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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Beef By-Products and You!

When I taught elementary school in Denver, the second grade took a field trip to the Great National Western Stock Show every year. (Coming from New England, I had never heard of the Great National Western Stock Show.) Before the field trip, two cowboys came to our classroom to give a presentation: Beef By-Products and You! They brought a large fold-out display of the thousands of places where beef by-products end up--petroleum! Vinyl! Some kinds of rubber! (Sorry, vegans!) The cowboy chuckled to the kids, "And I bet y'all thought it was all turned into dog food!"

The last thing the cowboy said was, "If you get lost at the Great National Western Stock Show--find a cowboy." I thought, God forbid we lose a kid at the Great National Western Stock Show! They will be carted off and made into petroleum, or vinyl, or dog food!

A week later we were off to the Stock Show. This was comprised of a convention center, covered rodeo rings, and several auditoriums all attached to each other, under an overpass, in a bleak, windy, no-man's land part of town. Unfortunately, the bus drivers dropped our entire group--127 kids, four teachers, twenty parent chaperones and assorted siblings--at the back door of the Great National Western Stock Show,  where  they had no idea what to do with us. The cowboy at the back door told me we would have to walk five blocks around to the front door.  All of us teachers--eyeing the wind howling through the dusty alleys around the convention center--said this was not happening--so we entered the bowels of the Great Western National Stock Show, and set off.

The cowboy was right: we would have been much better off hiking to the front door, where we would have been given maps, name tags, and a guide. After over an hour of walking past displays of commercial grain producers, representatives from slaughterhouses, combine dealers, and a slide presentation of common diseases of goats ("Yo Miss Timmons, what up with that goat?"), we finally found a section resembling a petting zoo. (A sign on one pen said "We will soon be hamburger!") Along the way, we lost the other three classes. This was before cell phones; we had no choice but to just meet back at the bus at 2:30.

By the now my kids were hungry, and we looked around for a place to sit.  A good half hour later--after some horrifying glimpses of modern de-worming techniques for sheep--we gave up on finding the picnic area and sat in some empty bleachers to eat. That is when one of my chaperones came up to me and announced that she had lost one of her four year old twins. She did even know how long he had been missing, because her older son had gripped her hand in the crowd and she assumed it was his younger brother.

 I thought I might possibly throw up in front of my entire class.

The kids sensed an emergency. They started to get restless and throw food at one another. One kid complained, "This whole field trip stinks real bad, Miss Timmons!"Another said, "That's because this is where they turn all them cows into vinyl, dummy!"

The mom of the missing child stared at me in mute panic.
"Don't worry," I said with a big smile, "We'll find him. " She smiled back, "I know. The Lord will take care of him." I stood up and clapped hands at the kids, "Lunch is over--we have to find the back door again--and go back exactly the way we came!"

Many groans from the kids. "I ain't looking at that nasty goat again!" "The tractors is so boring!" "It smelled so bad when we walked by the pigs!"

"Exactly the way we came!" I yelled over the protests.  "And everyone--" I added, "Look around for Jonah!" I held up the non-missing twin. "He looks exactly like this!"

The kids looked mildly interested at this. A few of the girls with younger siblings looked shocked. I met their eyes -don't freak out!--and they got the message. They all started poking each other, whispering among themselves, and looking at the missing boy's brothers with  pity.

We hiked, all forty of us, back past the penned animals, the bales of hay, the bovine pharmaceutical displays, the Today's Bean Farmer charity raffle table, the barbed-wire demonstrations.   We looked in bathrooms, under bleachers, in the food court--and in the lost and found child booth, where, to my great surprise,  we found a kid from another second grade class! He flung himself on me, hysterically crying. I told the cowboys we had lost a four year old and showed them his brother. They made an announcement over the loudspeaker--but I doubted anyone could hear it.  A minute the other  lost kid's teacher, who had been frantically trying to reach the lost and found, met up with us, her face white, her hands on her heart.

"Thank god," she whispered, "His field trip buddy left him in the bathroom! I thought I was going to die!"

"I'm still missing a sibling!" I hissed back. "He looks just like that!"  With bright smiles pasted on our faces, we went in opposite directions to keep searching.

Nearly two hours had passed. It was almost time to get on the bus. I ran through alternatives in my head: should I send my kids back on the bus with the other teachers and stay with the parent? Should we hold the buses? Should I call the principal? The police? Just was we turned the corner in sight of the back door, we heard a cry--there was our missing four-year-old, holding the hand of an enormous, disgruntled looking cowboy.  He was not a cheerful, turquoise-hatted employee of the Stock Show, but an actual cowboy, who looked like he had slept in his trailer after driving all the way from Wyoming.

The little boy, Noah, was smiling, holding tight to the cowboy's hand. The twin's mother knelt in front of him, gasping,"Noah, what happened to you?"

"I lost your hand, Mom, but Adam"--the oldest brother--"told me if I got lost, to just find a cowboy!"

At this the cowboy  grunted: "He ain't let go my hand for two hours."

Followed by, "I don't even work here!"

We thanked him so many times he got embarrassed. And this is why I love the West: the cowboy actually tipped his hat, and strode off.

The kids were all staring, "Can we go home now?"

"Now," I said, "We can go home."

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