Kids raised in Wyoming — especially in the country — have at their disposal an opportunity to nurture and display livestock. Younger children do this in 4-H, and teens can go a step farther and join FFA. Mine had 4-H project animals: market steers, market hogs, horses, and dogs. County Fair marked the end of the project each year, and my kids lived for the annual August highlight.
Our family learned early on that the “open” categories for competition sometimes suited our youth better than the 4-H version. Thus it was that each summer my daughters entered a variety of cookies into open competition rather than deal with the year-long tedium of taking a 4-H baking project.
My girls had market hogs at the County Fair — penned in the hog barn in little paddocks filled with sawdust. During Fair Week, they spent each morning and each evening at the barn caring for and grooming their specimens before competition. Their usual attire was jeans, western shirts, and worn cowboy boots. A daily pig bath was tradition, and the girls began early each morning with pen cleaning and pig exercising. Then would come the baths — community affairs with much boy-girl flirting and spraying with hoses. Afterwards, pink pigs were powdered, and red ones were oiled. The fine trimming of stray hairs and whiskers happened just before show time.
Daughter number two had signed up to show her 4-H market pig, to show two 4-H horses at halter and in performance classes, to compete in the various 4-H classes in the dog show, and to enter peanut butter cookies in the open division. At age nine she had come home from the hog barn on her bike, had eaten some lunch, and had begun baking — all one her own. I had arrived just in time to find her sitting at the breakfast bar and rolling balls of cookie dough for her prepared pans. She was still wearing the morning’s cowboy shirt and jeans, and her wet, muddy boots were swinging beneath the barstool. I saw her recipe on the bar and glanced at the oven dial to note the temperature.
“How’s it going, honey?” were my first words. Then I asked, “Did you wash your hands?”
“Wash my hands? What for?”
I paused to consider what she might have been thinking before choosing to not reprimand her. Hadn’t she just spent the morning in lather? Hadn’t she shown how responsible she was by starting her cookies all on her own? Hadn’t she just charmed me with her winning smile?
The following day, her 4-H market hog won a blue ribbon, and two days later her cookies won the purple GRAND Champion open competition ribbon — a victory against some of the county’s best adult bakers. I was mortified. The Fair’s very best cookies always went to members of the Fair Board and a few County Commissioners! Little did those unsuspecting adults know that the secret ingredients of those prize-winners may have been a hog hair or two plus essence of livestock shampoo.