Saturday brings the Fremont County Fair's annual ice cream making contest, traditionally judged by the staff of this newspaper. I am driving back from Iowa to be there for it.
I missed the fair parade and most of the fair itself. To the best of my knowledge, this might be the first year of my entire life that I wasn't around for it. Twenty-three years of fair parades in a row isn't bad, and I suppose expecting myself to catch every single one in my lifetime was an overly ambitious goal.
But missing it made me confront the realities of living away from home in a new and uncomfortable way. I'll be glad to be back for the ice cream, at least, and to take a stroll or two around the grounds before all the exhibits have gone away.
The ice cream contest has a storied history, much of which happened either before my birth or when I was so young that I can only remember what I've been told about it.
Most of the stories are about particularly novel recipes; I'm told cooked hamburger was an ingredient used one year. I think the name of the concoction was Beef Brownie.
Perhaps I'm told these things to emphasize how silly they are, meant to wish I never have to see them myself. But truth be told, I hope every year the burger people come back. It's one thing to be told about an event long after the fact. It's another to witness it yourself. However unpleasant in the moment, I want the stories to be my own.
I tried to make ice cream for the contest myself one year. It involved putting cream and sugar, and some chopped-up candy, and I don't even remember what else all into a clear plastic ball lined with ice cubes. To mix the cream and help it solidify, a few friends and I rolled and tossed the ball back and forth. This is the official method available to all contest participants, but some fancy folks bring an ice cream maker along with them.
Because some don't have access to such devices, should their use be considered cheating? Perhaps, but it's important to remember the stakes here: This is a county fair in Riverton, Wyoming, and people are making little cups of ice cream to feed to newspaper reporters. Not exactly life and death.
But the machine users are missing out on at least one thing.
It's true that while their cream solidified into a passable attempt at real food, my own remained runny, better suited to pouring over cereal than scooping into a cone. But I did get to toss a ball around with friends at the county fair for a while. I was there for it, and I did it, and now years later I can summon those images in my mind when I'm away from home and missing the parade and the livestock shows and the other events I've always been nearby to see.
It's a comfort to me. A comfort, and a reminder that the long drive back is worth it.
Break out your ice cream scoops and come down to the fairgrounds Saturday afternoon. I'll see you there.
Editor's note: Riverton native Robert H. Peck is a graduate student in the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa.