Standing in a show ring, sweating and determinedly trying to get your animal to cooperate. This is what many 4-H and FFA members spend a week out of their summers at a county fair doing just this. It is a tradition that runs in many of the families from their grandparents' generation.
I was one of those kids. I started late and my father did not show animals, so we had a steep learning curve. Or at least that was what i thought when I entered the barn, not knowing most of the people there, who, let's face it, had a lot more experience than my father or I. What I found shocked me.
I found people who were genuinely ready to help me and my father on this new journey. I had found a new sort of family. Yes, I have an amazing family that is blood-related, but from that moment I stepped into that farm, I was ensconced into a new family. One just as loving as my own, and one I know would absolutely help, not just me, but everyone that was a part of it.
Many people who are not in this family or a part of this community, seem to think that the only reason that children are interested in showing is for the ribbons and premiums and the cheque you receive after you sell your project.
But those people did not spend nine months raising a steer, teaching it to walk on a halter, or form a bond with it. Most of those people have no idea what it takes to gain the trust of an animal that is so much bigger than you, that could hurt you. These people do not understand that these kids have snuggled their steers, their lambs, and even pigs. They have spoken to their animals in times of loss and hurt and have found immense comfort in their solid and unassuming presence.
Those people also did not have the 'barn family' to lean on, they did not enjoy the laughter and the sense of belonging with people who understand how it feels to be a part of this kind of tradition, this way of life.
It is more than a ribbon, though they are nice reminders of my time in the organization that shaped my life. So I want to thank each and everyone of the family that I chose to be a part of as well as the one that I was born into, and I hope that one day, if I have children, that they get to experience what I did.