A 4-H Foundation
Mary Palmer Nowland 2003
I was just old enough to join 4-H at the meeting
where they were trying to invent the first name of
our Panhandle club. Susie Kline, Ona Lee Terry, and
Bob Olson swapped high school ideas around the
living room at Faye Sherman's house. Sure enough,
their smart aleck name of "Rockin 49ers" stuck and
so it was. Sounded pretty darn groovy at the time.
4-H is all about commitment: "I pledge my head to
greater thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my
hands to larger service and my health to better
living, for my club, my community, and my country."
That is the way the creed read in those days. They
have changed it somewhat to promote a more global
I took my pledge seriously, especially the part
about community. I
felt a strong sense of belonging; people cared about
me and in turn expected things of me. I knew from
the beginning that being a 4-H member meant
contributing to my family as well as everyone around
Every year we would pick out our steers over at the
Hill Ranch. That entailed an afternoon of corralling
the cattle and separating the calves from their
mothers. A great deal of bawling ensued on both
sides of the fence. Each of us kids would take a
turn at picking out a steer.
Halter breaking the steers was always an interesting
process. It could take an hour or a week, depending
on the steer's level of stubbornness. They had to be
tied (snubbed up) to the corral post and left to
figure it out on their own. If they stepped forward
the rope wouldn't pull on their chin but if they
continued to pull backwards their chin got sore.
Steers have to be halter broken so they can be
taught how to lead. That's how the rodeo might get
Taking a simple walk around the driveway could
easily turn into a knock-down-drag-out rope burning
race down the cinder road towards Olson's. The least
little thing like a ladybug flying by could spook
the steer and away they would go, dragging me behind
for as long as it took me to give up. A sound
thrashing with Dad's belt would have felt better
than the rope burns across my palms.
It was the worst pain of my childhood. It throbbed
to a depth well beyond the blisters from popping
grease; the deep gashes along my thigh, skewered by
the barbed wire fence; even when I cut my kneecap
off while running through Dad's metal scrap pile.
Rope burns skid all your identity off your fingers.
Your fingerprints look like they have been erased,
slicked into a cauterized path.
When we had finally rounded up the escapee, my
wounded pride in tact, I would locate my leather
gloves. Should have worn them in the first place.
It might take me a good week of rehabilitation
before I ventured forth for another trek.
The steers eventually learned how to behave and we
brushed and combed them into a polished frenzy. All
of this beauty treatment for months on end was to
get ready for the Tulelake Butte Valley Fair, first
weekend in September.
The fair was the highlight of my life. That old
movie, State Fair will forever be one of my all time
favorites. Is it all the hubbub, the harried
schedule of events, the carnival rides or endless
hamburgers and corn dogs?
For Mom, it was a nonstop 3 days of washing and
ironing white outfits for all of us. Back then, 4-H
members wore white shirts and pants with green
accents and hat. Who on earth came up with the idea
of wearing white for children? Children running
around shoveling manure, pitch forking hay, and
chasing greased pigs! So, for Mom, the fair was a
tremendous load of extra work.
For Dad, it meant trying to get to all the events in
and out of grain harvest which inconveniently
coincided every year. With the Horse Club and Beef
Club both needing Dad's attention, he was pretty
busy, spending the whole week, racing around with a
curry comb in his back pocket.
Mom helped me with my sewing entries and modeling
contests. It was pure excruciation for a tomboy like
me to participate in an event with all the bossy
mothers and their feminine fall-de-rall. I was
usually crabby from jumping through all the hoops of
I entered all sorts of things in the fair: my insect
and butterfly collections, my sewing projects, horse
showmanship and drill team, and of course, my calmed
and coiffed steer. As if that wasn't enough to do,
we also entered in Saturday's Fair Parade.
That meant more horse trailering, more arrangements,
and of course, clean white jeans and shirts. How did
we all do it? At the time, it seemed so fun, so
fulfilling, so special. Looking back, I love it just
as much and appreciate my parents all the more for
giving me these opportunities.
The one and only hard part of being in 4-H (besides
rope burns) was having to sell my steer, knowing
full well where the next stock truck ride would take
them. The butcher. The end. Except the real ending
was at college. I was able to pay for my education
thanks to the money I had earned from selling a
steer every year.
I have taken my 4-H pledge to heart and have used
those valuable lessons over and over. Community and
family are still the most important things in my
life. So is the fair.