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A Berry Sad Afternoon: The McLoud Blackberry Festival

5:05 AM EDT on July 12, 2021

KODAK Digital Still Camera

When visiting small towns in Oklahoma, there’s always a chance you’ll see one, two, maybe a whole team of them. It’s shocking at first, and then disheartening. You don’t want to blame the whole community and you try hard not to, but realizing you’re, for the most part, on enemy territory, there are sometimes when it’s best to keep quiet and just leave. But let’s start at the beginning…

It was a friend’s belated birthday and, presented with a few options, we decided to head on out to McLoud for their famed Blackberry Festival, a seemingly lighthearted afternoon where we could stuff our faces with the noir fruit until we realized one of us has a deadly allergy to berries and must be rushed to the hospital to have our stomachs blissfully pumped. Or something like that...

Around five o’clock, the festival was still going strong, or as one in McLoud—population around 4,700—possibly could. Walking past the dunk tank, the recruitment station, and other pseudo-fairway games of chance, we went up a dirt road to an imposing grandstand that, with broad exclamation points, told us that all types of blackberry goods were sold there.

However, when I asked one of the people wearing an event shirt where everything possibly berry was, I was told they had sold out for this year, but there were still a few food trucks selling their sweetened wares. Feeling a little—pardon the expression—black and blue about missing most of the natural eats, there was a plain truck off to the side that was selling fried pies, honestly all I truly craved.

Purchasing a delicate pie for three bucks, it was crumbly and crispy, a sheer delight of a fried confection that I split down the middle with my friend, offering a few nibbles to my canine pal, Sean, from my divvy, who enjoyed it as much as he could in a few seconds.

“Better than the Arbuckles!” I exclaimed to no one in particular.

Thinking maybe that we might come back around for another one a little bit later, we sauntered through the apparent schoolyard, finding the most stereotypical of fair food that, honestly, I’d be happy to never see again, to a huge metal army tank, which I would definitely be happy to never see again. A helicopter kept buzzing over our heads, apparently offering rides to festival attendees at a good price as Wagner was loudly reciting in my mind.

Turning the corner to the usual festival tents filled with Scentsy votives, second amendment tchotchkes, and other random junk that is often found at these events, there was a t-shirt booth that included various off-color wear including sexualized slogans about fishing, among other watersports. Right next to it, however, was a white tee that had an Indigenous chief’s head on it with the words “Redskins Football” on it.

McLoud’s high school football team is named after one of the most derogatory insults towards Native Americans, a serious racial slam that took me by absolute surprise. I felt like throwing my blackberry pie up as I looked around and realized other McLoud residents were wearing similar shirts.

Walking away, as I noticed the amount of non-white people attending the fair, I wondered how many people keep their mouth quiet out of fear and how many of them have to deal with this type of prejudice on a daily basis. I also know that, once I write these words, many people who “claim” to have Indigenous blood will say it’s alright and it’s okay with them, in-between the death threats that I’ll undoubtedly receive. It's not alright and it's not okay.

Throw my hefty body on their funeral pyre, I guess.

Without a scene, sadly, I took a hold of Sean’s leash and we left the Blackberry Festival, never to return again. And, you know, just to add insult to injury, I didn’t even see a jar of fucking blackberry jam for sale, the one fruity item I truly wanted.

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Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler and Instagram at @louisfowler78.

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