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THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOOTER MCCORMICK...HIGH STAKES FARE

by: Wes Ishmael

“Anyone who says winning doesn't matter is either an idiot or a liar, or both,” seethed Aunt Pinky, throwing her spatula across her spotless kitchen with such force that it would surely have shattered her window if it hadn't hit Hooter first.

“Hey!”

“Delmar Jacobs of all people,” continued Hooter's Aunt, apparently unaware that he was standing there, now wearing some sort of batter on his shirt. “What he knows about baking wouldn't weigh enough to make a flea flinch. Mocha-carrot cupcakes; whoever heard of such a thing?”

Hooter reached into the cupboard for a glass. “Look, I just came in for some water. I take it the judging didn't go to your liking?”

“Judging? I don't know what you call it when neither Nelda, nor I win for the first time in so many years that no one can remember. But when neither one of us even takes second—no, that's not a judging, that's a mockery is what it is. Now, where is that spatula, I swear.”

“Not even second, huh?” tried Hooter. He'd already heard the news. The only reason he stopped in for a drink was to make sure she was OK. According to various reports, upon hearing the news, Aunt Pinky set her jaw, quietly upended the table of baked goods where the judges sat, stalked to her car and left a fair amount of rubber in the parking lot. As for her lifelong, nemesis and fellow victim, Nelda Isselfrick, she fainted.

“First those folks in Colorado, now this. What's a good fair coming to,” growled Pinky, chucking a salt shaker, which Hooter also stopped.

The Rules that Bind and Blind

As for the reference to Colorado, Hooter understood. The story was a popular topic in the barns at this year's Apache County Fair, Show and Rodeo.

In basic terms, the state fair there had imposed a new rule requiring all exhibitors to have their premises registered with the National Identification System. When a few entries were disqualified for not following the rule, parents of some of the disqualified raised a stink of national proportions. According to various news articles, some claimed they didn't know about the rule; others claimed it was illegal for a state fair to impose the standards of a national voluntary program.

“Lord, Lonnie, what would your daddy have said if someone told him the committee couldn't impose whatever rules they voted on?” wondered Peetie Womack. His dad had been the president of the fair board and superintendent here for almost four decades.

Lonnie spat at a surprised fly. “I suspect he would have strongly encouraged them to let their child compete, with the understanding that the child would receive a competitor's ribbon but couldn't vie for the prize. I also suspect that he would have told them if they ever showed up again without reading the rule book, or anything else that would put their kids in an awkward position, that he'd part their hair with a tire iron.”

“And he would have,” said Lonnie with respect.

“That's why I still say there ought to be two divisions, one with all the rules and one with no rules,” said Izzie. “Let everybody play how they're most comfortable.”

“You've got to have standards, but you've got to have common sense, too,” countered Peetie Womack, who was hauling water to one of his grandkids' steers.

“If you don't like the rules, either get them changed or don't enter,” said Cousin Charlie. “But don't wait until after getting disqualified to claim you didn't know about it or that you that you don't agree with it. That ain't fair to your kids.”

“Amen,” agreed Lonnie.

How the World Ends

Now, as for both Pinky and Nelda getting aced out of what had become a legendary annual struggle between the two, Hooter was as surprised as anyone else. Past the point of using livestock, men or rodeo prowess to try to best the other one, the two stalwarts had settled on a variety of domestic competitions to wreak vengeance. The baking contest was the granddaddy, though.

The power of their rivalry had yielded some extraordinary recipes that received attention and accolades from as far away as the state fair in Dallas. With each congratulations or invitation to compete somewhere else, both Pinky and Nelda were known to explain, “Oh that, that's just something I did at the last minute. I'm not really into the competition part of it; I just like to support the fair.”

Sure, just like Bobby Knight is indifferent to sloppy play and a losing streak.

Hooter knew that Aunt Pinky's attempt at baking domination began late every winter. She'd sift through recipes, new and old, cull them down to only a ream or so, then start experimenting every night, leading up to the fair. Qualified sources said it was much the same for Nelda.

