Sometimes Western Kansans get so caught up in getting through a day or the week, they forget something special occurs toward the end of summer. Those unique events are area fairs, which began a few weeks ago and wrap up over the next few weeks. They provide opportunities to socialize, eat good food while supporting local organizations, and explore 4-H and open class entries in categories from fashion review to animal showmanship. It’s a time for kids and adults to showcase favorite projects.
Growing up in a city, I didn’t participate in 4-H adventures. However, during visits to my grandparents in SW Kansas, I’d see friends racing to complete sewing, cooking, and animal projects to submit before the entry deadline. This wannabe country girl loved watching farm buddies give calves, pigs, and sheep spa treatments as they trimmed, sheared, shampooed, blow dried, and combed out their prize-creature’s hair before polishing newly trimmed hooves.
I loved when my summer visit overlapped the start of the Meade County Fair so I could wander up and down the exhibit aisles. I longed to be a rural kid so I too could enter a freshly scrubbed critter or a platter of exactly- the-same-size-cookies made from a favorite family recipe. Jealousy nearly ate my heart when friends would authoritatively state they had to clean a stall or groom their show animal. Though I laugh at my response now, those chores seemed exotic and grown-up then.
Years later, after I became a Kansas country mother, my husband and I encouraged our daughters to raise 4-H sheep. The girls worked with a handicap since neither parent had been childhood club members, but we muddled through building pens, buying feed, perfecting morning and evening walks down section roads to make well-muscled lambs.
We learned sheep don’t like to be alone, so we convinced a reluctant daughter to join the fun with a lamb of her own. I loved seeing my young Bo-Peeps in their nighties and wild bed hair as they paraded their flock of two up and down the long drive in the early morning coolness.
Fellow club members and their parents walked us through the list of preparations to get our daughters’ lambs to the fair. First we had to shampoo the critters. It’s only logical that you’d wash fleece with Woolite for the best effect, right? One young man brought his sheers to the house and showed us how to trim wiry wool into a lovely do. Then he explained how to polish sharp little hooves to a dark shine.
The cleanliness ritual became fair fun as youngsters from various clubs took turns spritzing hot creatures and one another on scorching August days and then drying and brushing their critters’ coats til they gleamed. Not only were animals soaked, giggling big and little kids wandered about sporting drenched hair and t-shirts.
While the rearing and preparation of the animal for judging was mostly fun, show time was all seriousness. Club mentors coached our girls’ clothing selection as well as their interactions with judges, including possible questions the officials might ask. On top of these stresses, most of these events occurred when the thermometer was well-over 100. These kids and their animals had to maintain composure in a furnace.
For our family, fair time was mostly about finishing projects and enjoying the experience. The girls never won coveted blue or purple ribbons. However, each has a slew of stories about this summer ritual to tell their children.