What was the best thing about the 2014 Iowa State Fair? Leaving.

I’M SORRY!!! Between the crowds, the sun and the motorized scooters, I just couldn’t take it! I keep thinking if I’d had an umbrella with me, to provide perpetual shade, then maybe I could’ve sucked it up. But the little I saw showed me little has changed since I last visited the fair in 1995.

Dad Olson poked fun, “You mean to tell me, you run all these races, out in the heat, and you couldn’t take the fair?!” Yes.

In my defense, my miles and racing drop significantly in the summer. And when I do run, I’m mentally prepared for the gross dirtiness (and it’s usually at some ungodly pre-dawn hour).

mo 4h dresser ribbon winnerThe weather, as many of you know, has been quite mild, but bright, blinding sun does a number on me. No, I’m not some delicate flower. I think I’m more vampire.

Even so, I just couldn’t get excited for the state fair. This lack of interest wasn’t helped when the night before, my father-in-law, who’d just come from the fair and seen Moira’s blue-ribbon Joe Brown dresser and Maclane’s red-ribbon Lake Loretta sign, told Maclane he thought his sign would’ve earned a blue ribbon if his project book had made it to the fair.

WHAT?!!! The next 18 hours was a mix of high-pitched emotions ranging from my husband emailing ISU Extension and ringing up different county fair board members to my son crying himself to sleep.

Marty, I and the kids all agree it was a painful lesson in not leaping to conclusions. Just because someone says it’s so, if we’d waited and seen for ourselves, Marty’s lunch would’ve had fewer feathers and Maclane’s pillow, less sodden.

WP_20140709_003Turns out, after making our way from the north entrance of the fairgrounds all the way to the southern edge and the Poultry building where the 4H exhibits were displayed, it was written right on Maclane’s tag that his project book was, in fact, there. There was no way of attaching the book to his project, so his along with other books detailing other projects, was kept in a separate area of the building where visitors could ask to see it.

I was simultaneously relieved and livid. Maclane and Marty had been put through hours of wasted emotion, yet it was wonderful watching Maclane’s attitude transform. From slow-footed and frowny to skipping and gleeful, proud of his red ribbon, the boy was back to his wise-cracking, comic self.

After snapping pictures of Moira with her gorgeous dresser and Maclane with his colorful sign, we headed to the cattle barn to meet up with my sister’s family, the Reemtsmas. While Moira and Marty were excited to see more sights, Maclane and I, along with nephew Nicolas were ready to leave.

The grit behind the livestock fanfare

Walking through the cattle barn was probably my favorite part of the whole fair. I’d much rather walk up and down the rows of cattle pens vs. stand in line to see the Butter Cow. To see how different families camped out, with food spreads, lawn chairs and hammocks was fascinating, likely because I grew up on what I used to call a “nice” farm i.e. just crops, no manure.

As a kid, I loved not living with the aroma of hogs and cattle, but as an adult? There’s a certain ‘grit’ one develops when working with livestock. Watching Phil and Jacob fluff up the steer’s coat, Phil working a brush on the legs while Jacob wielded a blower, I couldn’t understand how the beast was so still, how Phil wasn’t getting kicked in the head.

I may have thought such detail work was reserved for a couple weeks during fair season, I was quickly informed this is the daily grind for many “real” farm kids. The feeding, the cleaning, the walking, the brushing, the washing—all in a day’s work. I can’t help, but giggle thinking this is my sister’s brood.

In June, having stopped by Angie’s place for a visit, a nearby oinking alerted us to a hog on the lam. Looking north into their pasture, we saw cows curiously walking along the fence-line, following the jaybird-hog.

With the Reemtsma men away, we took it upon ourselves to right the situation. Despite her best efforts to scold the pig into submission, clearly Angie (and I) were ill-equipped to deal with loose livestock.

While it’s one thing for a mother to threaten and coerce her daughters into modeling their sewing projects, clearly it was Angie’s lost battle trying to reason with a pig.

Had we been real farm girls, maybe we would’ve know that a boot to the side would’ve nudged the pig along. That a rightly swung shovel provided more motivation than a stern look and a hand on the hip as Angie yelled, “Bad pig! Go to your pen!”

Such is life on a real farm.

In spite of my lack of enthusiasm, I think our area kids, not to mention my family, did pretty dang awesome in the world of fairs this year.

And though Maclane and Nic were happiest while swimming at the hotel, and Angie and I, resting pool-side, Marty and Moira “fair’ed” their hearts out, returning to the hotel that evening, bellies full of cotton candy and funnel cake.

I can’t be the only one who’s glad it’s over, can I?


Originally published 16 August 2014 in The Observer.

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