Excerpts for Beef Princess of Practical County
They were total opposites from the very beginning. It was almost a year ago that I first saw them. It was a sunny Saturday morning in early September, and if I hadn't seen a calendar, I would have thought it was still midsummer. The air was heavy and sticky already at nine-thirty in the morning, when Dad, Frannie, and I piled out of the rusty old pickup at the gate to Granddad's pasture.
I loved the pasture. It always gave me a comfortable, kind of homey feeling. There was just something about acres and acres of green with big brown and black dots scattered all over, slowly moving and munching, like furry lawn mowers, keeping the grass all even and neatly trimmed. But pasture ground was a rare sight in Practical County.
"Northern Indiana farm ground's just too good for pasturing," I'd heard Dad say many times. What he meant was a man could earn a better profit raising a crop of corn or soybeans than he could growing grass for cattle to eat.
That was why Granddad's pasture was so perfect. With little rolling hills, a winding creek that cut a jagged path diagonally through it, and a couple of acres of woods, it would have been a nightmare to till, plant, and harvest.
As we stood at the gate, all of Granddad's calves loped eagerly over to greet us. All but one. In fact, that one acted downright uninterested in any of us while his herdmates licked our hands with their long, rough tongues.
The week-old calves wrapped their tongues around my fingers and tugged. That's a calf's way of saying, "Pleased to make your acquaintance," Dad had explained when I was no bigger than Frannie, my four-year-old sister, who at that moment was walking the fence. I watched her teetering, arms out straight, her mess of blond curls flapping behind as she placed one tennis-shoed foot after the other on the top rail. Where she had gotten those blond curls was a mystery. My own stick-straight, mousy brown hair came from the Ryan side. I ponytailed it daily, because there wasn't much else I could do with it.
While Frannie planted herself firmly on a fence post, I stared out across acres and acres of grass still green from summer but chewed to the very roots by the hungry herd inside the fence. The new calves at the gate were checking us out with the same curiosity we were showing to them. I set my mind on finding the calves with the most potential for steer stardom. I was looking for a steer calf that would take the Practical County Fair by storm.
The Practical County Fair. It was nothing short of the best week of the year in Practical County. Everyone in the community pretty much stopped whatever they were doing to come to the fair. It was where for one week you could do what you couldn't the whole rest of the year. Like eat elephant ears. Or sit inside the Grange tent sipping milk shakes and catching up with the neighbors. For some folks, the fair was a chance to show off their finest whatever. To pick that perfect rose and display it in a vase to see if it could earn the blue ribbon. Or wow the judges with a deep-dish apple crumb pie from Great-grandma's secret recipe. For a handful of others, it wasn't about competing but about coming to see it all. The exhibits, the animal shows, the annual Beef Princess pageant, and the neighbor folks who were usually too busy working to visit.
For my family, the Practical County Fair was all about beef.
Dad's family had raised some of the best beef in Indiana for generations. The Ryan family farm, dubbed Ryansmeade by Granddad's Irish parents, sat on four hundred acres located exactly fourteen and a half miles from Nowhere. Nowhere, Indiana. Population four thousand and not really growing much. Now, I've often wondered, Who on God's green earth names a town Nowhere? Because Nowhere is actually somewhere. It's the county seat of Practical County, and it's right smack-dab in the middle of the flattest fields of northern