If there was one day I could go back and revisit from my youth, I think I might pick walking into the swine barn at the Parke County Fairgrounds during the 4-H fair. The soft sounds of grunting pigs; the smell of feed and manure; the light coming into the barn through the side windows, fans quietly blowing; sleepy teenagers hauling slopping buckets of water.
I loved the fair. I was a 10-year 4-H member and showed Durocs for several years, as well as my horse. I also took 10 years of baking, three excruciating years of sewing and several years of wildlife (I can still color a goldfinch).
I wanted to just live at the fair when it was on. Some of my friends got to spend the night if they had livestock, especially my horse-owning friends. I begged and begged to be able to spend the night, but my parents would not let me.
It wasn’t fair, because my Dad spent the night at the Indiana State Fair when he was a teenager and showed hogs. He talked about the big city and how noisy it was for a boy from the farm.
In reality, I bet spending the night at the fair wouldn’t have been that much fun. The cot would have been hard, it was generally miserably hot and humid and it would have been noisy. Still, it is something I wish I had done.
I loved sitting on the gate of my horse’s stall watching people come by. My horse, Buck, was friendly, so he would have his nose over the fence for scratches. My pigs were super friendly, which is why I only showed barrows one year. My 4-H pigs were definitely pets by the time the fair rolled around.
My first barrow, Fred, was like a dog. The reality of the livestock auction and seeing Fred’s empty pen the next morning is a fair memory that haunts me. I eat pork, but Fred was a good pig. After that, I only showed gilts that went back home with me at the end of the fair.
I never won any ribbons with my livestock. My horse was just a plain horse that didn’t stack well for halter classes. He had a choppy gait that made pleasure classes a no-go in terms of a ribbon, and he was huge, so barrel racing was never going to be a fast time for us.
Still, I participated every year. I dressed in miserably hot long-sleeved western shirts, jeans and boots. I polished my saddle. I washed and groomed my horse and painted his hooves black. I would not have traded any of that for the world.
I fared better in food. From endless chocolate chip cookies in my first year to yeast rolls in my later years, I did love cooking. My yeast rolls went to the state fair and won a Grand Champion ribbon.
Although, those rolls did cause major angst between Mom and I. Mom had seen a magazine article on making a yeast-roll Christmas tree – basically, you made the rolls and stacked them so they resembled a Christmas tree and then you decorated them with Christmas-colored icing.
I was dead set against it. I thought it was stupid, but Mom talked me into it. And they took me to the state fair.
For almost 30 years I made those rolls in the shape of Christmas tree each Christmas and gave them to family and friends. Everyone always loved them. I’m sure Mom is still whispering “I told you so.”
Mom did not fare so well in sewing. My mom was an accomplished seamstress and did sewing for other people. She loved sewing. She made matching outfits for us to wear when I was little. She really wanted me to love sewing.
I hated sewing. I don’t know if I just really didn’t like to sew or if it was because Mom wanted me to do it so much; I just rebelled. Mom and I were wonderful friends after I turned 20. But those teenage years, I’m sad to say, I was dead set against doing anything Mom thought I should be doing.
Our worst fights were over sewing projects – hot summer days (no air-conditioning then) spent in a tiny room constantly taking out stitches (because I never did them right the first time, Mom would say). I can’t even see an apron today without breaking out in a sweat, as aprons were what was made then in the first year. So simple – a hem, two strings and you are done – but I shudder just to remember it, now.
I was an outdoor child, for sure. Anything that required me to be inside was not fun for me. I would have rather been riding my horse than anything in the world at that time. To this day I hate sewing; even putting a button back on a blouse is too much. There are just too many stressful memories associated with it.
I still visit the horses and the pigs when I am at a fair. I look in envy at the neatly made cots from the people who get to stay at the fair, and the giant fans blowing on them, the coolers draped in blankets to make a table, sandwich fixings spread out.
I still remember: Head, Heart, Hands, Health.