Nisland, South Dakota is where I grew up and lived until I was nineteen years old. As a newly married couple, we moved to California, and over the past 47 years we have made the 1400 mile drive back to my hometown many times. At heart, I am still a small-town girl and need to return to where my roots grew deep.
This year, we arrived in time for the Butte-Lawrence County Fair. The small town of Nisland is the location of the fair. I walked through the two-story pavilion admiring the arts and crafts, and culinary exhibits. The quilts and handicrafts captured my attention. I remembered how the ladies in Nisland took pride in entering their work in the fair, and then anxiously waited to see what ribbon they received.
The activities of this year’s fair include: Buckles & Bows Square Dancing performance, Youth Rodeo, Talent Show, Catch-a-Sheep Contest, 4 H activities, local farmers market, and of course, the judging of livestock. There are grand champion steers, and sheep at the fair. The grounds is scattered with vendors, and the implement dealers have their machinery for viewing.
Unlike many fairs I have attended in California, this fair was different in that the parking and admission were free. At 5 p.m. there was a free barbecue. Before the meal, the Belle Fourche Cowboy Band performed. While standing in the long line waiting to fill my plate with pork sandwich, beans and chips, I visited with many people I had not seen in years.
One of the last events of the evening was the tractor-pulling contest. More than half a century ago the competition was horse pulling. Farmers would boast about the strength of their horses. Today, machines are used to pull heavy weights. The event has become high-tech. Computers are used to calculate how far the tractor has pulled the weighted-down sled.
Another event we thoroughly enjoyed was the Catch-a-Sheep Contest. Youths ages 8-12 can win a lamb. All they have to do is harness a sheep and then coax, pull, drag (whatever it takes) to get the sheep to another pen.
Before we left the fairgrounds, we sat under a cottonwood tree and watched the children enjoying themselves at the fair. The small child in me remembered what the fair looked like over 50 years ago. Things were much the same except there was no carnival rides with flashing lights and music playing or noisy carnies. I sat and thought how someday the youngsters here will look back on this day and think it was one of the finest days of their lives. And maybe, just maybe, they will have the desire to return to this hometown fair and relish all their wonderful memories just like I did that day.