“Aw-baw, da-da,” said baby No. 8, holding out his chubby arms and coming fearlessly to me.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 17, 1938.

“Here’s an invitation,” cried Jimmie Frise, “for you and me to act as judges at, a baby show.”

“Let’s accept,” I replied heartily. “Where is it at?”

“The Bloomville Fall Fair,” read Jimmie eagerly. “You know where Bloomville is?”

“I can’t just place it,” I said.

“It’s up near Stratford,” advised Jim. “‘They have a swell little fall fair there. We’d have no end of fun.”

“I kind of wish it was a city baby show,” I suggested. “I am more familiar with city babies than country babies.”

“Ho,” said Jim, “you’ve never seen babies unless you’ve seen country babies. And anyway, what’s the difference? We just pick the best baby, that’s all there is to it.”

“Don’t we have rules for judging?” I asked. “Isn’t judging baby show complicated, like judging horses or cattle?”

“Sure, it’s the same,” admitted Jim. “To be a judge of horses you have to know all about horses. But we’re fathers. What more is there to know about babies than we know?”

“Well, it’s some years,” I confessed, “since any of mine were babies.”

“Listen,” said Jimmie, “you never forget about babies.”

“Oh, yes you do,” I disagreed, “Every time I pick a baby up, and look down and see their eyelashes, I feel as if I had never seen a baby before. I used to be like that with my own. I’m like that yet. Somebody hands me a baby, and I take it and look down. And I always get the same strange, sinking sensation, a feeling as if I were suddenly alone on a mountain peak, a million miles from all the world, holding in my arms all the riches, all the precious riches, of the universe. It’s their eyelashes do that to me.”

“Come to Bloomville,” begged Jim, “and see some real country babies, big rolling fat babies, babies with creases and wrinkles of glowing flesh, babies pink and flushed and lovely with pure health.”

“It’s a terrible responsibility,” I pointed out. “Suppose we selected the wrong baby.”

“You can’t ever,” cried Jim, “select the wrong baby. At all baby shows, one baby stands out above all others.”

“But the other parents won’t feel that way,” I explained. “I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings. And if there are 20 babies in a baby show, then you are absolutely bound to hurt the feelings of 19 women and 19 men.”

“Don’t be silly,” said Jim. “They all realize there can be only one winner before they enter the show.”

Other Parents are Blind

“Yes,” I replied, “and each one of them is perfectly confident that that one will be theirs. You are fooling with dynamite, my boy, when you start fooling with parenthood. It is one of the strangest things in the world, the absolute devotion of parents to their baby, no matter how funny it looks. Why, I remember neighbors we had when our baby was born. They had a great big swollen baby, it must have weighed about a hundred pounds. Ours was just a neat little tidy baby, about 10 pounds or so. But the way those neighbors condescended towards our baby. you would think babies were valued by weight.”

“I’ve been through that,” confessed Jim. “The people who lived next door to us, when one of ours was born, had a little wee bluish white sort of baby with thin fair hair and a thin little face. Ours was a bouncing dark baby. But all those people said, whenever we met, was – “my isn’t your baby awfully DARK?'”

“Well, that what I’m referring to,” I declared, “when I say it’s dynamite. I should think the judges of a baby show ought to be elderly or aged and infirm doctors. And they would judge the babies purely from the physiological standpoint.”

“We’ll have a doctor assisting us,” said Jim. “It says so, right here in the invitation.”

“I’m not very keen, Jim,” I regretted.

“Aw, come on,” pleaded Jim. “You have no idea the fun a fall fair is. We’ll be the guests of the directors. We’ll be shown all over the fair, the prize cattle and horses and hogs. The prize cakes and pies and bedspreads. We’ll be feted and dined.”

“H’m,” I reflected.

“Look,” cried Jimmie, “we’ll be the guests to dinner at some big country home. Such feeding. Beef AND pork. Probably sausages, maybe that big thick country sausage. Vegetables of every known kind. Home-made bread. Buns. Apple sauce. Pies of three kinds, big thick pies, baked real brown and shiney on top…”

“Just a minute, just a minute,” I interrupted. “I’ll go. I was intending to go anyway. All I was doing was discuss the affair from all sides. I’ll be only too happy to go.”

So Jimmie wrote and accepted the honor of being judges of the Bloomville Fall Fair Baby Show on behalf of both of us.

