Gratitude

Today, while sitting at the fair knowing it was my last day this year, I couldn’t help but be a little emotional.  See, on Saturday at the Richwood Fair we have what’s called the Non-Livestock 4-H Jr. Fair Sale.  For the benefit of my city slicker friends, let me back up and explain.

All summer long (and sometimes longer for certain projects), kids who live in and around my hometown raise various animals – cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, rabbits, etc. – for the purpose of taking them to the fair to be shown and then sold at the auction.  Yep, Wilbur gets slaughtered in mid-September, which is a reality of farm life.

Another reality out here is that all the community business people come to that auction and support the kids who have worked hard on these projects by bidding against one another for the privilege of buying from folks who have supported their families and businesses the rest of the year.  Its our way of scratching each other’s backs, so to speak.

Some kids don’t take livestock but still wish to be part of 4-H and the FFA (Future Farmers of America).  So, they have the option of doing projects like photography, woodworking, cooking, and others.  For many years, these young people just took their projects back home with no fanfare.  For those who had animals, it wasn’t a big deal.  But for those kids who live in town or aren’t from farming families, they would walk away with maybe a ribbon but no money for their work.

All that changed several years ago when they decided to allow those who received an “A” grade on their projects to sell them at this non-livestock auction.  The kids bring creative projects to sell; today a young woman did Scrapbooking as her project and instead of selling her personal scrapbook she auctioned off her services as a scrapbooker for whoever bid the most.  Others baked goodies that tied to their cooking project or made bookshelves or flower boxes for woodworking.

As you can see in the photo, this is a very well attended event.  People love to come see what the well-known auctioneer, Johnny Regula, is going to say to these kids when he interviews them about their projects.  He asks them questions and sometimes their responses and interplay can be gut-splittingly hilarious.  But most of the reason it was so crowded was because the close-knit community rallies around its own and comes out to bid.

Not one of these projects went for less than $100 and many went for a couple hundred.  One – an octagonal picnic table – went for $675!  The businesses who bid were varied; the local bank, a local hair salon, the tire store, the realtor, the funeral home, the horeshoe supply store, and many local farms all walked away the proud owner of a non-livestock project.

I just am always impressed every year – and frankly, moved deeply – by the way people in this small, humble rural town come together to support the community. 

Growing up, I didn’t value this the way I do now.  I mean, I certainly never failed to thank whichever business purchased my hog at the auction in a formal thank you note and I’m quite confident that my mother made sure I walked up and said “thank you” in person if I saw the purchaser.  But I didn’t value this community ideal and I’m sorry that it took me into adulthood to appreciate it as much as I do.

I could never live here again for so many reasons, but it is a wonderful place for me to come and visit.  I am reminded of the amazing jump-start I and my peers had on life thanks to these unconscious lessons taught by the actions of the folks who live here.  I only hope that the kids who have even more opportunities than I did at the fair appreciate it.  I did watch and several of the kids at today’s auction took their projects to the purchaser and shook their hand and said “Thank you.”  Some did not.  (That is unacceptable, by the way, and if you’re reading this and your kid sold something, you better make darn sure they learn a little manners and don’t excuse them by saying that they are shy.  I was shy; I was still polite when it mattered and $200 for a plate of cupcakes is awfully generous.)

The real lesson in all of this for me, though, was to appreciate where I’ve come from.  I have a large extended family who are warm and welcoming whenever they see me.  In fact, I think they might kind of like me a little.  And it wasn’t until just recently that it connected for me.  I was one of those kids who benefitted financially from not only my hard work but the generosity of the community.  But I also benefitted from being around positive people who understand good, old fashioned small town American values.

So, to all those who have had a hand in making me who I am, for teaching me those unnoticed and not-so-obvious life lessons, and for loving me, warts and all … thank you.  I will miss you while we await another Richwood Fair in 2013.

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