It's Pratt County fair time, and time to make memories

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune
Jennifer Stultz is the Editor of the Pratt Tribune, Kiowa County Signal, St. John News and a longtime 4-H and county fair supporter.

It's time for the Pratt County Fair, as well as for many county fairs around Kansas, and while I initially want to gush about all the fun that can be had and the many important connections made with folks in county fair settings, I have to admit the experiences I most readily recall from my own fair-time years weren't always that positive.

I hate to admit that the high stress of getting everything ready and perfect and in place and up to current judging standards for county fair competition, was, well, highly stressful, both in my childhood and in times of being a fair mom with four children involved in 4-H.

As a child, I loved my 4-H horse, sheep, clothing, foods, birds, reading and dog projects. Horses were my favorites, however, and I spent hours every summer riding barrels, poles and reining patterns on my horses. Best memories were made at group practices with my friends. However, the times I spent racing the wind along Kansas hedge-rows with no time-clock, no judge and no-one to please, just me and my horse, free to go wherever the wind blew, were the happiest. While the fair was a fun place to hang out ringside on my horse visiting with friends, the actual competition was not the reason why I enrolled in 4-H. As boxes and boxes of 4-H ribbons accumulated under my bed and hi-point trophies got dusty on the shelf, the sometimes snob-culture and judge criticisms about my unmatched tack or sometimes imperfect patterns left a bad taste in my memory for 4-H horse showing.

And then there was the clothing project. I always was much better at "speed sewing" than sewing for perfect stitches. My older sister and I often ended up working frantically, in the same room and space to finish last-minute sewing projects the night before clothing judging and style reviews. We did not do well together in close spaces.

Every year there was some sort of disaster in the sewing room. Sometimes it was someone sewing the wrong sides of the fabric together, the iron got too hot, or the seam ripper broke on deadline. And there was that little incident when stitch-witchery had to come to the rescue. My older sister and I were teen-agers at the time, both making sundresses for the fair. We must have procrastinated as usual, and were both in close quarters, sharing turns on the machine, and with the good sewing scissors. I happened to have the scissors in my hand when she got snarky about it being her turn to finish on the sewing machine and I just went "snip, snip" in her face. Oops, cut a slice accidentally down the front of her almost-finished sundress. I was in so much trouble for that one. Not sure my sister ever forgave me either, especially when she got a red ribbon for her sundress and I got a purple. Ouch.

As a mother, I really tried to make 4-H fair-time less stressful and more fun for my own children. But it was just nearly impossible on check-in day to remember that mantra when there were four children with chickens, pigs, goats, sheep, cattle, and a whole lot of static projects like rockets, gardening, posters, apple pies and legos to get to the fair all in a relatively short time. Plus, one just about had to bring everything but the kitchen sink to keep from having to run a million trips back and forth from the fair during the week of shows and exhibits. And it was always hot and humid.

One particularly frustrating "let's get to the fair check-in on time" day, I remember we had everything loaded, waiting to go in the driveway, only to find that we were missing the lid to the drink cooler - an important necessity for any fair week in Kansas.

Animals were stomping on the trailer, husband was yelling and children were crying in desperation "let's go!" but I could not find that stupid cooler lid. I finally sat down on a bucket in the garage in defeat. My young son came up and said, "Mommy, let's pray about it."

Pretty sure that was not going to solve the problem, I closed my eyes with him and together we asked God to help us find the drink cooler lid. Oh the wisdom of children, or maybe the humor of God. But when I opened my eyes, I saw that cooler lid, jammed under a stack of leftover horse blankets that someone tossed on the garage shelf while loading the trailer for the fair. I never would have seen it from any other position other than down on my knees in prayer.

Maybe that's the take-away from fair week to share. Amid the hustle and bustle of getting here or there with everyone and everything on board, between presentations and rewards, and while wiping sweat and tears and smiles, let's remember why we do this and who is really in charge.

Thank God for memory-making opportunities such as the county fair, and may all those 4-H families and others involved in fair preparation, judgment and competition remember to make it a positive experience for all, as much as possible. And may those who don't win remember better times or the fun of the journey to get there.

Enjoy the fair!