Yesterday we went to the Iowa State Fair. Brian and I had only been here once before, when Reagan was 9 months old and we left her at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. We knew this would be a slightly different experience.
We got there bright and early and the first little friends we met were some sheep. This one, for example, found a buddy when Hunter strolled on up. They were both big noisy fans of one another.
As our morning continued we wandered through an empty horse barn (seriously, where did they all go?), the pig barn, the cow barn (which was cool because they were all getting ready to show), and the “Avenue of Breeds”. Reagan and Maddie loved seeing an Elk who had a little baby elk with her in the pen. They got charged twice by that protective Mama and they giggled. We watched a pig give birth, saw brand new baby cows, baby lambs, baby goats, baby chicks hatching and little ducks go down their waterslide.
We even stood in line to see the Butter Cow. Oh yes. We did.
There are more than 100 tractors lined up on the Grand Concourse. We walked along the row and I was only half paying attention. But then I saw a familiar shape and I recognized the tractor that has always been my Dad’s favorite. I didn’t even need to see the numbers on the side to know that it was a 1456. We took this picture for Grandpa :)
Then it was time for Little Hands on the Farm. This was the perfect exhibit for my kiddos – all three of them. Finally poor Hunter got out of his stroller and he did NOT want to get back in. The girls planted seeds, harvested all kinds of produce, drove little pedal tractors, and brought their goods to the Farmer’s Market where they earned “money” to spend in the General Store.
And by the time we made it out of there it was time to hunt down some food. Never underestimate the amount of time it will take you to hunt down something for everyone to eat. Also, never overestimate the patience of a 19 month old boy who has missed naps, is hungry and just wants to RUN AROUND.
By the time lunch was done, Hunter was crying pretty frequently and refusing to sit in his stroller so we visited our last few exhibits and decided to hit the road. We didn’t do rides and I’m absolutely certain that there was a LOT more to see that we missed. But it was just time to go.
I grew up on a farm. I woke up frequently to the sound of my Dad’s tractor roaring across the yard off to the field. I remember my brother and I sitting by the living room window for long stretches of time, just waiting to see his headlights flash into view just beyond the barn – telling us he was home. I walked beans – no really, I carried a hoe and walked up and down rows and rows and rows of acres of beans. I will never forget one particular field my Mom and I walked when I was in junior high. I spent a lot of time mowing our vast lawn, something I was happy to hand over to my brother when he got older. And I drove tractors doing fieldwork for my Dad.
I did not go over to a friend’s house to play very often. I did not hang out at the pool unless my Mom took my brother and sister and I and then we were just there with each other – not with other friends. I did not just hop on my bike and ride around town. I hopped on my bike and rode up and down long field driveways that stretched way out behind our barn. I spent nearly my entire childhood outside playing in our yard, swinging on the rope swing in the hayloft, climbing trees or building something in the barn.
And so many memories came back to me yesterday at the fair – not so much in the exhibits I saw, but more in the farm kids that were EVERYWHERE. Their animals were interesting, but I could have just sat down and watched them all day. There were half a dozen teenage boys cleaning out all the horse stalls in the horse barn. They weren’t talking when we walked by – just forking the old hay out of the stall. When we walked through the cow barn there were teams of farm kids standing around individual cows all doing their own part to make that cow look clean and healthy. They might speak quietly to each other, but there were many very young kids who were trusted with a certain task that they did competently without instruction or supervision. Whether they were sheering sheep or cleaning out pens, they just worked. They knew exactly what needed to be done and they just did it.
Even as hundreds of people walked around them, these kids didn’t act annoyed. In a perfectly polite way they ignored the crowds and just did their thing. Some of them volunteered at other exhibits. I can only imagine the questions people probably asked them throughout the day. But they never looked irritated or put out. They worked and worked and worked. All of them were, without exception, calm and self-assured.
I can’t say that the same was true of me, when I was their age. But what I loved about taking my kids to the fair was showing them these farm kids. I’d point out the animals, but then I would point out the kids working so quietly behind the scenes.
I’m going to be honest here – the Fair isn’t really my thing. I do not like crowds. Honestly, it was all I could do to last till 2:00. And really, I think maybe that’s a little bit because of how I grew up. I felt like I could see glimmers of the same in the faces of the farm kids at the Fair. Not that they are all introverts, but when I watched some of them escape to quiet corners or take breaks in off-the-path spaces, that resonated with me.
(Seriously, I so get it. I wanted to buy him another Mountain Dew.)
So to all the farm kids at the Fair, can I just say how much I admire your work ethic? I admire your quiet patience and your calm manners. I admire that you do something like the Fair, which is an enormous amount of time and work (I cannot even imagine), just so town people can come out to see what it is you do. I admire the gentle way you were friendly and welcoming to my kids; how you invited them to pet your goats, how you didn’t react in annoyance when we accidentally walked in your way even though you were carrying something heavy, how you told Maddie you liked her necklace. I know most people who walk through the livestock barns have no concept of what it means to be a farm kid. I know the multitudes can see you prepping your cow and they don’t really realize that that is just one tiny glimpse of the HOURS of work you have put into your animals. I know that there are almost never days off for you, that holidays are spent working because farming is 24/7, that you knew how to drive a tractor many years before you were legally allowed to drive a car.
On a day when you thought you were just in the background – that people were more interested in your animals that they were you, I saw you. I saw you working. I saw your patience. I saw your focus. To me, you were not lost in the craziness of the Fair.
I suppose not all farm kids can grow up to be farmers. But for some like me who are now (gulp) townspeople, those years are always precious. Thank you for reminding me to appreciate my childhood all over again.