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What we learned at the fair

Slideshow: Responsibility, winning, losing, friendship, water fights and more — here’s what we picked up along the way, and what we’re still learning.

Editor’s note: Jill Loehr and I are taking turns here, sharing our county fair memories. Check out our county fair coverage, and check back next week for county fair memories from our readers! Also be sure to click through the slideshow to see photos of our favorite fair memories.

Holly’s fair memories
If I think hard, I can remember how it felt to drive down the highway with my freshly minted driver’s license, 16 years old, behind the wheel of my dad’s Chevy dually, pulling a 24-by-8-foot trailer loaded down with a dozen head of cattle, feed, hay, straw, tie-out gates and more, all headed to the first county fair of the summer.

Dad sent my brother (15) and me off on our own with directions for finding the fairgrounds that were not unlike some of the directions I get from farmers today: It ended with, “You can’t miss it.” I could feel the weight of the world — and the trailer. I was scared to death.

But he was right; we didn’t miss it. We didn’t miss any of the fairs that summer. It was a heavy responsibility, both driving and showing cattle. But the lessons were deep and broad.

What did I learn?

It takes a lot of work to wash 12 head. You might as well get started.

It’s a lot of responsibility to drive that much weight down the highway. Slow down early.

It takes a sweet forever to clean 24 stalls. Southern Illinois heat and humidity are no joke.

There are no friends like fair friends. When the work was done, we sat around somebody’s show box and talked. George Strait and Garth Brooks were the soundtrack for ice cream runs and water fights that only ended with someone in a water trough. And when my mother died, those folks drove across counties and states to be with us. They took care of us.

My youngest and I found ourselves near our county fairgrounds earlier this summer, and she asked with all the earnestness she possessed, “Sometimes I get the fair itch — do you? Like, you just want to go to the fair?”

Sure do, baby girl. Sure do.

It’s why we do what we do, right? The dirt, sweat, tears and occasional blood, all expended so our kids can know the kind of responsibility that comes with raising an animal, the wins and the losses, the fun that comes only with fair friends, and the satisfaction that settles to your core at the end of a long, hard day.

And it’s what makes county fairs worth saving.

BUSHEL AND A PECK: Holly Spangler’s kids Nathan and Jenna are no longer as excited about this video as they were when they staged the live event, but it’s still a favorite fair memory in the Spangler house. They were 5 and 7 years old when they entered the 2010 Fulton County Fair Talent Show and took second place.


Jill’s fair memories

By Jill Loehr

If I close my eyes and think back, I can still smell the inside of my show box and the stalls with fresh wood chips. I can feel the knot in my stomach — the one you feel right before entering the show ring while praying your four-legged friend behaves.

Showing at the county fair meant responsibility and freedom at the same time. I stayed on the fairgrounds from dawn until dusk to take care of the sheep, chickens, rabbits and whatever other species I was showing that year.

And I loved every minute of it.

I learned how to win and how to lose. I learned patience with my dog, who had been through every dog obedience training class possible, but just wouldn’t stay in the show ring for the “long down.” I thrived on showing my projects, meeting new friends, pitching horseshoes, spitting watermelon seeds and performing at 4-H Share the Fun.

Our county fair ended with a 4-H dance for the “big kids.” How cool was that? I remember the year I was finally old enough to go. We had an absolute blast to close out fair week. Growing up on a farm in rural community, it was one of the few chances to meet kids from neighboring towns.

And did we have fun.

It really was the best week of my summer.

Now that my kids are 4-H’ers, and they are old enough to bring projects to the fair, I want them to have that same experience. I want them to feel proud of their hard work. I want them to take the judges’ comments to heart and learn from their feedback. I want them to look at that ribbon, no matter which color, and feel accomplishment. I want them to walk the fairgrounds with their friends and make their own fair memories.

The kind of memories they’ll want to pass on to generations to come.

TAGS: Livestock 4H
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