Volume 22, Number 127, June/July 2019 Manitoba Fair Laurent’s Story by Marcel Gervais
It was late August. It was time for people to prepare for the county fair in the village of St. Eustache, ten miles from our farm. This was a special time of excitement; women baked and cooked special meals of beans, and breads, and cakes and pies. The aroma of beautiful succulent foods was in the air, from farm to farm. City people didn’t ever get this excited about anything.
Mum baked white bread so light, so beautiful it had to be entered in the fair; we were sure she would win. She also entered her “brioches”, light bun-like bread pastries that were slightly sweetened, and absolutely delicious. She often made these for special celebrations.
Cinnamon rolls were one of her specialties; this too had to be brought to the fair.
Mum also made canned fruit, vegetables and even meats. The pumpkins sliced into cubes and nestled in sweet syrup; they became almost translucent. Oh! how I loved those pumpkins. She had to enter these at the fair.
She made a green-tomato ketchup. This was a house specialty. Into the mixture of thinly-sliced tomatoes, vinegar, onions, salt, sugar and bits of red-peppers (for colour), she added a secret ingredient, a spice I had never heard of before - turmeric. This recipe she got from her grandmother, she never gave to anyone outside the family. This took hours and hours to make, and it looked marvelous in the jars, and tasted as wonderful as it looked.
She made pies, but she had to admit pies were not her specialties; she could not be assured of victory, so she did not enter any of these. Chocolate cakes were her downfall; somehow this cake always flopped; they never went to the fair.
Dad also looked over his cattle and thought that none would be suitable to present at the fair, but he picked a few cows, calves and heifers, because they were good enough to be shown off.
He looked over at his horses and saw Queenie and her colt, they were a marvel to see: she was a young fouryear old mare, with a strong arched neck, muscled haunches and a back straight and strong. The colt, the miniature version of his mother, stood alongside her nursing. “These might just win a prize at the fair.”
The animals had to be driven to the fair the day before the opening. St. Eustache was ten miles from our farm. The boys loved to ride the horses and herd the cattle; they would stay at our cousins’ overnight and early the next day they would clean and brush all the cattle to be ready for the day. Our cattle never looked so proud.
Telesphore, my brother, had one of the horses Pepère Beaudry had given him; he had given another horse to Louis, my eldest brother, but it had taken sick and died. But Telesphore’s had lived; he was a real smart animal. He could run faster than any horse for one quarter mile, that was why he was called a quarter horse. Telesphore taught Ti-coq (French for Banty Rooster) how to lower its head and stretch his neck and let the children climb aboard, up to three little ones; and Ti-coq would never run when children were seated on him; he would walk, no matter how much you would coax him, he would not make a fast move, but he was a fast ride when Telesphore rode him. Now at the fair, they had a race for bareback riding (no one could afford a saddle). Ti-coq was entered; Telesphore was confident he would win, he had the only quarter horse. The prize was a beautifully worked leather bridle, decorated with brass rivets. What a prize!
The children were also invited to present things at the fair - examples of calligraphy (I, Lawrence, wrote better when I was young than now that I am old), some art, some deer and some fret-work which was quite fancy. Adrien, Henry and I were very proud of everything we were bringing to the fair.
We were in luck, because Pepère Beaudry was at the fair with his race horse and sulky. His horse, George, a lanky, high-stepping beast, was sure to win the sulky trotting race. Everyone was gathering from every farm in the countryside - women dressed in their farm finery accompanying their tastiest foods; boys with drawings and fretwork designs and calligraphy and girls with everything from crayon drawings to doll dresses and coloured pictures. Everyone was anxious to show off their talents. The grounds were full of movement, people criss-crossing each other visiting the different displays. Finally the prize-winners were named - for her white bread, “First prize”; for her brioche, “First prize”; for her canned pumpkin, “Third Prize”. Her cinnamon rolls didn’t even show, another lady had coated hers in brown sugar and butter sauce and, I guess, the judges favoured very sweet things.
After the pastries, came pickles, of many kinds, each of them very tasty, sweet and sour, gherkins and several other varieties. But what interested us was the Green-Tomato Ketchup. The judges tasted many samples, when they came to Mum’s, they stalled a moment and came back for another taste. It was the secret ingredient that they tasted and it was good. “First prize”! Mum was delighted; she gloried in all the requests for her recipe. No one ever got it, except her daughters.
Dad also won a prize, for Queenie and her colt, a blue ribbon, first prize. The other animals looked good, but not good enough to win a prize.
We three (Adrien, Henry and me) won several prizes, for my writing, our drawings, first, second and third. Mine was a deer standing in deep grass; she stood in deep grass because I didn’t know how to draw her feet. Henry had a deer jumping, the best of our drawings. Adrien’s was a cat slinking in the grass. It was good too.
Now we were getting excited about Ti-coq’s race. He was a sure bet. But the others in the race conspired, “We can’t let that smart Alex win this race. We have to get together and crowd him so he can’t let his horse loose.”
And they were off! Ti-coq was gaining, but then one horse came up alongside him and pushed him over, another came from the other side and crowded him; they had Ti-coq tightly constrained and running about a third as fast as he could if he were running free. He came in next to the slowest and lost both the race and the bridle. Dejection!
Now we all looked to a pair of winners - our Pepère Beaudry and his lovely horse, George. In these trotting horse races, they go around the track twice. Pepère’s sulky looked in good shape and Pepère too looked sharp. We were watching along the fence in the stretch. Pepère was among the leaders all the wayaround the track the first time round, he was holding George back, but then the second time round began and he let go the reins and George took off like a lightning, passing every horse in the race. “Come on George, come on George.” He was at least two lengths ahead, within two hundred yards of the finish line, the right wheel detached itself and rolled into the middle of the track. The axle on the right wanted to plough into the ground, but Pepère, his feet anchored on the left side, reached over gripped the fallen right axle on the right and lifted it up, held it secure and won the race, by a nose, on his one left wheel. The race went down in history for everyone who was there. Pepère was a hero, a magnificent horseman, an expert axle rider, and ours! He bought us each a very large ice cream cone.
When the day was done, we gathered our animals and began to leave. We noticed that smart people had taken away what was left of Mum’s baking and cooking, especially the Green-Tomato Ketchup. We all felt great, except for Telesphore, who was cheated out of his prize and his bridle. Ti-coq was really the best horse for that race that was less than a quarter mile. But Pepère won the day with a spectacular run with flare - standing on the left end of the axle and leaning over to lift up the right axle, he rode triumphantly to the finish line on one wheel, waving his left hand to the crowd. WOW! What a Grandpapa!