Even if you’re not a farm kid, you’ve been there


The ends of things are always fraught with emotion.  I’ve written about the end of an athletic season, called for an end to something every Thursday for a year in my personal life and ended many other things only to take them back up all too soon.  In all of these there has existed melancholy, regret, satisfaction, appreciation, introspection and joy in their completion.  The end of the fair is no exception.

When I was a kid our county fair was six days during the first full week of August.  I exhibited pigs, vegetables, usually some photography and when I was in elementary school, some artwork I had done during the previous school year.  Although I certainly wouldn’t say I was a busy kid (not by today’s standards for sure) I tended not to do a lot of extra work on my projects until about the third or fourth week of July.  This was to my detriment nearly every year.

The pressure to train a pig about what it was supposed to do as I drove it, find acceptable produce and take pictures around some theme was oftentimes a source of frustration for me and my folks.  Still, this was my pattern, and although as I got older I got wiser, I also stopped exhibiting anything other than pigs.  Even then I was learning my limitations.  In my teens I also learned I had others.

The social aspect of the fair was nearly as central to its importance as the exhibition of our projects.  From 12 to 18 when I finished my time in 4H, hanging out with friends, trying to talk to girls and seeing people I only saw at the fair became a bigger and bigger thing for me.  By this time of summer our baseball season had been over for at least three weeks.  Our Monday and Thursday games were well behind us and on the farm this meant we had very little contact with each other.  I know it’s hard to believe but we didn’t even have cell phones!

Seeing friends again for multiple days in a row was awesome.  Sure, it took us a day or so to sort of reacquaint ourselves but we were off and running (literally) all over the fairgrounds very soon.  Talking to girls was another story. (This is the limitation part).  As a shy, skinny, introvert I wasn’t much of a match for the opposite sex.  Truth be told I had no idea how to talk to someone who you couldn’t just punch in the shoulder if you liked them like my buddies.  This didn’t mean I didn’t want to do so.  (Talk to them, not punch them in the shoulder).  Unfortunately failed attempts, awkward interactions and plain old chickening out were usually the norm but I got better (marginally) over the years.  The people I only saw at the fair, at least in my youth, were even more hit and miss than the girls.  Our paths often only passed by chance even though the fair wasn’t a huge place.  When they did, my feeble attempts at visiting were often limited to saying hello and answering their questions about the results from my projects.  Unless you haven’t gotten it yet, I was not a shining conversationalist.  Perhaps it was in these, call them “growth opportunities,” that my emotions at the end of the fair were seated.

Cleaning out pens and packing up all the assorted things needed to care for my pigs was always bittersweet.  I longed for a few more days to enjoy daily contact with them.  Maybe that sounds weird, especially if you’ve never had the experience, but I think it approaches the feelings we develop for our pets.  If you know that feeling, imagine getting a new pet, getting to know it better for six or seven days and then having to say goodbye forever.  It’s no wonder that the kids who had worked with their animals all summer long shed some tears as they watched them loaded onto a truck to be harvested.  I never lost much sleep over my pigs being processed.  I knew this was where all livestock eventually end up and most years I knew that I had cared for them as best I could and in some years even had known success in the show ring.  Those feelings were certainly similar and often more positive than the ones I had as I picked up my gardening and photography projects.

Reading the judge’s comments, considering how my project stacked up in my eyes to the ones the other kids had done and knowing the minimal time and effort I had put into them left me wanting more.  I wanted more from myself personally as far as understanding the project and learning how each item would be evaluated.  I always desired and resolved that next year, I would commit more time in the months before the fair to what I would exhibit.  This personal evaluation, examination and at times scolding was ultimately what moved me to discontinue these projects.  As I evaluated my performance I always thought I could have done better.  As I examined my expertise in the project I eventually concluded perhaps this just wasn’t my thing.  And finally as I internally rebuked myself for not putting in the effort year after year I had to come to the conclusion that were the project important enough for me, I would have been willing to work on it to at least make progress.  After several years of this process, I hung it up with these projects.  Acknowledgment of these facts, like the end of the fair, was undeniable but the end of it still swirled with thoughts.

The pigs had done well, not as good as I wanted but I could see that what I presented was just not quite what he was looking for this year.  To improve next year would probably mean watching what was popular in the show pig business.  Our commercial market hogs were becoming less and less acceptable.

The vegetables had been kind of a disappointment.  I should have watered and weeded more and thinned plants to get more attractive and consistent produce.

Photography was intriguing but maybe this format wasn’t really where my creative abilities existed.  I thought what I offered was actually pretty good.  The judge, not so much.

Making the last efforts to take down pens and wheelbarrow out bedding had me ruminating on things far outside, away and down the line from the fair.  It was the end of summer.

School would start soon and along with it sports and girls and studying.  The fair, like I would discover college, years later, was unique in its downtime.  Maybe that’s what made it so special.  Six days of simpler purpose, connection with friends and the prospect of talking to those cute girls had come to an end.  There wasn’t a thing we could do about it, it just was.  The end.

I imagine everyone’s been at the end of something that seemed to conclude all too quickly.  If it’s not the fair, it’s a vacation or a visit to friends or even a holiday.  Still, the end comes and all we’re left with are the memories and perhaps a keepsake or two.  But memories are good.  Heck, it’s been 35 years since I exhibited at the fair.

I hope this little look back got you reminiscing about fun times from the past.  If you would like to read more of my ruminations and such, click here to go to my blog’s home page.  While you’re there I hope you’ll subscribe.  Subscribing means you will get an email weekly with links to my writing, nothing more or less, and it’s free!  You can also subscribe here by clicking this.

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