There has been a lot of talk in the news recently ( as there always is in big political years) about the Fancy Farm Picnic. Who is coming, who might be coming, and most notably, who won't be coming. In all the hoopla, there have been many accusations thrown around about how and why certain people get to speak at the picnic while others don't. I have seen everything from "Let's get rid of this 'Good Old Boys' Event" to "Let's see the records for this 'fund raising' that goes on."
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, let me first say that my family is an integral part of the Fancy Farm Picnic. My cousin Todd is the Picnic Chairman (i.e. King), the men of my family cook the meat, my Aunts work the car booth and cook for the Country dinner. Let me also say that I have about as much interest in politics as I have in golf (read: none).
So, with that bit out of the way, let's move on to more important things.
Ignoring, for the moment, the fact that the Fancy Farm Picnic is one of the last vestiges of the old political system where candidates actually had to give speeches that meant something to crowds made up of people who hadn't already made up their minds and/or paid money to see them talk let's focus on the crux of the matter. While it has been said that anyone who wants to win a political race in Kentucky must speak at the picnic, what the political big wigs won't tell you (and why would they, since they like everything to be all about them) is that the picnic has very little to do with politics.
What, you might ask, is it all about then? There are several answers to this question. The most straight forward is this: the Picnic is a fund raiser for St Jerome Parish with all the proceeds going to the church to help pay for the programs the church runs through out the year. I can't give you numbers (I'm not much of a details person and I'm horrible with dollar amounts, distances, heights and weights) but I figure this picnic has to be one of the most successful church fund raisers in the state, if not the country. Especially considering that the town of Fancy Farm has less than 1,000 people.
Now, I'm sure some of the more cynical among you will say, well of course it is a successful fund raiser, with politicians giving very generous "donations" when they are invited to speak. But I can tell you this, while I can't say for certain that no politician has ever made a donation to the parish in return for speaking at the picnic, I can say that better than 75% of all the money raised at the picnic comes from the sale of food--the bar-b-que which my family cooks, the hamburgers, ice creams, candy, and snacks on sale, or from the country dinner served all day at the KC Hall. The rest of the money comes from the sale of car chances, tab Bingo tickets, regular Bingo cards (you better get to the Bingo stand early if you want a seat), the kid's carnival games, the 5K and Fun Runs, RV parking, and the country store. If the politicians add any money to the pot, it is a drop in the bucket compared to what is brought in elsewhere. In fact, big political years tend to mean less money for the Picnic for several reasons. First, most of the political supporters bring in all of their own food and drink and spend very little money at the Picnic. Second, large crowds of political supporters tend to drive away the non-politically minded picnic goers, keeping away people who would spend money on the grounds. So, I can pretty safely say that many Fancy Farm residents would prefer the politicians to just stay at home on picnic day.
But if you say the Fancy Farm Picnic is just about fund raising, you are still missing the point. From its beginning, the picnic has been about more than just money. It was about a community coming together to eat, socialize, and just relax. Today it is no different. People with Fancy Farm roots (like myself) feel drawn back during the picnic. It is a chance to reconnect with old friends, see high school classmates, and visit with family. The days leading up to and after the picnic are prime times for class and family reunions because so many people are already in town during that time. For many of them, it may be the one time a year they make it "home" but I know many people who say they would never miss the Picnic.
For the residents of Fancy Farm (and their families) the picnic is about nostalgia and tradition. The same families have worked the same booths for as long as most people can remember with the jobs being passed down from generation to generation. My Grandmother tells stories about coming to the picnic with my Grandfather when they were dating and how you could eat all day and only spend $0.50. My Dad talks about getting $0.25 to spend at the picnic each year and how could buy a squirt gun, and box of Cracker Jacks, and a pop for that price. I remember spending lots of time at the Cane Booth tossing rings to try and win the coveted wooden sticks. These days, it will cost you more than $0.50 to eat, but you can still find old fashioned ice cream and cracker jacks; squirt guns are still one of the more popular toys you can win or buy, and while I don't get to toss too many rings these days, you are still likely to find me at the Cane booth watching the younger members of the my family try to win.
And if I'm not up at the game booths, you are likely to find me down around the bar-b-que pits which is where you can hear some of the most amazing stories. Everyone has a few tales about Picnics past, but very few of them involve the politics.
Maybe what the politicians need to do is to come out to the Grounds Friday night and watch the 1 mile Fun Run or the 5K Picnic Run. They can see the residents of Fancy Farm lined up along the roads and sitting in their front yards to watch the runners come in. Do some of them know a person or two in the race? Sure, but most just enjoy cheering everyone on. They need to come out early on Saturday to see the lines forming for meat fresh off the pits. Perhaps they can find a kid and toss a few rings or play a game or two of Bingo before they get an ice cream cone and some Cracker Jacks. Then they need to stick around after the political speaking Saturday afternoon to watch the band play and maybe dance to a song or two before they head down to the bar-b-que pits where they can sit and listen to the locals tell stories of Picnics past and watch as the next generations build Picnic memories.
After all that, then maybe they, like the Grinch who discovered that "Christmas doesn't come from a store. Christmas, perhaps means a little bit more" will understand that it isn't the politics which makes the picnic special. It's not the ice cream or the band or the car raffle or even the bar-b-que. What makes the Fancy Farm Picnic special are the people. And as long as there are people in Fancy Farm, there will be a picnic there on the first Saturday in August whether or not the politicians show.