About this time a year ago, I was living in a small town surrounded by a lot of other small towns in southwest Arkansas. One day I was coming back from lunch with my coworker, Tina, when out of the blue, she said, “Girl, I thought about you this weekend. We were all at Mike’s Country Store for the Testicle Festival, and I almost called to see if you wanted to come down and join us.”
I froze in the middle of the parking lot and stared at her. I had never heard of such a thing. Did you know about this? My first thought was that this was something for men kind of like breast cancer awareness for women. I was very, very wrong. For several minutes I just kept asking, “What?” and then, as she explained it to me, I followed up with, “I don’t understand. Are you kidding?”
In case you are equally unfamiliar with this charming tradition, let me try to explain. Apparently, in the spring, farmers castrate (or according to Tina, “de-ball”) bulls. I’m sure there’s a reason for it, but I don’t know what it is. At the end of the day, farmers have all these leftover cow parts. As she talked, my spidey-senses started tingling.
“Do they fry them?” I asked.
Yep. Apparently, they taste like gizzards. The whole event is celebrated by drinking (quite a bit, I’m guessing) and eating an assortment of fried snacks, including Rocky Mountain Oysters.
Mike’s Country Store in Foreman is not the only place that does this, either. I emailed some friends to see if they had heard of such a thing and found out it’s very big in ranching country. My friend Bill wrote back to say: “I ate my first testicles back in 1985,” which I hope is the beginning to one of his short stories someday. Later, my aunt told me that she and her husband had looked into buying a place in Montana, and they were offered the rights to the testicle festival that was held on the land. My aunt could have owned her own testicle festival, and I’m a little disappointed that she doesn’t.
At the time Tina brought it up, however, I didn’t know any of this. I was so astonished by the whole thing that she promised to invite me this year. And I truly wanted to go. I planned to stay away from the snack tables, but this seemed like something I should see firsthand.
Two months before the festival, I moved, and I figured that would be the end of it. Tina was true to her word, though, and gave me a heads up when the Test Fest (as they decorously referred to it on the radio) rolled around. It happened to coincide with a weekend I was coming back to the area to see my parents and grandparents.
My father was surprised when I told him that I planned to go. It didn’t seem like my kind of thing, he said tactfully. I admit that there’s some truth to that. I saw this more as an anthrological experiment than an ideal Saturday night. It might give me a few good stories to tell, and I’d have a chance to visit with Tina. Plus, I’ve always been curious about unusual things.
My mother didn’t mind me going on one condition: “If your grandparents ask, say that you’re going to visit a friend.” My mom is much classier than I am.
As the weekend got closer, I tried to contact Tina to work out the details. I believe in having a plan. To be honest, I prefer for other people to do the planning, but Tina likes to improvise. If I wanted an itinerary, I needed to take the initiative.
The problem was, I couldn’t get in touch with Tina. I found out later that she spontaneously decided to get out of town that weekend. Without knowing Tina’s plans, I had a decision to make. I knew when and where the festivities would be getting underway. What I didn’t know was whether or not I was up for Test Fest 2008 by myself. Suddenly, the idea didn’t seem like as much fun. Going alone would make me feel conspicuous. Without Tina to hang out with, it might seem like I had driven about half an hour down Highway 70 to gawk at drunk folks eating fried bull testicles and peruse some tacky Test Fest souvenirs. I mean, that was pretty much the point of going, but it didn’t seem like a good idea to be obvious about it. Plus, it seemed like an experience that should be shared. Whether it is a good time or a terrible one and especially if something bizarre happens, it’s nice to be able to turn and share a meaningful glance as if to say, “Can you believe this?”
I opted for a little extra time at home with my family, which was nice, if less exotic.
I called Tina this week, and she apologized for being out of touch. She assured me that word around town was that it wasn’t as good as last year’s. She also got me a t-shirt. Something with a bull crossing its legs….I’ll wear it with pride.