OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA — Glass cases and gilded lilies. The State Fair of Oklahoma gives out hundreds of ribbons each year in dozens of different categories.
Within the first few days of the fair’s run visitors can see them draped across the winners, blue for first place and a big purple one for best of show.
There are so many it’s easy to forget the talent and work that go into these displays especially the one in the corner tucked between a backpack and a wooden chair. This blue ribbon is special. “I just needed a challenge to keep me going,” says Lorrie Bellflower.
Most of the time she watches her grandson Colby. He’s 2 and just learning to talk. But she likes to keep busy in other ways.
Lorrie worked all her life until a condition called Scleroderma forced an early retirement. It’s an auto-immune condition that causes the body to turn on itself. The most obvious outward manifestation showed in her hands. “I can’t hold anything anymore,” she says. “I can’t touch somebody on the face and on days when they’re really sore you can’t shake hands.”
The fingers locked up. They lost their strength and flexibility. Not long ago, as a way of trying to keep them limber she took up bead work. Lorrie decided to make a vest for a nephew. The work was slow and often painful but she kept going. “I can go about an hour and a half to two hours before I have to stop,” she said.
Six months after she began the vest was finished. She told us with tears in her eyes, “You know when you can do something you feel so much better about yourself.”
So what does a blue ribbon mean? There are people who enter every year in lots of categories. They have blue ribbons by the drawer full. Then there are people like Lorrie Bellflower. “What did you do when you came out here and saw that you’d won a blue ribbon?” asks a bystander at the State Fair. “I missed it the first time,” she gushes. “We went all the way around and asked. They told us where it was. We came back. I saw it and started crying. I was like, ‘Ooh. I got a blue ribbon! I got a blue ribbon!'”
Look through these cases and it seems everyone is a winner of something. But look closer, in one, small corner of the Creative Arts Building. There is a flash of blue fabric there bright enough to light up Lorrie Bellflower’s whole world. “Yeah,” says Bellflower. “I feel like I’ve accomplished something really big.”