The McLean County Fair starts this week, and I can’t help but feel a bit nostalgic about the whole thing. Like most other farm kids, I was in 4-H and spent a good chunk of my summers living at those county fairs where I showed cattle. Corn dogs for breakfast, lunch and dinner, tractor pulls, rigging up hammocks in the cattle chutes for an afternoon nap, being equally as intrigued by the city folks walking through the cattle barn as they were by the cattle themselves… gotta love it! While my friends were busy sleeping until noon and spending the rest of the day in the pool, we were living it up in the beef barn at the county fairs! But I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
You can learn so many life lessons from those kinds of experiences. For one thing, no one can teach you respect like a 1,400 lb steer. If the sheer size and strength of that animal isn’t motivation to pay attention and have respect, I don’t know what is! You also learn about responsibility. If you think you are eating breakfast before those cattle are fed, washed and watered… think again. You can eat as soon as those animals are taken care of and content in their stalls.
One of the greatest lessons I learned through the 4-H shows, however, is selflessness. You see, livestock shows can be ruthless just like any other competition. But, at least in my experience, that is what you see at the open shows where anyone and everyone can enter into the competition. The 4-H fairs are different. Each and every one of the kids in the show ring has worked hard to train, feed and groom their animal properly. Some of the kids in the show ring are more experienced than others, but regardless, everyone is learning. At a 4-H fair, I rarely saw an exhibitor or parent hesitate to help someone else with their animal. Whether it be grooming tips, helping with water buckets, or getting a rowdy animal under control, everyone steps in to help those who need it.
These lessons are, of course, relevant in the cattle barn at the county fairs. But they also extend to every other aspect of life. There will always be a need for respect and responsibility no matter what profession those kids choose to be in. And even beyond the workplace, there will always be people who need a helping hand. So many people these days would choose to look the other way; they only help others if they see some sort of personal gain. So often, though, it is people like all those 4-H kids I grew up with that are the ones to step in and help without a second thought.
There are so many different ways to grow up and spend your summer vacations, and I don’t think any of them are wrong. Heck, on those hot summer days I was so jealous of my friends playing video games in the air conditioning & swimming in their pools! But looking back, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I loved those smelly, dusty, sweaty cattle barns… and I learned so many things that some of my peers still haven’t figured out. So I hope all those 4-H kids are going to enjoy themselves at the fair this week! Because I miss it like crazy!