I love the Fair, and the reason I love the Fair is that I have many good memories of my days there showing my 4H heifers. My sisters and I would be there from early morning to late night, doing stall duty, washing our animals, practicing our showmanship, pitching out the stalls each morning – and nervously participating in classes for animal type and showmanship. The Fair becomes its own little community during that week, and the camaraderie and competitiveness makes for a lot of entertainment with a bit of drama mixed in. It was a week like no other in the entire year, and we couldn’t wait for it to come.
I was privileged to be a member of a 4H club that still endures – Dairyland 4H Club celebrated 50 years of continuous operation this year. The club started with a number of young men from the Northwood & North Lynden areas. I believe that Debbie Van Mersbergen, the little sister of some of those boys was the first girl to be interested. The boys in the club had to take a vote about whether they would allow girls to join, and when they approved this move, my sisters and I were recruited to be Debbie’s companions.
It was a prime way to begin, I must say, as those big brothers and cousins would do anything that we didn’t know how to do, or were too scared to do. Even better, the guys were great fitters and showmen, so we had the best in our corner as we learned what how to show and judge dairy animals.
A few weeks ago, I heard that part of the celebration of 50 years of Dairyland at the Fair, was a showmanship contest for alumni of the club.
It was tempting…but as I am skilled at looking foolish without even trying, my default decision is to forgo the opportunity to look foolish by consent. I have not shown a cow since 1978. That’s…30some…A LONG TIME AGO!
But I often say how much I miss cows, and truthfully, the chance to show one again, no matter how embarrassing the outcome, still tempted me…And then I got a hold of myself, and said, “Self! What wouldn’t you give to get to handle a cow again? Isn’t a little humiliation worth the experience?”
So Self signed up…and then pep-talked one of my sisters into joining.
Self got a little carried away after that and smack-talked Sister Erin, saying how glad Self was that now she knew she would beat at least ONE person.
Self should know better, as she said this to the sister that has hunted wild animals in Africa, and attempted a climb of Mt. Baker…
So Thursday evening at the Fair, Erin and I arrived early to spend the requisite time of nervousness required when attempting to appear proficient at something you have not done for thirty-some years.
It was about this time that it occurred to me that I do have a bad shoulder, and should I get a fractious animal, it could be problematic. We also realized that neither of us had ever shown a cow, only heifers, so we stood in quiet consultation at the edge of the ring, reminding each other of all the rules and tips we could remember.
We would be showing in the 3rd class that evening…the Old Timers.
And I am grateful for that because it was an excellent review watching the Youngsters and the Middle Agers, though it began in a very perplexing way when the judge decided to have some fun and made the Youngsters pick up feet, and answer weird questions, and take weird maneuvers with their animals. Erin and I looked at each other in shock. We did not know that showing had changed so much! This was probably going to be more embarrassing than we thought.
Thankfully, then the judge explained that he was having some fun and seeing if the Youngsters would do anything he said. Ha! They did, like good showmen. And Whew! We wouldn’t have to.
The bleachers around the show ring were full of people come to see the spectacle. We hadn’t counted on that much audience, and about this time, I realized that another possible opportunity for embarrassment could be that I might collapse. After a day of HOT, HOT weather, in which I am prone to feel ill, and then potentially wrestling an animal around the ring in a HOT, HOT barn, my lack of general fitness might make me succumb to a fate worse than placing last.
And so I prayed.
Our turn in the ring arrived and wonder of wonders, I didn’t have to show a cow. I drew a summer yearling Guernsey heifer named, Dreamgirl…And that’s just what she wanted to do – dream. She wasn’t just reluctant to leave her hay; she refused. It took some prodding to get her out of the straw bedding and down the aisle to the ring. At least I didn’t have to worry about her running away, though she did make some attempts to thwart movement in the appropriate direction, but overall, she was okay. And it was great to have my hands on a bovine again, and be in the ring, doing the maneuvers that hopefully made my animal look it’s best. I made sure to stroke her dewlap (the soft skin flap that hangs below the cow’s neck – softest, smoothest part of the cow!) because I’ve always loved to do that. It had nothing to do with good showing and everything to do with missing cows!
Frankly, Dreamgirl and I were not a great team. I think I made her look good but not great, and when I got to trade animals for a big, sweet, calm cow, SHE made me look good. The judge asked me to back her up, and she did, good girl, and kept going when he told me not to stop! I was the back-up champion…if there was such a thing.
Going in to this competition, we didn’t expect the amount of serious scrutiny that we got from Mr. Jay Lancaster, the judge. He made us work, even testing whether we could handle our animals well enough to get their front feet on a board on the ground. (Not something cows like to do!) And while we had to do some serious work, there was a lot of laughing, and joking, and just general enjoyment for each of us showing, -- and the judge, who knew he wouldn’t have any angry parent talking to him afterwards.
It was hard for me to see what Erin was doing in the ring because of her position in the circle, but every time I caught a glimpse, she looked good. Because some of the participants in the ring had shown for many more years than had we, and had their own family herds, we didn’t expect to finish high. We, vanity of vanities, hoped not to finish last.
So I felt great glee when I saw the judge pull my sister into first place in the Old Timers class! He called her the cow-whisperer as she talked to her heifer throughout their time in the ring, and kept her calm, and looking pretty. Erin was unruffled --even when her heifer didn’t want to cooperate, and was covering her arm with slobber, and she obviously had a good time making her heifer look great. I was proud of her! My sis has grit. She determines to make it work, unlike someone else who spends too much time thinking about fainting and bad shoulders and losing control of her animal.
I placed out of the ribbons, coming in 5th, or in the top of the also rans, which I felt was respectable. I didn’t do anything dumb, neither did I faint! And OH did I have fun!
Even better, Erin went on to win the overall competition when the winners from all 3 classes returned to the ring. The judge complimented all of us on our showmanship, and the Dairyland club for producing so many capable showmen.
It made me proud to be part of such a fine group of people, and to have had the influence of Bud Lenssen (our 4H leader for many years) and others who taught us the skill of showmanship, and the character of good competition. It really was a great blessing in my growing years; and it was also a blessing now to see so many friends from long ago, and reminisce over the memories of good times and hard work.
I’m so grateful to the current leaders and parents of Dairyland 4H for giving us the opportunity to celebrate its great history, and to have the fun of showing again. Hope someday there are great-grandkids celebrating more anniversaries.
And Self, though you really botched it when you smack-talked Sister, but I’m proud of you for not taking the usual easy road, and doing something that stretched you. It was worth the risk.