I kept it in the top drawer of the desk in the living room. I have no idea where it came from. Like everything else with which I grew up, it was always there. It had no beginning. It had no source. It was just there–a wallet on which a cowboy was embossed, a lariat in his hand, the arc of that lariat studded with glistening pop rivets.
The leather was white. The cowboy himself muted browns; the lariat’s loop, studded with the pop rivets, trimmed in glass made to look like diamonds.
It wouldn’t have fit into a pocket. It would have been like carrying a folded packet of diamond bracelets in a back pocket.
Instead, it lived in a desk drawer against the north wall in the living room–the desk at which I would, in high school, be required to spend one hour per night doing homework. But when I was younger, in grade school, there were no chains attached to that desk. It was where I stored things. It was where the wallet was kept all year, waiting for fair week.
The Lafayette County Fair: a five-day period of magic in the middle of July: a week which stood out in the middle of the summer the way Christmas stood out in the middle of December, the week around which summer revolved–4H exhibitions, carnival rides, booths, unhealthy food, harness racing, and a ferris wheel rotating high above the Pecatonica River valley.
Darlington was half town, half country, and any classroom in the high school would have in it kids who had risen at five that morning to milk their family’s fifty holstein cows–kids who would go home after football practice and cheerleading practice to feed the cattle, clean out the stalls, and eat, exhausted, at 7:30.
The other half of the classroom would be filled with kids who lived in town–kids whose fathers worked in the hardware store, the bank, or the lumber yard. Kids for whom football practice culminated the day rather than provided an athletic intermission to a schedule bounded by chores.
And at the county fair, that separation between town and country was maintained: the farmer kids slept for five days in the barns, with their animals, and sitting on bales of hay with a strand of straw in their mouths, and hosing down the livestock they had spent the year growing, waiting to parade–waiting to compete for a ribbon that meant far more than they’d admit to their friends from town.
But while the farm kids had been raising livestock, I had been banking unspent dollar bills into the wallet that would support me through the five days of the fair.