When I was in sixth grade, I went on a school trip to the California State Fair.
I’ve not been to another state’s fair, so I can’t really compare if the California is better or worse. I imagine it’s pretty typical, with the food and the livestock and the variations of the comment, “Yep, that’s a big sumbitch right there.” I think there were rides, but I don’t remember going on any. I remember milking a goat, though. I got a certificate. I have no idea what happened to it–some farm animal probably ate it. I have that type of luck. I’m not kidding. One time, a deer ate a hole in my shirt at the petting zoo. It’s my curse.
We had a worksheet to fill out, which was basically a list of places the teacher wanted us to go and see. We wrote down facts to prove we actually went. The only thing on the list I remembered was having to go see the state’s fattest pig. The reason I remember it is because we didn’t go. We got caught up with something else, instead.
I should add that my father chaperoned my group for this particular trip. My parents often chaperoned. My mother took on things like museums, while my father did the more outdoorsy or “weird” stuff.
There was one time where the class was short a chaperone for a trip to the planetarium, so my father stepped in, meaning both of my parents were on the trip. I was fine with this, initially, because my dad was (and I imagine still is) into astronomy. When I was little, we used to walk around the track at my elementary school, and he would tell me about the constellations. Instead of bedtimes stories, I was told about the solar system and how orbits worked, going so far as t act it out with a lamp and some stuffed animals. It did nothing to make me sleepy, but it’s come in handy during Jeopardy.
The problem with this was that my father has this habit of falling asleep when it’s dark. You know how a bird drops off whenever you make it dark? It’s like that.
Just hear under the narration, I could hear my parents: “Bernie. Bernie. Wake up!” “M’not sleep.” “Yes you are, you’re snoring.” I spent the rest of the day trying to convince everyone I was adopted. It didn’t work.
But back to the state fair: we made good time filling out the worksheet. By the goat-milking station, there was a tent with some bleachers in it, surrounding what looked like a boxing ring. My dad called us over and led us in and sat us down. We had no idea what was going to happen, but thirty seconds ago we just saw a goat take an epic piss, so we were just grateful to get away from that. We settled in, and waited for whatever to start.
A man brought a cow into the little boxing ring thing. I like cows. I always have. I think they’re cute. So I was totally okay with this. The man was talking about something that I wasn’t really paying attention to, because I was being an eleven-year-old and goofing off with my friends. My dad stood in the back, looking mildly interested.
Let me explains something about my dad: he grew up in a coal town in the boonies of upstate Pennsylvania. He spent his days hanging out in the woods. He learned to dress a deer by the time he was twelve. Pest control involved sitting with his dad on the porch, both with firearms. Shit doesn’t really faze him, especially nature.
The man continues talking, I continue goofing off with the other kids in my group, and my dad continues to wait quietly.
There are things I could have gone a lifetime not seeing and I would have been perfectly content. A grown man sticking his arm nearly shoulder-deep into a cow and pulling out a calf is definitely one of them.
There was lots of horrified screaming, lots of cowering behind each other and the people in front of us. The calf came into the world looking just as shocked as we were. He, however, got over it rather quickly. We did not. Mama Cow just stood there, annoyed at the entire ordeal. I don’t blame her.
When we got back to school, we explained to the teacher, in quiet, shellshocked tones, why we didn’t make it over to the fattest pig. My teacher was not mad at us in the least. Instead, he was disappointed he missed the live cow birth. My father described it to him, in detail, with us still around, effectively making us relive our trauma. My teacher said that he saw us go into the tent, but kept walking because they wanted to get to an item on the worksheet.
Annoyed that I had to not only see it live, but relive it for his benefit, I asked, “Why didn’t you just go in, then?”
My teacher, whose wife was expecting a baby at the time, replied, “Well, I didn’t hear anyone shouting for an epidural, so how was I supposed to know what was going on in there?”
Long story short, that’s how I learned what an epidural was.