The towheaded 2-year-old grasped the white ping-pong ball between his tiny hands and focused on the small bowl with a fish in it.
He strained and he reached and he wondered how in the world he could throw that ball into the bowl. It seemed so far away.
Finally, he gave it a heave and it fell short but bounced on the ground, rose high in the air and landed in the bowl.
The family now had a fish to take home from the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo.
Feeling confident, he wanted to try again. Same heave, same result. Fell short, bounced into the bowl. Now the family had two fish to take home.
The boy’s dad, an aging athlete but still an all-star in his mind, kept the family lucky streak alive, adding a Boston Celtics basketball to the boy’s souvenir collection by pumping a couple of left-handed jump shots into the basketball hoop.
The life expectancy of most midway fish is short. Sometimes they expire before the car ride home ends. But I had a friend whose child won two fish and they grew so big the family had to relocate them to a neighbor’s koi pond.
You never know the end result of a game or two of chance. Unlike small fish, though, memories last forever.
As I walked the stock show midway, a roller coaster stroll through fun and fright where a child’s joy over winning a fish or a stuffed animal can suddenly turn to tears on a scary carnival ride that had looked like so much fun, I was reminded of the time my 6-year old daughter was about to ride the bumper cars when she was told she was not tall enough.
In tears, she turned to me and said, “Tell them you own the newspaper and to let me on.” I didn’t own the Star-Telegram, I explained, I just ran it.
“Well why do you have that badge?” she asked, pointing to the stock show badge on my lapel. It’s nice when your children believe you’re a hero.
If you are a horse enthusiast or a rodeo fan it’s easy to focus on the professional rodeo events at the Stock Show & Rodeo. But the annual spectacle at Fort Worth’s Will Rogers Memorial Center is much more than that.
It’s the sights and sounds of the midway – the neon lights, the games and rides, the food stands serving up everything that’s bad for you; it’s the fun-filled screams, and even the occasional tears.
Beyond all that, of course, there is the actual stock show. Walk through the barns filled to the rafters with cattle and sheep and goats and lambs and rabbits and you see the farm and ranch kids tending to their animals and sometimes napping on a bale of hay while they await their turn before the stock show judges.
The 2019 stock show features 12,000 junior exhibitors from 241 of the 254 counties in Texas. It’s in those barns that you find the true heart of the stock show – and a glimpse of the part of America that makes this country great.
A week or so ago, a woman from Wichita Falls phoned me to discuss a business proposal. She knew what time of year it was here in Fort Worth. Her family has been showing dairy cattle at the stock show for over 40 years and has won many blue ribbons.
“How’s the Fat Stock Show?” she asked.
The Fat Stock Show!
No kidding, it used to be called the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show. But the name became politically incorrect as the nation became more attuned to diet, nutrition and exercise. So, beginning in 1988, the Fat was gone. Well, the fat in the stock show’s name, anyway.
I loved the old name. Still do.
Trim the Fat if you must, but don’t miss the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo. It runs through Feb. 9, so go win a fish. Impress your kid with a swish. Walk the barns. Make some memories.
Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org