To think that anyone could or would beat either one of them, let alone both, was akin to suggesting the sun might take tomorrow off. To think that someone would be Delmar Jacobs, well, Funk and Wagnall's never came up with the words to describe that.

Sure, he'd been a perennial thorn in the sides of the two warriors with the concoctions he entered each year in his quest to further his distilling horizons. But, who could take him seriously: rum balls that would take the creosote off a post, the whiskey squash cake last year that literally combusted on its own from the summer heat before the judging began.

Now this.

“Let's not forget it was a couple of hooligan friends of yours on that committee, too, young man. You have some of the blame, too.”

“What in the world did I have to do with it?” squeaked Hooter.

“I'd have thought you might have mentioned to them that your Aunt—who likely doesn't have that much time left on this earth—was entering something that had never been attempted before, let alone accomplished…”

“But…”

“I would have thought that at the very least you might have had the common decency to be in attendance for the judging.”

“But you know I had to help Bugsy wash her pigs.”

Fire's Fodder

Truth be told, Hooter had avoided his aunts contests for almost a decade now. The last time he attended one, he had to break up a fight between her and Nelda concerning the pumpkin-growing contest.

He could still see it like yesterday.

“Your aunt has accused Mrs. Isselfrick of doctoring her champion pumpkin,” explained Denny Bratton to Hooter. Denny was the new superintendent.

“Hooter, I swear to you if you stick your ear up against this counterfeit you can hear the ocean. It's smaller around than my pumpkin but weighs almost twice as much. How do you explain that?” demanded Aunt Pinky.

“Brains and hard work,” said Nelda. “Neither of which you'd know anything about. This is ridiculous, just another one of your trumped up pieces of fiction because you know you can't beat me fair and square.”

Before Hooter or Denny could stop her, Pinky was on her feet, leaning over the top of the goliath gourd and using a sorting stick to pin Nelda to the chair. “Sister, I've beat you like a cheap drum my whole life and I'm going to keep on beating you!”

Hooter had come up behind Pinky and put his arms around her in more of a full-Nelson than a hug. “Now, Aunt Pinky, there is no reason getting all wound up, especially when you don't know about that pumpkin one way or another.”

“Thump it, boy, just thump it,” said Pinky with stern consternation. “You ain't never heard a real pumpkin sound like that and you never will. I say she pumped it. Stick a knife into it and see what runs out. You remember that steer her niece had back in '75? It's a wonder he hadn't grown webbed feet by the time they were done with him.”

Nelda creaked from her chair and peered over the great orb. “Before you start talking about steers, let's not forget that Angus steer you died black.”

“I never did any such thing and you know it,” said Pinky, struggling to free her arms. “I would've beat you by a mile even if he was bright purple. I know it was you and your henchmen that did it to me. I wouldn't know how to dye one if I wanted to.”

Nelda assumed the humble glow of a saint. “Now, now, just what is your true color, dear? I don't think I even know.”

And on it went…

Birthing New Rivals

Aunt Pinky banged pots and pans, and then chucked a salt shaker across the kitchen, which Hooter also stopped.

“Well, who came in second then?” he asked in self defense.

“As if you didn't know.”

There are times in a man's life when silence is the only appropriate response.

“That woman of yours,” glared Aunt Pinky, poking Hooter in the chest. “And, with one of my own inventions.”

“Huh?”

“Don't you play dumb with me, though you've had plenty of practice. She walked in there pretty as you please, for the first time ever, and took second with jellybean donuts.”

It was like trying to bottle air.

“First off, I didn't even know she was going to enter. Second off, I've never heard of jellybean donuts in my life, and I've never heard tell of you making them.”

Pinky had found another spatula and was stirring her pot like a windmill in a hurricane. “Not in so many words. But, my entry back in 1963 was donuts. They took the purple ribbon, I might add. Then, along about 1981, remember that clown cake I beat Nelda with? It had jellybeans for buttons. I think even you can connect the dots.”

“Ummm…”

“It doesn't matter, either way,” said Aunt Pinky, stirring more calmly now. “But tell that woman of yours I'll have my eye on her come next year.”

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