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A 4-H Foundation
copyright 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 awareness.
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 me.
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 underway.
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 young womanhood.
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.
 

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