Bloomville is one of those old and enterprising villages of Ontario that are full of good humor and kindliness. Tradition, however homely, hangs thick about its faded red brick business section, half a block long, and its old weathered houses and cottages.

They treasure old jokes and gossip. Every house has a story about it, every store, every tree, almost. This was the house old Jeremy so-and-so lived in when he put the cat on the fire and set the log of wood out the back door. In that store, Sir Wilfrid Laurier wrote his speech about the title the queen had offered him. Against that maple tree, Mary somebody was thrown from the runaway buggy, Mary who would have been wife of a prime minister, if she had not died so young and beautiful.

Bunting and Banners

Bloomville was all decked out when Jimmie and I drove in and asked our way to the fair grounds. Bunting and flags and banners and general sense of big doings was everywhere. The street was angle parked to its complete capacity, and then double parked on top of that.

The fair grounds were just outside the village and there we presented ourselves, parking our car in a muddy field where an excited gentleman in an arm band handled traffic in the best King and Yonge St. manner, only more gestures.

The fair manager himself, Mr. Peterkin, happened to be handy when we presented our invitation at the entrance gate and he took us in hand and introduced us to about 40 people in two minutes.

“The baby show begins,” he said, “at 3 p.m., Instead of 2 p.m., as indicated in the program, so just make yourselves at home, and I’ve delegated a couple of the committee to show you about.”

So two gentlemen cowboyed us out of the throng and we started at one end and went around the grand circle. We visited the orchard produce and the grains and roots. We inspected the stalls of the massive horses and the growling bulls and the forlorn cows. We inhaled the indescribable pungent aroma of pigs and looked down, upon vast living barrels of pork, with glistening hairs all over them, a thing I hadn’t known about pigs heretofore. I always thought they were nude.

In the official enclosure of the ring, we sat and watched judging of black and white cattle, while trotting races went on furiously at the same time. Jim watched the trotters while I studied carefully the process of judging the cattle. But it was beyond me. They shifted the cows around they walked them, they stood and felt them and stood, staring intently at them. But it was all beyond me, for while looked like the best cow to me never got a ribbon. The cow I liked best had a kind face.

But before we knew it, Mr. Peterkin, with his official buttons and ribbons, was signalling us furiously, and we went out of the enclosure and walked with increasing self-consciousness along a crowded way to an open marquee where the baby judging was to be done. The baby show had attracted a very large crowd, there being a special pressure of grandmothers by the looks of things; grandmothers who looked over their spectacles at Jimmie and me with critical but kindly curiosity.

We were given badges with “judge” beautifully inscribed, and were introduced to Dr. Calhoon, the local doctor, who was the third and official judge with us.

The Show’s On

“Three o’clock,” shouted Mr. Peterkin loudly, although it was 20 minutes past three to be exact. “The entries in the baby show will kindly come forward and sit on these chairs.”

Which also was hardly correct, because the entries were already sitting on the chairs and had been for some time, by the sound of things.

The babies who were not crying or yelling were softly protesting and squirming and kicking. There were 13 babies in the contest, 18 months being the top range and six months the lowest.

There were fat babies and thin babies, blond babies and dark babies, babies with tempers and babies like lambs, lively babies and babies with no more life in them than a 12-cent bag of flour. The doctor then briefly outlined the basis of judging to Jimmie and me.

“Healthy appearance,” he said, “good looks, cleanliness, absence of physical defects, with especial attention to rickets, shape of the head and fontanelle openings.”

“What on earth is that?” I asked.

“The little soft spots between the parietal bones of an infant’s head,” explained Dr. Calhoon.

“Oh, yes,” I recollected. “If you watch them, you can see them softly beating. You look after them, doctor, Jimmie can look after healthy appearance, and that leaves the general good looks to me. How’s that?”

“We’ll all collaborate,” smiled the doctor.

He stepped forward amidst a sudden hush, even the babies catching their breaths.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” cried Dr. Calhoon, “will you kindly strip the babies to the minimum.”

Which is a dandy new word for diapers.

Stripped to the Minimum

With trembling hands, the mothers bent and proceeded to strip the babies of their finery, which was handed to the perspiring and agitated fathers. The race was on. But nobody was running. The battle was pitched. But nobody could fight.

“Come,” advised the doctor, “we’ll walk along and inspect them from left to right.”

