Fair Season

Fair Season
On the front page of the Post-Dispatch this morning was a large photo with a Ferris wheel in the background and a family with a corn dog in hand in front, with the caption “Fair Season”. As I smiled inside, it was easy to reflect upon the impact our state fair has had on all of us.
My first State Fair was a trip to Springfield for the Illinois State Fair with Uncle Bill Dunham in August 1959, three years before becoming a member of the Manchester 4-H Club which would become known by the name “Los Caballero’s” or “The Horsemen”.
Uncle Bill was an organizer! He invited the Houlihan family, the Mullenbrock’s, a girlfriend of Judy Dunham’s, and the Sauer’s to make a day of it.
Nancy Sauer, Uncle Bill and Aunt Emily’s daughter, and her husband Bob were newly married living in their first home on the west end of the Durham’s farm. Peg and Bill Mullenbrock lived a couple hundred yards farther up Orville Road. Judy and her friend had just graduated from Horton Watkins High School and were off to college in September at William Woods in Fulton, Missouri. Judy’s friend had been given a convertible and a matching horse trailer for graduation. She planned to take her gelding to school with her.
At that time in life, I had nothing to say about what we did or when we did it. If mom or dad said we were going to the Illinois State Fair with the Dunham’s then that was what we did. I really didn’t know anything other than “wear a pair of shorts and a tee shirt because I would be hot that day”. And, inviting the Houlihan family included Denny Riesmeyer. Denny and I have been friends for so long I don’t remember life when he wasn’t a part of it.
When we arrived at the Dunham’s, Uncle Bill had his relatively new pickup truck with six foldable aluminum lawn chairs chained to the floor of the bed. We were going to experience an open-air ride for two hours from Chesterfield to Springfield and back. As a ten year old boy, this looked like pure fun and adventure until we were on the highway for about thirty minutes. Our faces felt like we were blasted by a sand storm. My brother Pat, Denny and I, the only passengers who liked the idea, folded the lawn chairs and laid them on the floor of the truck bed so they wouldn’t fly around as we drove along the highway. We snuggled together with our backs to the cab looking out the rear of the truck for the rest of the trip. Fortunately, Aunt Emily packed a couple of blankets for our ride home. Today, in this different time and perspective I say, if only Ralph Nader, the advocate for seat belts, could have seen this he would have been sick to his stomach.
Although I loved Uncle Bill’s passion for fun through the eyes of a child, I don’t think he had any idea the impact of seventy mile an hour late summer air and flying insects might have on two ten year olds and an eight year old riding in the bed of his truck. Or even the impact that a sudden swerve or an unexpected jam on brakes could do to the passengers who were sitting in the lawn chairs.
When we arrived at the fairgrounds, although I was struck by the overwhelming amount of amusement rides and the many different forms of food, I really only wanted to see the animals. As we came to the first barn, I was put off initially by the different smells. Cows and horses and sheep all smell differently and so did their manure. The second and more profound moment was that I had never seen so many perfectly groomed farm animals in my life. Some were lying in their stalls, some had fans blowing on them and many were being bathed in preparation for their showing.
I saw sleeping bags and temporary closets for clothes and trunks filled with grooming supplies. Dad told me during our walk through the many acres of barns that these boys and girls are part of the 4-H clubs. Many of them sleep with their animals. They have given the better part of their lives in order to compete for the best in their class. They, then, sell their animals at auction to the highest bidder at the end of the fair.
I was mortified at the thought of selling Butch or Stormy or Sandy. They were a part of our family. I could see the love and the relationship between the 4-H’er and his or her animals. Dad then said “there are many tears sown at the end of the fair during the auction”. The owners of the animals are ecstatic after winning and then saddened beyond belief when their animal leaves with another owner.
I thought to myself, as sad as it was in August to let their animals go, in January there would be new life and a new project. I also knew intuitively there was no way a winner of these events could win by being detached. Dad said “they sleep with their animals. They feed them and cared for them personally everyday”. This became the beginning of a life lesson that has influenced my philosophy as an employee, an employer, and a parent.
During college I read the book “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran. When I read it, I was moved by his words and touched by this statement as it still sticks with me. “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”
At twenty years old I didn’t fully understand the impact of this statement. Nor could I have been smart enough to know the powerful and unexpected gift of life from my first trip to a state fair. And, even more profoundly the impact 4-H had on my life.
However, caring for animals in every way, public speaking during our many horsemanship demonstrations, writing articles in Valley Horse News about one of our 4-H outings, and the gift of deep experiential relationships and the host of memories are with me forever.
Today I still get tears in my eyes when my children and grandchildren leave to return to their home cities. And I can’t wait for the next time we get to create new life experiences together much like I learned in 4-H.
Thank you farmers and 4-H er’s for this life lesson.

Posted in Community, Family/Personal.