Saturday, July 26, 2008

Upsides and downsides

We don't think too much of the local daily newspaper, which is published at the Howell County seat 25 miles away in West Plains. I suppose that is partly because we used to own a newspaper, so I guess we are a little more critical because we have opinions about how a newspaper should look. In general, it is a really poor newspaper, filled with typos and layout mistakes, and a depressing sense of what it considers "news" that it thinks we all need to hear about, frequently consisting of grisly crimes it picks over the AP news feed that have occurred 1,000 miles away.

But I digress. The people that run the newspaper do know how to sell extra copies. There are always lots of photographs of the school kids who have accomplished something in various sports or academics. But the pièce de résistance has been the publicity the newspaper has been giving to the Howell County Fair, which concluded last week.

In a rural community such as this, where people still farm the land and raise food, some kids have other things to do besides sitting in front of the computer or an electronic game, and whatever else kids do these days that does not involve going outside the house. And this was evident in the tabloid-sized supplement with winners and their ribbons, and in each issue of the paper in the past few days, which has had a page or two of photographs of winners of various contests. Some are posed with plates of vegetables, some with domestic arts projects, some with paintings and other works of art, and some with animals. Nearly all of these photographs are of children.

Here we have a 14-year-old boy whose beauty takes my breath away. I look at him and wonder how his parents are coping with his looks. Are they attempting to mold character? When he turns from beautiful to drop-dead gorgeous, what sort of man will he be? How will he treat women? At the moment though, he is still a kid and he is holding a black and white Silver Spangled Hamburg hen in one hand and a first-place ribbon in another; the chicken also won a prize, a trophy with a chicken top. Here is an 11-year-old girl, whose female guinea pig won supreme champion and grand champion ribbons. A host of assorted young boys and girls won ribbons for their goats, lambs, hogs, and rabbits, as well as cattle ranging from large calves, such as the one shown by a 7-year-old girl, to full-grown Holstein cows and Charolais steers that often dwarf the child holding the halter rope, to small, delicate-looking Jersey cows with those huge, beautiful eyes. And I know one proud momma is going to by umpteen copies of the paper showing a picture of her 2-year-old who stuck blueberries on a potato and won the Mr Potato Head contest.

The other times of the year when lots of papers are sold are during the fall and spring hunting seasons, when the pages are filled with photographs of smiling individuals-again, often children-posed with their trophies. Only these trophies are dead turkeys and deer, which aren't so much fun to look at.

The upside living in a rural community where the newspaper is filled with pictures of children and their animals is that it fosters a perception of simplicity that is mostly a myth, but in any event a contrast from what one might think of as "life in the big city." The downside of rural living is that the police and the courts have too much time on their hands, and so they can go after people for crimes that would more likely be ignored in a major metropolitan area. The local police are noted for stopping people whose license plate light is out and also for handing out citations for driving 5 mph over the speed limit. I know a young man who was prosecuted for an overdue library book. He had to pay a $21 fine for the book and $250 in court costs, and is now on unsupervised probation for a couple of years. Seems a little harsh for an overdue library book. Maybe he should have asked for a jury trial.

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