One year during high school, I was able to spend more time at the Hendricks County Fair than the usual one evening with my family. My friends in the 4-Leaf Clovers (farmer) Club exhibited Duroc hogs. The 4-H hog barn was an open-sided pole structure with a row of back-to-back stalls down two sides and an open aisle down the middle. The floor consisted of sawdust and dirt. Hogs don’t like heat—that’s why they “waller” in the mud—but since mud wasn’t a viable option at the fair, electric fans were placed in strategic locations throughout the barn. Although, this was July in Indiana—temps and humidity are in the 90s (90o, 90%)—so the fans didn’t do much good.
The 4-Leaf Clovers stayed there all day and all night. During the day, they fed, scooped, laid straw bedding, watered, groomed, and showed their hogs in competition. At night, they slept on cots in stalls adjacent to their hogs—sorta like camping out only surrounded by a pungent aroma. But…hey…it was fun, right? And besides they could win ribbons like us Crafty Clovers—plus, at the end of the fair, they could sell their hogs. That aroma became the smell of money.
I was 16 at the time but, even then, did not like livestock. My extra fair time that year was mostly spent walking around. A small group of us walked and walked and walked— to the concession stand for Cokes and corndogs, to the commercial building for freebees, to the horse barn, to the livestock arena to watch competitions, to the bunny barn, to the 4-H exhibits to make sure our ribbons hadn’t been tampered with, to the midway—back and forth and all around all day long.
During one of our walk-arounds, we noticed more dust than usual and lots of commotion at the hog barn. Seems a Duroc had worked the latch loose on her stall and had escaped. I ran along with the others to help corral the hog, forgetting that livestock terrified me—or if the truth be known, that I didn’t want my friends to know I was scared. And besides, I’d been bestowed the honor of “Junior Leader” that year, so it was my duty.
When we got to the barn, the hog’s owner thrust a handgate at me and barked over his shoulder, “Stand right there and don’t let ‘er get by!” The gate was approximately 2 feet tall by 3 feet wide (about 1/2 as wide as the center aisle of the barn), and it had hand-holds cut into the top. In order to keep her from getting by, I’d have to pivot toward the side of the aisle in the direction she was headed. I practiced that move a couple of times, thinking, I can do this—it’ll be a piece of cake. Then I looked up—there was a 200 pound, brown monster barreling down the aisle right at me. I swear she had glowing red eyes and fire shooting out of her snout. I froze! The Duroc raced by, hitting the right side of the gate with enough force to turn me completely around. I fell hard, flat on my butt. The owner ran up, ripped the gate out of my hands, and glared at me—all in the space of a split-second. I was not only embarrassed—I was mortified!
I steered clear of the hog barn for the rest of the day and couldn’t bring myself to go back to the fair that year except to pick up my exhibits when it was all over.
Funny thing, after sitting on tables for a few days, all of our bright, shiny exhibits that we’d so diligently prepared had accumulated a layer of dust and dirt from the livestock barns, the tractor pulls, and the thousands of people traipsing through. By the last day of the fair, when the time came for the exhibits to be released to their owners and the displays to be disassembled, everything just looked shabby. Those of us with Champion ribbons had to take them home and make them ready for the Indiana State Fair.
Up next in I Was a Crafty Clover: Pt. 4—The State Fair
It’s been nice chatting with you all. I look forward to hearing from you soon—Over the Back Fence. Tell me your ideas about turning your memories into keepsakes. I’d love to help!