So on the heels of Dr. Calhoon, we proceeded to the end of the row of chairs and started with baby No. 1. Amid an excited buzz from the throng outside the open face of the marquee and amidst yells and howls and irritated cries of the babies, we took baby No. 1 in our grip and gave him the works. Dr. Calhoon held them like specimens, turning them around in his hands, upside down and crossways, as if they were pullets dressed for the oven.

Jim was a little less professional. He held the baby out at arm’s length, smiled beautifully at it, and examined it front and back for general healthy appearance.

But I took the baby in my arms and drew instantly loud and appreciative murmurs from all the grandmothers outside. So I adopted this method throughout.

Baby No. 1 was a scared baby. The doctor’s treatment so astonished it that it did not protest. But one look at Jim’s fierce smile caused it to pull its mouth down. So that by the time I took it in my arms it was just one howling writhing fighting ball of extraordinary muscle. I must confess I never felt a city baby so muscular.

But how can you appraise the good looks of a baby that is in a conniption fit?

Baby No. 2 was already roaring before even the doctor picked it up. Baby No. 3 was asleep and passed from hand to hand with nothing more than drowsy little grunts. How can you assess the good looks of a baby whose eyes you cannot see?

It was the same along the row until we came to baby No. 8, and I realized the truth of Jimmie’s remark that at all baby shows, one baby stands out like a rose amongst daisies.

Baby No. 8 was a cherub, a seraph, a little chubby, blond-haired beauty. He had curly hair and blue eyes and a look of lions in his face. In fact, he looked so much like my own children, when they were this age that I was quite carried away. Indeed, when Dr. Calhoon picked him up and started the usual professional business of twisting and turning the beautiful child around like a pullet, I felt a sharp indignation. Could not Dr. Calhoon see, without shilly-shallying, that this was the winner?

It was so obvious. However, Jim took baby No. 8 and held him off at arms length, admiring him, while the little fellow chuckled and gurgled at him.

Love At First Sight

When I got him, he just held out his arms, and it was a case of love at first sight. I did a little jig with him, at which there was a loud murmur from all the grandmothers and I caught several bleak stares from some of the fathers and mothers on the platform.

The rest of the babies were just the usual run. Jim made quite a fuss over one little chap, a tall, long, solemn baby, dark, with bushy sort of unruly hair sticking up off his head.

“By George,” whispered Jim, as he handed me this solemn child, “if this one isn’t the living image of my kids at that age. Look him over will you? I think I’ll plump for him.”

“Jim,” I said indignantly, “do you mean to admit that your personal, your family affections are going to influence your decision in this thing?”

“No, no,” corrected Jim. “But look at him. Isn’t he the sweetest thing.”

But I couldn’t see it. In fact, after a couple of careful looks at this one, my eyes chanced to catch the eye of baby No. 8, back on his mother’s knee. And I will be jiggered if that little beauty didn’t wink both eyes at me.

“Now,” called Dr. Calhoon, after we had finished the row, “will you all stand up and pass us please?”

So the mothers, supported by the fathers, paraded past us, one by one, while we took final and sometimes extra-final looks at the babies, seeing them in various angles and lights.

“Number 8,” I whispered to Jimmie.

“Not that one,” protested Jim sharply in a whisper. “What’s it got?”

“Jimmie,” I groaned, “it’s got everything. Watch.”

I went over to baby No. 8 and held out my arms.

“Aw-baw, da-da,” said No. 8, holding out his chubby arms and coming fearlessly to me.

Then I held him to Jimmie. Baby No. 8, with perfect manners, reached out his arms and went to Jimmie like a lamb.

He put his arms around Jimmie’s neck and squeezed.

Jim’s face, around the baby, was a picture of decision.

“This one,” he said, with great authority.

“I concur,” said Dr. Calhoon.

And at dinner that night, at Mr. Peterkin’s fine big home, we had roast beef, AND pork, with cracklings; large country sausage, squash, stewed tomatoes, little boiled potatoes, green apple pie, pumpkin pie, gooseberry pie, open face; cantaloupes, with Devonshire cream, and tea.

Editor’s Note: Pullets are young hens, less than a year old. A seraph is a type of angel. Cracklings are fried pork skins, similar to pork rinds.

This story seems a little anti-climatic as nothing odd happens in the end.