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Consider this quote from Abe Lincoln

"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."



     It’s always exciting when the 4th of July rolls around. There are parades, parties with friends and fireworks. Growing up on the farm, we would sometimes head to Minburn for the 4th, but usually always headed to Earlham for the fireworks. A few years though we would just sit in the yard and look off into the distance and watch them from miles and miles away.

     I remember a year when I crawled up in the hayloft of the barn and opened the big doors that sat on the north side and watched the fireworks explode against the horizon, being sure that I could see all the way to Minnesota if I looked hard enough. It wasn’t that the 4th wasn’t a big deal around the farm, but for farm kids, between chores, walking beans and playing we really didn’t take the time to celebrate. For that week around the 4th was far to important to spend it playing, no it was time to start working on county fair projects.

     What is it about 4-H kids and county fair projects that start in the dead of winter with and idea, muddle on through spring with the “hey I just signed up for the fair” registrations sent in and work right up to the week before the fair and that crunch time to get projects started and finished? I’ve talked to hundreds of old kids and almost one hundred percent can tell you of staying up until the wee hours of the morning the night before the fair started to finish up a project. Oh sure, there were a few who actually started their projects in the middle of winter, but we called them over achievers and if you ask me they really robbed their mothers of the opportunity of earning gray hair those few days each summer.

     I remember many county fairs. From the first year with the Brown Swiss steer who couldn’t gain a pound a month, let alone a day, to my last year as a graduating senior in FFA. Over the years there were cattle and sheep; quilts and every kind of food from cookies to jam. It was those late nights, hurrying to finish up a batch of homemade goodies, finding the three that matched the best and writing on 3x5 blue note cards until I could barely keep my eyes open that gave me the most joy back then.

     Truth be told, I never did exceptionally well and was just as happy to have finished a project regardless of the color of the ribbon. There were many things looking back now, that I realized I learned during that time. My mother sent us out in the world as young men who could cook and sew, which I have found important so far in life. I learned that if you don’t expect something to turn out very well it usually will not. But most importantly, I learned that trying to remember the difference between baking soda and baking powder can mean the difference between success and failure.

     The fair was a wonderful time, meeting new people, hanging out on the show box or up on the lofts in the sheep barn. I’ll never forget the hay bale moving contests, where I learned that stacking the bales on the pickup would not be near as important in later life, as was the ability to move an extremely large piece of equipment through a tight fence without knocking the tennis balls off the cones. I remember the laughter, the congratulations and the fellowship. I remember the Saturday mid day meal, right between the bulk of the cattle show and naming of the Grand Champion, when the Weesners, James, Emehisers and anyone else that tagged along could eat a great meal and have a little fun on the playground equipment (as long as we didn’t get our white 4-H show t-shirts dirty).

     I remember the joy of a purple ribbon and the frustration with a red one. Finishing first in your class, as well as last, and watching as the little brother that you had spent months teaching to show sheep won the showmanship trophy on his first try ever. I remember the late nights, the early mornings and the last day auction. Working the food booth, meeting a girl from some town fifteen miles away that you just knew you would never see again, and the peaceful sleep and relaxation that came at the end of it all when you packed your ribbons away and took your projects home.

     There are many things I wished that I had tried when I was younger: photography, restoring a piece of furniture, canning. But I am continually thankful for the journey, life wouldn’t have been the same without the county fair. It may not be as humble as it once was and a little more amusement minded these days, but to this day when I’m asked about my favorite smell, next to the smell of fresh plowed dirt or that first cutting of alfalfa, there is nothing that can quite compare with the smell of sawdust in the ring. Good luck to all of you youngsters who are preparing for the fair this year, and just so you can give mom less of the need to spend your premiums on hair color; perhaps you could try to start your projects this week, and not wait till the night before.

See you next week…Remember, we’re all in this together.