Having grown up in Iowa, in 4H, this time of year is a very special time. This time of year the days are hot and seem to stretch on forever, yet somehow they still magically slip by until the first day of school hits you like a an alarm clock going off. Then, sweet relief it is autumn. The hot stretch between summer and school is State Fair time. Even before the State Fair a 4Her must endure county fair.
For nine years of my life I spent my summer days gearing up for the county fair in July, sewing prom dresses, sewing Halloween costumes, matting drawings, developing photographs, testing recipes, grooming cats, refinishing chairs, and typing writing typing. The night before each county fair is perhaps my favorite memory of spending time with my sister. We shared the kitchen on that long night, trying to bake all of our exhibition goods before dawn. In order to have the freshest baked goods, we had to do most of the baking the night before which often meant the two of us up well past coherency sharing the same oven with my parents laying awake upstairs listening to us giggling, sifting, mixing, slamming oven doors, and giggling.
Each project had to have an accompanying set of goals, things one did to reach those goals, then an evaluation as to how successful one was with said goals, and what one planned to do with the same project the following fair. Thus, 4H was the single best activity in preparing me for college applications, coursework in college, and the real world: teaching. I learned more about my strengths and weaknesses through 4H than I ever did in in any other venue. Sorry school, 4H was just more my style, it was more independent. That topic however, is an entirely different blog entry.
The county fair was the culmination of the prior year’s blood, sweat and tears which always happened to fall on some of the hottest, un-airconditioned days that I can remember. Our county fair was held on the State Fair grounds due to being in Polk County and so we were in the State Fair 4H building every July, sitting on long benches with projects in our laps, eying each others’ work, making judgments as to the degree of parental help each 4Her had, trying to stay cool with only fans to help, and waiting. Waiting most often came in the form waiting to be called to speak one on one with one of the judges. If you were in line for baking or sewing you always hoped for the youngest judge in the section. The older judges would look for threads that hadn’t been trimmed, seams that were a little wobbly, or inevitably find the one lump of baking soda that hadn’t been sifted in the entire batch of muffins.
Then judge would read your statements, look over your final project, touching every seam, looking at your matting, lifting glasses to look at the graininess of your photograph all the while asking you questions about your process, goals, challenges, how you overcame your challenges, would you do it again, how did you decide to do this, what made you go back and change that…. If it was a baked good being examined, the judge would finally slice your beautiful object, take a taste, examine the texture, look at it from all sides and tell you how it tasted. I always felt the worst for these judges, I am sure they ate some awful things during their time at the county fair.
After this entire exhausting and fulfilling process, the judge would tell you the ribbon awarded and write it on your entry tag attached to your object. Each entry was $1 to enter and depending on your ribbon status, you earned money. This was the incentive, the more you entered, the more money could could make. For most kids this 4H program made a ton of sense: So if I do well and work hard, I can make money!?! Why isn’t school this way?
4Hers could earn a blue, red, or white ribbon at the county fair with blue being the most valuable. However, if one’s project stood out amongst the others, it was often chosen for consideration for State Fair and these were big beautiful green ribbons. I know that I had more than one project chosen for State Fair, but the one that stands out for me was my senior prom dress, due to the French seams, the countless hours cursing over the sewing machine, and the final hemming done only mere hours before my date picked me up. This was by far the most thing I have ever sewn, and unlike anything ever purchased, it fit me like a glove. I was more proud of this project than any other 4H thing I had done. Seeing it displayed in the State Fair was better than anything I could have asked for as my final 4H summer.
These memories are some of my favorite growing up in Iowa memories, I spent nine years in 4H an eventually the monetary incentives of 4H gave way to a feeling of confidence that I could accomplish my goals and could be self-sufficient. My mom sent me a link today, of a girl who turned her ribbons into a dress, that brought all these memories back. I was in awe of this dress and vividly remember my own struggles with the sewing machine, sweating, and wishing I had chosen to make muffins instead. I included some shots of my proudest sewing project below: