Summers in the Midwest are perfect. I feel so lucky to be living here. Last week I read in the newspaper, (I know I am one of the few that still has it delivered, but I love the ritual and the overall community information that is shared there) something that I would never normally pay attention to. It was the Hamilton County 4H Club Fair at Stricker’s Grove. Stricker’s Grove is like a miniature version of our old Coney Island, one of my favorite places in my childhood world. Coney Island always meant summer, freedom, and practicing small but daring acts of courage by going on a scary ride or taking my chances flirting with a boy for the first time. It also meant freshly made cotton candy, which I adore eating. Everything about it is simply magnificent. I named one of our cookies, the cotton candy pigs, just to honor that ethereal cloud of pure edible joy. I also named our raspberry filled heart cookies Coney Island Hearts just to honor my love for Coney Island.
Last Friday I talked my husband into taking a drive to that same 4H Fair I read about in the paper. I was hoping to see pigs and cows and chickens and hopefully a slew of prize-winning cakes and pies. The first thing we saw as we entered were dozens of brand new bright green tractors and mowers. Karl was happy. He loves farm machinery, especially tractors. Kids and their dads were happily climbing all over them equally enamored with their toy-like qualities. As we wound our way towards the animals, I stopped and took a hard look at a group of young children playing with scoops and cars in a sandbox, but instead of being full of sand it was full of golden feed corn that glowed in the early evening light. How creative and unexpected!
As we walked toward the “To the Animals “signs, we could hear auctioneers auctioning off animals that had been raised by 4H club members. I heard a prize-winning chicken brought in over four hundred dollars. I could see the proud and sometimes shy young people who raised the animals standing in the center of the auction ring anticipating what their yearlong efforts had wrought. Talk about putting yourself out there. What a life lesson about caring for a living creature, loving it and letting it go.
As the sun began to angle its way toward the horizon, we ambled our way over to the animals. They were so beautiful. There were pigs of many colors, llamas, cows, goats, chickens of the most spectacular shape and size, rabbits as big as beagles, donkeys and horses from bay to black. I felt like I had never really looked at farm animals in this light before. It must have been the love and the care that had been showered on each one that made them so beautiful.
In case you didn’t know what 4H stands for , here is its pledge:
I pledge my HEAD to clearer thinking
my HEART to greater loyalty
my HANDS to larger service
my HEALTH to better living
for my club, my community, my country, and the world.
On this 4th of July, America might consider adopting their philosophy. I want to.
As the sun began to set, we made our way into the exhibition hall where rows and rows of tables were covered with examples of prize-winning flowers and plants. There was a wall of educational posters that young people had laboriously hand made on poster board with paint and markers, each poster sharing information in a hands-on way. I suppose I am attracted to those kinds of displays because in my life, there is no other way to show what you know besides actually making something tangible. As “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Pastries are never virtual, neither is anything at the 4H fair.
As our evening was coming to a close, we decided to ride the roller coaster. It was just like the wooden one at Coney Island which took courage then and now. We got in line. A teen-aged boy counted out people and exactly as he came to us, he said,” Sorry no one else can ride tonight.” I was disappointed and relieved all at once. While we sauntered out, I noticed the little kids’ roller coaster was still running. Perhaps someone’s watch was a few minutes slow. Karl and I ran to get in line and this time we were the last to get on. It was a jolting noisy rough exhilarating ride. When we came to a stop, I was glad that was the one we were on. That was just enough roller coaster for me.
As we headed out of the dusty dirt parking lot, I was relieved and excited to know that these kinds of experiences still exist in our city, our Midwest. With our windows rolled down we drove past acres of foot-high corn and other fields of dark green plants, so happy that I still got the newspaper and that it could still inform me of something in my own community that I knew nothing about. Our world is still full of wonder if we allow ourselves the eyes to read about it.