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.