Friday, August 12, 2016

Ike's Last Fair, 14 years in a Flash

It is the night before the fair and all is calm. OK, all is not calm and we are in the final, furious push to tie up the loose ends (i.e. iron shirts, pack clothes, prepare stalls, etc….). One of the last things we have to do is to trim Isaac’s steer this morning. With all of the rush and excitement we have not had time to think about the fact that this is his last county fair as an exhibitor. The past twelve years seem to have passed just as quickly as the last two days.
Isaac actually has been exhibiting at the fair for fourteen years. He started his showing career with a bucket calf at the age of five. When Dad is the county agent and you spend every hour at the fair, it is only natural to start early. My kids have spent every hour of every fair at the fairgrounds and exhibiting a bucket calf at a tender age was the best way to keep them out of Dad’s hair.
Jethro was Isaac’s first bucket calf. He got the name from the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty Pageant. The cowboys were hanging the cattle rustler Jethro (just a dummy) and for some reason Isaac decided to name his bucket calf after the dummy. I really don’t remember how Jethro did and that probably is a good lesson for all of us going into the fair. The ribbon Jethro earned was not nearly as memorable as the calf and the cute little boy with big ears showing him.
I remember thinking during that fair that we would be 4-H parents forever and it was going to be a long time before we were done with that gig. Now I am on the eve of Isaac’s last fair with the realization that Tatum only has this and two more fairs left, wondering where the time has went. Many times I have told newly minted 4-H parents that they will blink and wonder what has happened to all of the time.
I really don’t remember too many of the trophies and ribbons Isaac has won. I do remember the experiences. I remember Vicious, the heifer, who, in the beginning lived up to her name, and ended up being a really calm, tame heifer. Then there was T-Bone, the steer, and Twinkle Toes, the Suffolk ewe, to name just a few of the many, many show animals that comprised Isaac’s show career.  Isaac has been pretty creative with his animal names over the years but this year’s may be the best. His final steer is named, fittingly, Tuition.
This year Isaac decided to stick with just livestock and has put to rest the tradition of last minute finishes to his other projects. I do not miss putting the decals on a rocket the night before the fair (OK in all fairness that was probably more Grandma Drake than me) or wondering if the paint would dry on the woodworking project. There were many late nights trying to get the exhibiter cards filled out and plans printed. Maybe he learned something about waiting until the last minute to finish projects. Sadly I think he learned he could wait that long and still get it done.
I do miss the conference judging and the wonderful judges we have met over the years. Again, I am not sure if I remember any of the ribbons he received on any of his projects but I do remember the conversations and the friendly tips and encouragement from each judge. Often it was not easy being the Extension Agent’s kid.
This year has been so hectic that I am not sure we have really had much time to realize that we were in the final sprint for the finish line (or more accurately staggering across the finish line of a marathon). I am sure it will sink in at some point this fair or in the days following it. Sure there have been some hard times when it wasn’t much fun, but for the most part, the fair has yielded more great memories and even a few life lessons along the way.
Most importantly, I realized something I have always said is true. Over the past fourteen years Isaac has won a few shows and contests at the Pottawatomie County Fair but I can’t name them or remember which years they were. I can remember the animals, the projects, the friends, leaders, judges and the great stories and they are what is truly most important. Ribbons fade, trophies gather dust and buckles tarnish but the memories and life lessons from the county fair live forever.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Calm Before the Fair

Next week the fair starts and we are in uncharted waters for our family. No, the kids are not taking any new projects; in fact, Isaac has downsized his projects a great deal. No new breeds of livestock or new responsibilities either. No, the uncharted waters we are navigating are the sea of tranquility. It seems as though we are ready for the fair.
The livestock are all at acceptable weights and are ready to show. Sure, we still have the clipping and grooming to do, that can only happen a few days before the fair. Even at that, the lambs have all been sheared at least once and the steers have been in the blocking stand several times. For the most part, the kid’s livestock is ready to make the trip to the fair.
Tatum finished her sewing last week and has all of the labels, paperwork and notebook ready for that project too. She does have her cooking to do but that falls into the same category as grooming the animals. It can only happen right before the fair. She has practiced all three of her recipes multiple times and has them down. On a side note, did I mention how much I like the fair and especially the practice baking for foods judging?
We have even had the annual breakdown before the fair (I probably ought to knock on wood right now). A couple of weeks ago the igniter went out of the oven and we had to wait a week for the new one to come in. That kind of thing usually happens the night before the fair and we scramble to come up with plan B.
I know, I have just doomed our family to some kind of unforeseen calamity, it happens each year. One year the well went dry the day before the fair when we were washing and grooming animals. Another year the rear main seal went out of the good pickup that we use to pull the trailer to the fair. It seems that something happens each year to cause grief and heart ache the day before the fair so maybe I am premature in my excitement.
It does feel strange, we have double checked and re-checked our lists and worried that we are missing something. The show boxes have been packed (something that usually happens the night before the fair) and everything seems to be in order. The clippers have been serviced, blades have been sharpened and we even have a new set of blades waiting and ready.  Water containers, feed pans and buckets have been located and counted. They could be loaded and transported at this very moment.
I know some of you are this organized all the time and you are over achievers. I am not sure what got into us except that the calendar fell differently this year and our fair is later, especially when compared to neighboring fairs. The Riley County Fair is usually our trigger for going into hyper speed in our fair preparations. The fair in Riley County is historically the week before ours, this year there is a whole week between the two counties and that contributed to our premature preparation.
I have to admit that this advanced preparedness is nice and does tend to lower the blood pressure of all involved but it does kind of lead to a weird feeling too. We really feel like we ought to be doing more, worrying more and mixing a little panic in too. I am also quite sure we have over packed because it has given us time to remember stuff that we were always going to bring but never got packed.
I am equally sure that something will happen in the next week that will cause widespread fear, panic and mayhem at my house. It just wouldn’t be fair without a good meltdown. I also assure you that it has done nothing to lessen the fair tension and grouchiness of all involved. There is still a lot of work to be done in a short amount of time.
Of course it could be that we have been doing this fair thing for eleven years now and maybe we are starting to get it figured out. Probably not, more than likely we are experiencing a false sense of security and at any moment (most likely the day before the fair) the rug will be yanked out from under us and we will be scrambling to stay above water.
In any case it will provide for a memorable experience and in the end everything will be just fine. However, right now I will enjoy the moment and the feeling of organization all the while waiting for the other shoe to drop. Call it the calm before the storm.