When I went to the Tillamook County Fair Office to pick up my ribbons and rewards, I was excited to receive $15 in prize money. This may not seem like a sum worthy of excitation, but what it represents to me, is.
In my teen years, our family lived on a 30-acre farm. My father also worked nights at the nearby lumber mill. We practiced subsistence living, not because it was trendy, but because we were very, very, very poor. My parents agonized every year, worried they could not make the place payment.
Simply put, there was no money for anything other than the most essential of essentials, not even emergencies. If my sister Anita and I wanted to wear clothes, we had to make the money to pay for them ourselves. Our parents decided we would do that by raising sheep, which by the way, I detested. We had no say in the matter, which is really what I detested. I wanted to raise a pig because I saw they brought a bigger paycheck when sold, they didn’t stink like lanolin, we generated lots of green matter to feed them, and they were not stupid. One could have a good conversation with a pig. Not so with a sheep.
No one listened to the budding MBA in me, however, so sheep it was. We also had taken 4-H since we were of age, and had learned to cook, sew, craft leatherwork, judge livestock, and identify weeds and crops. We also won ribbons and received prizes for this labor, besides showing our sheep and selling a lamb for profit at the Union County Fair.
I remember after fair one year, I had made $60, enough for one new outfit at least, and shoes, I hoped. I bought those first, because my sophomore year I went for a couple of months with no shoes, my cheap Sprouse Reitz pair having disintegrated in the rain, mud, and snow, early on. I couldn’t even borrow a pair from my mother because my feet were so huge. My embarrassment was enormous having to wear nothing but boots over my socks, those cheap plastic boots normally worn over shoes. They flopped all around loosely when I walked, making slapping noises as I walked down the halls. I did all I could to be invisible to classmates during those months.
Because of this humiliation, I made sure from then on to always buy decent shoes first when I came into money, then underwear, and then focus on the outer realm. The only way I could do that was to enter items into the fair and trudge through another year of barely motivated sheep raising.
That’s the reason prize money from the fair has meaning for me. It was the only thing that kept my sister and I clothed from year to year. I am so grateful to 4-H for having given us that opportunity.
Now, I enter things in the fair because of the fun factor only. I like showing my beautiful and odd flowers and my mosaic glasswork because these things bring me and others joy. Besides, this time, it’s my choice how I’ll make my fair money and how I will pay my riches forward in some quiet way. (My friend LaVerna bought a corn dog with her winnings!)
Fairs are important because anyone can share the fruits of their labors, and the joys to be found in preparation and sharing. I love seeing what other talents of our community are to be found at a fair and discovering who did what. That’s the joy of entering things in the annual fair. It’s rarely about the money, the acquisition of ribbons, or the fame. We entrants are sharing our soul.