Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Fair

When you have kids involved in 4-H, you find that the whole world seems to revolve around the week of the county fair, which for us is the first week of August.  It’s the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work and lots of practicing and preparing their projects to be judged.  Our local county fair also provides a chance for my kids to hang out with other kids who are interested in similar things, eat more sweets and junk food than I normally allow, and show off their critters and creations to the general public.  To say our family loves fair week would be an understatement! 

This year, in addition to bringing their goats and chickens to the fair, they also entered artwork, jams, cheeses, flowers and an artistic gardener creation.  I can’t participate in the youth shows, of course, but I do enter some of the open shows for baked goods, jams, cheeses and gardening, so I get to have some fun competing that week, too.

This was our third year of showing at the fair, and by now I’ve learned to clear the entire week prior to the actual fair to adequately prepare and get all the last minute things done.  We spend the week clipping and bathing goats, bathing and dusting chickens, baking, making jams and cheeses, and doing last-minute practices for showing the animals.  It’s amazing how much goes into getting ready for our week-long virtual live-in at the fairgrounds.

All the preparations were going along smoothly this summer and the anticipation and excitement were building as we got toward the end of the week before the big event.  Our 4-H club did a volunteer shift at the 4-H snack bar (aka the Dairy Bar) during a pre-fair event, we marched with our goats in the County Fair Parade, and we even managed to host a final poultry showmanship clinic at our farm to help prepare the kids and their birds.  It was the night before we were to start taking the first set of animals over to the fairgrounds and we were almost ready.

Then I got a phone call that threw a wrench in my careful planning and organization.  It was from the mother of a large family in our 4-H club calling with shocking, terrifying news.  Her 15 year old son, who we’d just spent much of the day before with, had had a freak, unexpected health crisis and was in a coma at the Denver Children’s hospital.  Understandably she was in a panic about her child’s physical condition and prognosis, but she was also concerned for her other children who were planning to enter their chickens at the fair for the first time and were in a tizzy about how they would be able to proceed.  As I helplessly listened to her tearful explanations about her son’s condition and tried to offer whatever support I could, I realized that the one thing I could do to help would be to make sure the other kids were able to participate in the fair as much as possible.  And even though her son was not going to be able to be at the fair, there was no reason why his hen and rooster couldn’t be there.   I assured her that we’d get the chickens ready and checked-in at the fairgrounds, and if needed we’d transport the other kids to and from the fair on show day.

So, the next morning my 4-H co-leader and I drove over to their farm, rounded up their 5 hens and the rooster, put them in cages and drove them back to my place.  My daughter and I then gave each of the chickens a bath and got them ready for check-in, before turning our attention to our own 12 hens that also needed to be prepped.  While I was matching the leg band numbers for their chickens to the paperwork showing which chickens had been entered, I realized that the boy’s rooster had not been properly registered.  I knew he had really been looking forward to showing off this fine bird, so I had to figure out a way to get him to the fair!  I called the poultry superintendent and after explaining the situation and the oversight, we finagled a “late entry” and the rooster was good to go.  Two trips to the fairgrounds with cages loaded with poultry, and all of our chickens as well as theirs were checked in.

Every day that week while we enjoyed our fair experience, showed our goats, and ate our ice cream and cotton candy, there was a part of each of us that felt the heaviness of the situation with our fellow 4-H family and their son.  Fortunately, we got a little more good news on the boy’s condition every day, and we were able to help his sisters get to the fairgrounds as much as possible so they could participate in the shows and fun.

My kids had many wins and got plenty of ribbons and awards that week, from Reserve Champion Senior Doe for Skittles, to Champion Dwarf Doe for Milky Way and Reserve Champion Best of Show for one of our hens.  We also got blue ribbons in jams, cheeses and even flowers.  But the happiest moment for all of us – the one that caused the most cheers of celebration - was when we watched the poultry judge award a Champion ribbon and trophy to our 4-H friend’s prized rooster!  Hooray!

This was topped only by the news a few days later that the boy was home from the hospital and recovering well.

Life Lesson:  Celebrate what matters most

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