Today was the entry day for the annual Hookstown Fair. My family has been involved with the Hookstown Fair since I was 8-9 years old. That’s more than 35 years!
We started out exhibiting at the fair through the Blackhawk 4-H Club. The first year, I entered my sewing project — a poncho. It was pretty old-fashioned for the day, so it was not something I ever wore. But, we followed the project books that were provided by the Beaver County Extension Office (the curriculum was designed by Penn State University). I remember that blue ribbon like I had hit the lottery! The second year, we took a lot more projects through 4-H, and I entered my sewing project, my floral project and a poster for my veterinarian project (I used my cats for the project). I took a Gladiolus project and the Gladiolus Society provided us with 30 Glad bulbs a year. I got more blue ribbons!
Our 4-H club started to gain a lot of traction and by the third year, we started creating club exhibits that fit into an 8′ x 8′ space at the fair, based on the fair theme. There were about eight 4-H clubs that participated in this. As a creative person, those were so much fun to do. I remember one year, we created an actual statue of liberty in the center of our display. We took first place that year! 4-H was such a part of my life. I learned everything through 4-H from sewing to cooking to public speaking. More than anything, I learned responsibility, leadership and creativity.
We also joined the Beaver County 4-H Stockman’s Club, and the first year I raised two sheep. I cried the entire way home after the fair was over in the back of our camper. Watching those two little sheep be loaded on the slaughter trucks broke my heart. It was unbearable, and I didn’t raise sheep again. I raised steers after that and they were much easier to say goodbye to at the end of the season — although it was still hard. I was too much of an animal lover.
My Dad and Mom made a commitment to anything we got involved in. And this was no different. So besides being leaders of the Blackhawk 4-H Club and highly active in the Stockman’s Club, my Dad joined the Hookstown Fair Board and my Mom spearheaded the Floral Committee. We entered exhibits in 4-H and open classes and showed our animals all week long — wrapping up by selling our animals at a live auction on Friday night. It was an exhausting week and something we truly prepared for the entire year.
I also joined the Meat Judging Team. There were six or so of us from the Stockman’s Club who participated in events throughout the year with the finale at Penn State University. It was grueling, and we had to judge cuts of meat on live animals, place the animals from first place to last, then appear before a panel of judges and explain why we placed them the way we did without any notes or visual cue. That’s where I learned to present my case — more valuable skills.
It was a different world and a different time. I was a country girl and getting dirty was an everyday occurrence. The fair has a whole different meaning than it does for me today — my life couldn’t be farther from what it was back in the 1980’s.
And sometimes I miss it.
I can remember buying our baby calves in the Fall. They were about 500 pounds when we got them — small little guys — and just so cute. We would bring them home to a clean barn all decked out with bales and bales of newly stacked hay and straw. Oh, how I can still smell the hay in the barn when it was fresh! Debbie raised sheep, Bob and I raised the steers and Tommy raised pigs. The barn would be hopping. We also had other sheep, pigs and steers that were didn’t show at the fair. Morning and night we tended to those animals — every single day without fail. For the first few years, we had to carry water to the barn in large, white pails. Later, Dad installed heated, automatic water feeders for all the animals. That made life much easier, especially in the Winter. I could carry a 100 pound feed sack over my shoulder and throw a bale of hay like it weighed nothing.
Regardless of what my life is today, I’ll guess I’ll always be a country girl at heart. I’ll always miss the smell of the barn and all the love that radiated from it. I loved all those animals, every one of them. Sometimes I would just sit in there and talk to them — sometimes I played with all the kittens and cats. They were my friends, my confidants — and even though they had no idea what I was saying, they listened. That’s why it was so hard to say goodbye in the end. But it was just a fact of life.
The fair was fun too. We would sit on our show boxes and listen to country music. I can remember singing loudly to “Mountain Music” by Alabama, and all of us would tap on our show boxes with the back of our cowboy boots. Our show boxes were boxes about 5′ long and 2′ high that housed all of our gear — like harnesses, grooming tools, soap, etc. Those were good times. And foreign times. Sometimes I would feel like I didn’t really fit in that world. While I loved being a farm girl, I always wondered if I was just playing the part. My Dad was a city boy who dreamed of having a farm. And he did that — and we did that with him. Until we were done and now none of us raise any farm animals. Okay, my Mom has a few chickens.
Today my sister is on the Fair Board and my Mom still oversees the Floral Committee. Of course, the floral entries are one-tenth of what they used to be. Nobody takes pride in showing specimen flowers like they used to. Ever year I help my Mom with the floral entries. Today they’re entered, tomorrow they’re judged and Tuesday the fair opens to the public.
We had a great time today. My sister, Debbie and her daughters, Megan and Tara were there. My Mom and her best friend Marcia, and Marcia’s daughter, Nancy were also there. And Tommy and me. We had great laughs and goofed around like old days, while remembering some of the old times with Dad and Bo there. But now are new times. Megan, Tara and I got into an Instagram contest — who could take the best photo of a floral entry? You can check them out on Instagram at #hookstownfair #flowers and @pamspace.
Today I entered flowers for a woman who was a leader while I was in the Stockman’s Club — she was truly a farmer, raising steers and other cattle on her big farm. She told me she retired from teaching in 2012. And her daughter was entering flowers with her children — three generations were entering flowers. And I thought, “wow, the legacy continues.”
We’re going to the fair on Tuesday — the first time in several years. I’m really looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to spending time with my family and reminiscing about days gone by. And I’ll sit back and watch as life goes on all around us. While the world has changed so much over the past 35 years, so much remains the same — new generations continue the work of those gone before them.
And just maybe we’ll feel my Dad there with us too.