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At the Acadiana District Livestock Show
In Lafayette, Louisiana.
There is something agreeable about entering a coliseum whose floor is made of dirt. Which is what happened to us in Lafayette, Louisiana on Saturday afternoon. On a lark, my girlfriend and I walked into Blackham Coliseum in Lafayette to see the Acadiana District Livestock Show. We didn’t know what we were going to find, but we knew it was going to be standing on four legs. We went through a gate and followed some people who were walking with purpose in one direction. They led us to the coliseum itself. Where we were met by quite a few cows.
You forget how big a cow can be. Much less a bull. But there they were, big and not just brown, but gray and variations in between. There were perhaps twenty or twenty-five of them, all tethered by ropes and guided by kids, some no older than seven or eight, it seemed. There were about six or seven of those kids in a ring in the middle of the coliseum leading their animals around as a judge in a vast cowboy hat examined them. More animals were waiting, with their young caretakers, outside the ring. The kids, incidentally, were mostly girls.
We walked further inside dodging cowpies and cows in the process of creating pies, to get a better view. This also allowed us to get closer to the animals, to see and feel the strength of their bodies and hear their foghorn lowing. None of the cows were skittish. They mostly stood there with their diminutive handlers. There was something reassuring and calming about standing next to, and being among, these large animals.
The young girls and boys handling the animals were absolutely, unwaveringly confident. And able. The girls, especially. They were dressed in immaculate jeans and shirt, with, in most cases, a ponytail. Some look as young as eight or nine, leading cows that must have been thirty or forty times their weight, and massive, standing next to them. Their parents probably took them into the barn when they were toddlers and started giving them responsibility for the animals just a short while later. Who knows, maybe they’re dying to get off the farm and head for the mall and think about boys and listen to music and spend hours with their girlfriends and never think of a cow again. But, here and now, they were so capable, so confident, and it was a joy to watch them. As a father, I wanted most to help create in my daughter self esteem and confidence. And here it was, right before our eyes. Confidence. It’s a beautiful thing to see in a young person. You think, basically, give or take the curves life will throw at them, they’ll be ok. Everybody deserves that.
It turns out, by the way, that this was the second day of the show. We missed the chickens, the sheep and the pigs, which were shown on Friday. I would like to have seen the pigs.
We saw one magnificent Brahman bull, a large animal with a camel-like hump on its back rising just behind its head. It had drooping, sheep-like ears and skin that hangs at places, like it had recently lost two hundred pounds. Yes, the hump is for storing water and food like the camel. The name Brahman was given to the animal because, in fact, the original breed was from India. None of this I knew at the time. I only knew it was a strange and wonderful creature to look at. It was controlled firmly and ably by a young girl, about 13 or 14, I would guess. My girlfriend approached her and consoled her about not winning the blue ribbon in her category.
“You should’ve won,” my girlfriend told her.
“We think so, too,” the girl replied, smiling, revealing a full chrome set of braces that is the hallmark of teenage girls everywhere. “It’s just one person’s opinion,” she said. Her parents were standing nearby.
Their farm is in Abbeville, Louisiana, about thirty miles south of Lafayette.
“Well, he’s beautiful,” my girlfriend said.
“Thank you,” the girl said, blushing slightly.
I was reluctant to leave the dirt floor and all the cows and the people attached to them. I was reluctant to leave a world of animals where everything, except the judging, was basic and certain and right. But the show was nearly over. People were leaving. So we did, too.