TAMPA — Tristan Jackson loves Puddin, and Puddin loves Tristan, but at the moment they are having a spat.
It seems Puddin, who weighs about 800 pounds, is afraid of the fair, and has decided not to enter the livestock barn. Four-year-old Tristan, weighing in at 34 pounds, is trying to change her mind. They pull on opposite ends of a rope and go nowhere.
Moments like this are why Puddin was given to Tristan, just as the dairy cow's great-great grandmother, Precious, was given to Tristan's mother when she was a girl. The cows teach a child that love is hard work, and vice versa.
Tristan and Puddin will grow up together on her grandmother's farm in DeLand. They named the farm Diamond Rule after the Golden Rule, and by "do unto others" they mean the animals.
"Puddin will teach her discipline, work ethic and how to care for others before yourself, just like Precious taught me," says Tristan's mother, Jerri Jackson, 34. "The animals came first. We weren't allowed to eat until every animal was fed."
Tristan eventually gives up trying to pull Puddin and decides she'll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. She rubs her friend's nose, tells her it's going to be okay and cajoles her to her pen.
"Its her first fair, she's just scared. We can wash her, she likes that. Then she'll be all right."
John Pendygraft, Times staff writer
Keeping it alive across miles
TAMPA — Even though Brad Esposite invited Carol McCoy to race down the fairgrounds' giant slide, they found themselves on the slow-moving Sky Glider. Maybe because he wanted more time with her, this small-town girl with a Tennessee accent that translates snark into charm.
She sat as far from him as possible on the ski lift-style ride, their legs dangling above the midway on the last night of last year's state fair.
For nine days, she had turned him down. Nine days of ambling around her handcrafted leather belt booth, asking needless questions about dyed leather and silver-plated buckles. Nine days of small talk as he served her cups of soba noodles cooked with 21 different vegetables at his Island Noodles booth.
"I knew I liked her as soon as she walked in here."
Now, here she sat, guarded and independent, with light eyes and a tangle of dreadlocked, twisted blond hair dotted with beads she got while teaching leatherwork at orphanages in Africa.
He didn't know that she'd thought about him every day, as she doodled roller coasters in the margins of a notebook filled with people's waist sizes. And when the Sky Glider deposited them back on the ground, he wasn't the only one who wanted to spend more time together.
Another glide and a red velvet funnel cake later, she remembered she had bracelets to stud and watchbands to craft.
"I have work to do, you have work to do. I'm not done, you're not done."
But how often do you meet someone who makes you feel half your age, irresponsible with a nagging crush?
He lives near Fort Myers. She calls Gatlinburg, Tenn., home. But he couldn't let her slip away. So he talked her into a midnight walk. Then a drive around town. Then a make-out session in his Ford F-250. Then a phone call on her 10-hour drive back to Tennessee.
Carnival workers will tell you that at the booths that line the fair's midway, the odds are stacked against you.
Sometimes you need skill and sometimes you need luck. And sometimes, you just need to believe that anything can happen.
Carolina Hidalgo, Times staff writer
Moments to cherish for mother, daughter
TAMPA — The purple teacup spun faster and faster, blurring the world around them. Jazmyn Centeno, 4, giggled each time she turned the cup's silver wheel. She wanted more speed. More turns. More fun.
"Whoa, you're making me so dizzy," said her mom, Ashley George, 29. Jazmyn laughed and kept spinning, each turn pushing their bodies closer.
The two are inseparable, spending their time crafting, practicing cartwheels and watching Cinderella. Jazmyn's dad, Danny Centeno, is a jockey and travels six months out of the year.
Most of the time, the girls go with him. But this year, they came back early for Jazmyn to start preschool. It's the first time she has spent days away from her mom, who works at home and doesn't rely on babysitters or day care.
Dad's back in Tampa now, but he skipped the midway. The fair is a tradition for mother and daughter, an event for the two of them.
Jazmyn loves the rides. Crazy Plane. Wiggle Worm. Dreamland's Junior Pilot. All of them. But she won't ride alone. After all, everything's better with someone by your side.
The two stepped carefully off of the teacups, wobbling slightly, and continued through the midway. Jazmyn's eyes darted from one tempting ride to the next.
"She starts kindergarten next year," Ashley George said. "I don't know what I'm going to do. Three hours away from her during preschool is hard enough. Kindergarten is six."
Jazmyn, oblivious, skipped ahead, searching for the next three minutes of topsy-turvy joy to share with her mom.
Caitlin Johnston, Times staff writer