November 17, 2023
A few weeks ago, one of my neighbors called and asked if I could check on two of his cows that hadn’t calved. I was happy to do so since my neighbor’s farm is only about a mile from my place, and the neighbor, who is also the local high school ag teacher and FFA advisor, was on his way to the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis with a busload of FFA kids.
Fifty-seven years ago, in 1966, I remember being one of six green-as-a-gourd freshmen boys, from one of the poorest schools in one of the poorest regions in one of the poorest states, selected to attend the National FFA Convention in Kansas City, Mo.
When we got to the big city, one of the boys began to get car sick when he realized he could look down below and see other vehicles traveling directly underneath our car at the same speed. He then became more freaked out by looking up and seeing at least two more levels of automobiles above us. Surely, he thought, civilization and his life were soon to end.
At the convention site (Municipal Auditorium in downtown Kansas City), one of the boys, who had never been farther away from his place of birth than 90 miles, looked over at his best friend and seriously asked, “How many bales do you think this place could hold?”
“More than Uncle Jeff’s barn,” I replied.
We stayed in the first hotel I’d ever stayed in — and it came with an elevator. The elevator was not the push-button kind of today, but rather was operated by an elderly gentleman who was very cordial and easy to get along with for the first couple of hundred trips up and down the 10-story hotel. By the end of his shift, his demeanor had changed completely, and he started asking questions like, “Is a pack of Juicy Fruit gum really worth my time to transport you boys 20 stories?”
Later that week, I got to eat in the first restaurant in my life, The Golden Ox, and I was embarrassed to death because the waitress was skimpily dressed. When she asked how I would like my steak prepared, I answered, “Fried, please.”
It was about six blocks from our hotel to the convention center, and we had to walk past some pretty sketchy businesses to get there. We thought it was funny that showgirls, wearing fewer clothes than a Sears, Roebuck and Co. brassier model, were trying to lure us into an establishment with a sign that read: “Must be 21 to enter — FFA members get 10% discount.”
We didn’t go — we wanted to — but who had the money?
All in all, it was a very enlightening and educational experience for six boys from the Ozark Hills. It was about a week before any of us could work out all the cricks in our necks from looking up for so many days, but we had stories to tell for the rest of our lives — just like the one I’m telling you today.
I can only hope that there was some wide-eyed farm kid from Missouri, Montana or Maine who walked into Lucas Oil Stadium, where this year’s convention was held, looked around for a couple of minutes, and then asked her best friend, “How many bales do you think this place could hold?”
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