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'Lovey' Replaces 'Sooey!' In Husband-Calling Contest

Competitors come to the Dutchess County Fair in Rhinebeck, N.Y., every year hoping to win blue ribbons in many categories — for goat milking, perhaps, or for a prized heifer.

But since the 1980s, along with the more conventional competitions, women at the fair have been trying to demonstrate their control over one particularly unwieldy breed: spouses.

The fair's annual husband-calling contest strips communication between a woman and her man down to the basics. Inspired by hog-calling events at other fairs, the contest was the brain child of Andy Imperati in 1981.

"The hogs could be a mile away and they go, 'Eeee!' — you know how they call hogs — and them hogs come runnin' across the field," Imperati says. "It's unbelievable. Then I thought, 'We don't have the hogs here. Maybe I'll just turn it into a husband-calling contest.' And it worked out perfect."

Come here, you big stud! I'm waiting for you! Come home! Come on, lovey! Show me the beautiful gray hairs I gave you! Come home! I've got some chicken! I've got some goat, even pigeon! We'll make a barbecue! Come on, lovey!

So what kind of call does Imperati's wife of 47 years use to motivate him?

"Well, I can't tell you what she says most of the time," Imperati says.

Imperati pulls audience members out of the stands to serve as judges. They evaluate contestants for loudness, clarity and creativity — the reason Ernestine Martin dominated the competition for nearly a decade.

"One of my calls was I said, 'Bill, I just got a phone call from my doctor. We've killed another rabbit, sucker,'" Martin says.

That call wasn't about a pet bunny — she was kidding about the arrival of baby No. 7.

This year, Australian-born Margie Riordan scored points for her imaginative call, taking second place.

"Come here, you big stud! I'm waiting for you! Come home! Come on, lovey! Show me the beautiful gray hairs I gave you! Come home! I've got some chicken! I've got some goat, even pigeon! We'll make a barbecue! Come on, lovey!" Riordan called.

Even though Riordan's husband almost hopped the fence to reach her, the winner was Donna Kuklis from Saugerties, N.Y. She won $40 and a blue ribbon.

"John, where are you now?" Kuklis called. "The kids are in the corn again! I told you don't let them go in there! Why are they there again? John, I know you can hear me!"

Actually, John might not have been able to hear her, having weathered her calls for 11 years of marriage.

"I just can't hear anymore," he said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


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