They filmed all around the picnic grounds, talking to everyone who had anything to do with the picnic. They talked with the guys who barbeque the meat. They talked with the organizers of the picnic. They even talked with a couple of politicians. But they wanted more. They wanted to talk with someone who knew more. Jimmy suggested talking with Connie Elliott. He said that Connie knew more about the history of the picnic than anyone else. He had been the political chairman of the picnic for years. He didn't make a big deal about it but he had probably forgotten more about the picnic than most people had ever known. The film crew was thrilled.
I didn't go with them to film what he had to say. I had other stuff to do. But I remember when they came back. They talked for a long time how this was the reason they did what they did. They loved hearing the stories from 50 and 60 years ago; stories that so many people had taken for granted that they had all but been forgotten. I can remember being mad that I hadn't gone to listen. I always liked listening to his stories.
When the piece came out I was amazed. I couldn't believe just the little bit that they talked about but how he had remembered the story as if it had happened a year or two before. I'm not sure if this story had made the piece or if the film crew had told me about it. Years ago, when George Wallace was running for President, after he had survived an assassination attempt, he spoke at the Fancy Farm Picnic. Everyone will tell you the story that it was misting that day and there was a photographer who was in the front of the crowd taking pictures. This was back when flash bulbs used to “pop” when they got wet. The flash bulb went off once and Wallace told the crowd that he was a little “gun shy”. After it happened a third time the police removed the photographer. It was either that or Wallace was going to leave the podium. Everyone will tell you that story.
But the story that Connie tells was so much better. He told about George Wallace staying at his house overnight. And this is just like Connie. Wallace spent the night on his couch. And Connie didn't get any sleep because the Secret Service agents spent the night walking around outside of the house. They kept waking Connie up. I mean, can you imagine, having a Presidential candidate stay at your house? And sleeping on the couch? And fussing because the Secret Service kept you up? But I'm sure he fed him a big breakfast in the morning and thanked him for coming. That's just the way he was.
The film crew told how they could have spent the entire day listening to him. They could have done the entire story on him. And they said how nice and kind and accomodating he was.
That doesn't surprise me either. It seems that the people of Fancy Farm are very nice and kind and accomodating; most of the time more than they need to be. We love visitors to our area. We love telling them all about our community. We may not want them to stay but we want them to tell people about their time here and invite them to come back.
Connie's not the only one in the area who has a story to tell. There are so many. And so many stories that need to be told. I wish I could sit down with everyone in town and hear their story and write about it. Maybe one day I will. But I think each family has somebody who can listen to the stories and remember them, and maybe sit down and write them down, even if they are just for their family members. There are so many stories worth telling, worth listening to. I hope we don't let one of them be forgotten.
I was out shopping one day, minding my own business, when this woman I know came up to me and called me a dirty name. She immediately started laughing. Now, I didn't take offense to this; personally I took it as a compliment. I know others who would have taken offense. But I didn't. But I wasn't going to call her one in return. I had a better compliment for her. I called her a heifer.
She immediately started laughing again. She told me that she didn't take offense to it because her daughters-in-law call her that all the time. I told her that if she was going to take that as an insult she needed to learn a few things about cows.
I was raised in the city. I can remember my dad calling me “Tubby”. My sister found me this little Precious Moments pig named “Tubby”. She bought it for me. She thought it was so funny. I didn't mind being called Tubby. I sort of had an issue with being compared to a pig. But the little statue was cute. And it reminded me of my dad. So I liked it a lot.
But I didn't know a thing about cows. I didn't know anything about heifers. I did know that calling someone a heifer was an insult. But then I moved to a dairy farm.
I will tell you that being called a heifer is not an insult. A heifer is a young cow who has had one calf. When the heifer has had her second calf then she turns into a cow. So, being called a heifer is really a compliment. I came to realize that anyone who wanted to call me a heifer was doing me a favor. Because when I moved to the farm I had already had two kids. When I had my youngest daughter I made up my mind that I was going to start over as a heifer. I knew I couldn't but I liked that idea. Because if I didn't remain a heifer I was going to be the aged cow.
Jimmy showed cows. They started showing calves when they were 3 months old; Junior calves. They go up to the Aged Cow. The Aged Cow is 5 years old and up. This is a cow who has had 4 calves or more. When I married Jimmy he showed an Aged Cow. She was 6 years old. She put out good calves and gave good milk. The big deal was her udder. She had a great looking udder.
One of the problems an aged cow will have is getting an infection and developing mastitis. A lot of times a farmer will sell a cow that has mastitis or has an issue with calving or something like that. With 3 out of 4 of my pregnancies I had problems in carrying my babies and birthing those babies. Jimmy would have sold me off a long time before I became an aged cow.
I made sure my friend knew that being called a heifer was a compliment. She should take it as such.
Yep, I just came home from fish fry Friday. You’re jealous, right? You should be.
I was raised eating fish. As a Catholic, growing up in the 1960’s, you had to eat fish every Friday. Most of the time we ate tuna. We had tuna salad, tuna casserole, sometimes we had salmon patties. Those were always good. Every time we got together at a church picnic or fish fry we ate fish sandwiches. On rye bread. Oh, they were so good. They were a whole lot better than the tuna salad or the tuna casserole or even the salmon patties. Of course, my mother didn’t cook them so of course they were so much better than anything she ever thought of cooking. Of course, we didn’t eat fried foods at home. We were told it was because my dad was diabetic and couldn’t have it but I think it’s because my mother had no clue how to fry anything except an egg in bacon grease.