That would be today. A day I never imagined in my craziest city-girl dreams.
Today Jr. Show officially starts in my town. It’s a weekend packed with kids, parents, animals, prizes, barbecue, lawn chairs, dust and red, white and blue.
It’s the rural America that Norman Rockwell painted, come to life in the rich excess of a 1940s musical.
courtesy East Oregonian
It’s also a lot of pig poop.
Yep, Hunter Boy, Martha Stewart, Jr. and Miss Tall and Blond have once again raised little piggies for market (giving me a new outlook on that toe-tickling game), which will be judged and sold before we leave Sunday evening.
This time we’re camping out at the showgrounds in the RV, to give filthy teens a place to peel off a few layers of grime, a cool spot in the heat of the day and some place to invite their friends.
It also gives the oldsters a place to get out of the sun, watch a movie and chat with new friends and old.
We’re going to be a Hallmark movie, you can bet on it.
But it truly is all tempered with pig poop, and me yelling for shoes to get left outside and to not eat so much at the concession stand and STOP BICKERING.
Yeah, they’re going to have to edit that out of the final cut. I’ll let you know how this goes.
Yep, you all, what with the goat manure still on your boots and the shreds of hay drowning at the bottom of your washing machines.
Listen up. I’m sorry. I had no idea. But that’s all changed since this last weekend.
This started way back when there was snow on the ground and Jack Frost still a regular visitor. “It’s almost time to get pigs for the girls,” Camo Man said one evening.
“Oh, yeah,” he nodded, his eyes looking into some pig pen of the past. “They’re gonna be be in 4-H. They’ll love it.”
I cleared my throat. “We’re not 4-H people. We’re band people. We’re youth group people. We’re city slickers and we know it. My kids are already over committed. So … no.”
“Oh, yeah,” he said, smiling that slow smile. “It’ll be fun, Honey!”
Then he gave me that squishy hug that makes my knees get all melty and we stopped talking.
I’m not used to not winning these things so I wasn’t worried. These are my kids, after all. I’m the mom here.
But sure enough, come one January day, Camo Man trekked off somewhere and returned with baby pigs. He set the cute little piglets up on his folks’ farm, fixed up the pen and housing, set out feeders and waterers and signed my children up for 4-H. If I had not been in a love-induced coma, I might have protested more strongly.
“It will all be over by May, way before the wedding,” Camo Man promised. I rolled my eyes and told him this was his project. “I can’t take on one more thing,” I said.
Pretty sure I could feel my jaw setting dial over to “stubborn.”
True to his word, or mine, CM did it all. He set up the little pig-growing accounts at our branch of Pendelton Grain Growers, hauled feed, hauled hay and hauled daughters. To the farm, to 4-H meetings, to PGG.
Now 4-H? That’s in its own category. My kids struck it rich, getting signed up for John and Jenny Rencken’s group, Blue Mountain Livestock. I can’t remember what I paid for their club fees, but I bought a whole load of love and esteem for a handful of dollars. My kids loved Jenny from the start and came home from every meeting glowing from the support she lavished on them.
They carried their green 4-H folders proudly and prepared for presentations and to take snack. My shy non-farm kids were suddenly walking like young landowners, I’m not kidding.
Side note: I was telling my son about his sisters being in 4-H and he asked what 4-H was. See what I mean? City folk, through and through.
Then, as promised, came this mythical event called Junior Show.
OK, let me just be up front about this – I grew up in this little rural community and I’ve lived back here nearly 20 years. Yet I had no idea what Junior Show means. I barely knew where the show grounds are — all I knew is that I drive past a dusty lot behind the feed store with a sign telling me the Pioneer Posse show grounds are somewhere back there. A fast glimpse on the way home from work reveals a scattering of metal-sided outbuildings and that’s what I knew of that.
Worse, not even my reporter’s instinct kicked in. It just wasn’t for me, that’s all I needed.
Of course, I knew kids are the “Junior” part. The same kids who used to miss days from school for this before the district tweaked the school calendar. Looking back, I can see that I imagined kids milling about in the dirt, holding onto the lead rope of cows or horses or who-knows-what. Ostriches.
My imagination went no further. Maybe a couple handfuls of kids and their farmer parents.
I’m embarrassed now. Junior Show is big. Really big.
That show grounds just expands into the next state with camp trailers and tents for this thing. The entire area is packed with kids and moms and dads and grandparent and younger siblings.
And animals. Boy howdy. Horses, dogs, goats, sheep, chickens, pigs, bunnies …
We, of course, were with the new cousins (actually, my daughters will be their new aunties, but that’s just too weird for us to consider, so cousins it is) in the pig barn. Thursday through Sunday, my daughters washed their pigs, brushed their pigs, baby-oiled their pigs. Shaved their ears and tails. Hauled feed, raked up poop. Filled watering tubes.
And just chattered nonstop, like they’d been doing this their whole lives.
Sometimes I sat and read, sometimes I walked. There were families everywhere, laughing, eating, carting tools and show clothes for their offspring.
Author’s note: The girls need real show clothes for next year.I asked CM why he hadn’t warned me that they needed pretty Western shirts and good boots and he laughed. “You had to become a real 4-H mom some time.”
It was like God had picked me up and set be back half a century when complete communities gathered for farm events and the kids were safely parented by all. I heard only a whisper of swear words and saw but a few unhappy faces.
On Sunday, we were there for much of the day. I dismissed the nagging voice that told me there were wedding and laundry chores waiting for me — not to mention dog puke on the basement rug to be blotted up — and settled in. I ate eggs and sausage links and later had the best barbecued chicken I’ve ever wrapped my lips around.
It was an amazing Mother’s Day.
I watched Martha Stewart Junior and others sell their animals at auction with pride. I heard the bids go up, up, up from an array of community business people.
Miss Tall and Blond’s had not made weight, so it was doomed to be sold as a “feeder” pig. Which means just what you think it does — remember “This little piggy went to market …?”
However, “Sweetheart” was spared for a bit longer and is on its way to another livestock show somewhere else in a few weeks. When hopefully it will weigh a lot more and bring its new owner blue or purple ribbons.
But Martha’s piggie was ju-u-u-ust right and Aaron Moore, manager of the hometown Les Schwab tire store, bought the critter for $2.15 pound.
With nary a tear shed for future bacon, my girl beamed as she left the selling ring.
I called Aaron on Monday and told him thanks. I explained that my daughter has never showed a pig in her life and that this whole thing is brand new to us.
He likes to listen for the names of kids he doesn’t know, Aaron explained. “Some buyers look for their biggest farm account or the popular last names. I try to spread it out.”
Sometimes, he added, “a bid gets stuck and I help to unstick it.”
We both agreed the process is a very tangible showing of small-town spirit and support. “I’ve never seen that demonstrated so clearly before I went to Junior Show,” I told Aaron.
I’m not just talking sales, either. I’m talking about the donations, the sponsored cash prizes, the hours of love and labor spent in creating this farm-life Disneyland every year. Just the hay hauling, for all those animal pens, must be a tremendous chore.
Unfortunately, business sponsorships are much more in the background of most things our children participate in. With Junior Show, those businesses had faces and names and dollar amounts. Like my insurance dude, ponying up big bucks for someone’s chicken.
I can’t give my insurance budget to a gecko now, no matter how charming the commercials.
I had no idea, when I stepped out of my van on the Pioneer Posse show grounds, how alive that old maxim would become — “It takes a village to raise a child.”
I’m sorry, Junior Show people, that I ignored you up until now. It won’t happen again. Why, we’ve already agreed, Camo Man and me — next year we’re bringing the camp trailer and setting up for the weekend.