Fair brings flashbacks

During a livestock show at the county fair, I saw one of the dads put his foot up on the gate and fold his arms across the top. He stared intently at his child in the show ring, concentrating on her every action. When she successfully set up her animal, he smiled, knowing his offspring had just nailed the move they’d practiced all summer.

Suddenly, all I saw was my dad. I could picture him in that exact position, decades ago, watching me inside the ring. You are never supposed to take your eyes off the judge — but every second I could, I looked at my father, half to gauge his approval, half to see if he had any hints. He always had something to whisper.

Back to reality and that more recent livestock show, I looked at the little girl. She was carefully guiding her animal around the ring while trying to stay clean because it was showmanship. Flashback to my own experience — it’s hard to keep a white shirt white when a big, slobbery animal is rubbing its head against your shoulder and urinating every five seconds.

I love the county fair. Not only are the real-time activities entertaining and endearing, what they conjure up in my memory is priceless.

It’s been many, many years since I was a little 4-Her in Antelope County. But when I go to the York County Fair each year, it seems as if it was yesterday when my siblings and I embarked on our biggest adventure of the year.

It was a week’s worth of effort at the end of the summer when we’d present everything we’d worked so hard for. We’d haul our cattle, cookies, photos, flowers, canned goods, fresh vegetables, tote bags, dashikis, dresses, biscuits, decorated cakes, bread and more to the big town of Neligh.

The livestock, of course, consumed more time because they were alive. The other exhibits were entered once and we never saw them again until the fair was over. By the fair’s end, the cabbages had wilted, the brownies were dried out, the perfect tomatoes had spots of rot starting to emerge. But we didn’t care — all the bad stuff was covered up with the ribbons placed there by the judges.

The cattle, however, were a lot of work, as all livestock-displaying families know. There was the scrubbing, grooming, feeding — and milking, in our case, because we had Holsteins. Just because the cows left the farm didn’t mean the milk wasn’t needing to come out — so it had to be done with a portable machine. I remember how a small crowd would gather when the dairy farmers took turns doing the daily deed — and how we laughed because it was so strange someone would find it interesting.

Every year, there’s that one kid being dragged around the fairgrounds by an animal as it runs recklessly and out of control. And those kids never let go, no matter what. Faces grow redder, eyes become strained, grips remain steadfast. I remember my own catastrophic event as my hormone-driven heifer, Hillary, went crazy in the show ring, smashed me into the wall of the show ring and I subsequently passed out from an asthma attack. Ah, good times.

I see the kids walking with their livestock back and forth from the show rack. I remember the smell of Palmolive (the dishwashing liquid worked great on Holsteins’ white areas) and the nice, cool mist on a hot summer morning. And to this day, I flash back to cleaning the wax from our heifers’ ears every time I use rubbing alcohol (it was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it).

I love seeing hard working kids, with manure on their jeans, straw in their pigtails, sweat on their faces, smiles on their lips and yes, sometimes even tears in their eyes because they tried so hard. I remember that.

I can see my mom, lugging kids and combs and show boxes.

I can see my brothers lifting bales and I can almost smell the dirty stuff on my shirt.

I also recall feeling tired — but it was that good kind of tired, the kind that indicated you’d accomplished something that day even if the color of the award wasn’t exactly what you’d wished for.

The county fair creates so many flashbacks. I find it wonderful that although the world has changed so much over the years, the fundamentals of living that life haven’t.

I’m thankful I had the opportunity to experience all that as a child, so I can continue to enjoy it today, as I watch from afar as an adult.


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