The people we meet, before and after the fair

A chance encounter that made me smile

John I. Carney
5 min readJul 23, 2023


The author’s two entries in the 2023 Bedford County Fair. In front, with a yellow ribbon, is a pen-and-ink drawing of a man holding a protest sign reading “DOWN WITH” while a number of “UP WITH” signs are in a garbage can. In the background, a generic face, pen and ink with watercolor.

We’ve all had those fun, surprising chance encounters. You’re on vacation, halfway across the country, and you meet someone who lives two doors down from you back home.

I had such an encounter today — not really that coincidental, if you think hard about it, since there was a good reason for the two of us to be in the same place at the same approximate time. But it was fun anyway.

First, the back story — if you know me, you know I’m not going to let you get out of here without making you listen to the back story.

I had been a doodler all my life, but a few years ago, an interest in fountain pens led me to try my hand at pen-and-ink drawings. I would sketch something out in pencil, then ink over it, then erase any visible pencil lines. Sometimes, if the drawing seemed like it needed a little color, I would add it using a cheap set of watercolor paint from Walmart.

Two years ago, I was startled when I took a blue ribbon in pen and ink and a yellow ribbon in mixed media at the Bedford County Fair. You would think that would have made me more disciplined and serious, but the fact of the matter is, I’m a dilettante. I pick up things, and then abandon them for a while, and then come back to them later. I’m not sure if it’s one of my worst qualities or just the way I am.

Last year, I was busy preparing for, and taking, a mission trip to Uganda in the weeks leading up to the fair, and did not enter anything.

This year, after hardly drawing anything for several months (see? dilettante!) I put together a couple of last-minute entries which I liked well enough to enter at the fair.

The next part of the story will be familiar to my friends and family, because I told the story in a Facebook post a week ago today. Keep that in mind.

Last Sunday, the day before the fair, I went to Bedford County Agriculture and Education Center to drop off my entries — a pen-and-ink drawing which was a sort of political cartoon, bemoaning the negativity in today’s discourse, and a watercolored ink drawing — not a portrait of any real person, just a face that I drew one day.



John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at