Bright smiles on dirty faces

Randy Riley - Contributing Columnist

Every person over the age of 40, while watching children at play, has said something along the lines of, “If only we could bottle and sell that energy, we would all be millionaires.”

I said the same thing again this past Friday evening.

The county fair officially started the next day, on Saturday morning, but Debbie and I went to the Clinton County Fairgrounds on Friday to watch some of our grandkids bring in their Cloverbuds 4-H displays, prepare for the open beef show and get ready for the feeder calf show on Monday.

Five of our eight grandchildren were there to get a head start on their 2016 county fair experience.

To say that they were excited would be like saying the Grand Canyon was pretty nice-looking ditch. While Bella readied the stall for her feeder calves and Clair rested in her stroller, three of the other kids, Abi, Taryn and Clayton, starting running back and forth from a wooden fence in the cattle barn to the exterior concrete wall. Over and over, back and forth they ran.

It was hot. There was no breeze moving in the cattle barn. Soon, the sweat was pouring down their necks onto their backs. Did any of them ever think about stopping? Nope. Instead, they wanted me to start timing them to see who could run the fastest.

Abi and Taryn were pretty closely matched. Clayton is still too young for 4-H. He is just a little over two-and-a-half years old, but he wanted to race with his big sisters. You can tell when Clayton is in his high-speed-running-mode. He balls up his little fists, brings them up to the side of his chest and pumps his elbows back and forth like two pudgy little pistons. When he runs in his high-speed mode, Clayton’s little butt wiggles and waggles, back and forth faster than a couple of puppies fighting over a stuffed toy.

I lost track of how many times the three of them made the run from fence to wall and back again, but each time they tried to run faster. They weren’t just running on the dirt floor of the cattle barn. That would have been too easy. They decided to run on top of a long pile of mulch-like, wood chips that would be used for cattle bedding. It was rough, uneven and extremely dirty.

Eventually, I thought they would slow down; they would start running low on energy… but no. Pappy was wrong. They giggled. They laughed. They ran. The hotter and dirtier they got, the more they enjoyed themselves. It was glorious fun. Kid’s fun.

The dirtier they got, the happier they got. Wide grins spread across those beautiful, dirty faces.

I’m a town boy. In my entire youth, I never entered a 4-H project into a county fair. I was a 30-year-old adult before I ever attended a county fair. At the ripe old age of 65, I still have not attended the Ohio State Fair. It wasn’t until I married Debbie that I grew to love the fair.

Debbie’s mom and dad, Doris and Vaughn Reynolds, were longtime fair board members. When the fair started, everything else stopped. As a member of the Reynolds family, I soon realized that you didn’t just attend the fair… you stayed there.

For them and for many, many dedicated adults who volunteer all year long, it has always been about the kids; the 4-H projects. The rides and games are fun, but the most important thing about the fair has always been, and still is, the youth.

The grandstands will be packed for the demolition derby and the horse races. People will pack in to hear hours of outstanding musical entertainment.

Rides will be ridden. Games will be played, but nothing will beat the importance of the agricultural lessons, and the life lessons, that will be passed from one generation to the next as the 4-H advisors help the members of the many 4-H club with their projects.

It is not only fun for the kids, it is educational. Participation in 4-H helps our youth become responsible adults. In the process, outstanding adult volunteers will become teachers and role-models for our kids. It’s win-win all the way.

Stop by the fair. Your car will get dusty and dirty while it sits in the parking lot. Your shoes and pants may turn light brown with fair-dust.

At the end of your evening, you will leave the fairgrounds with a huge smile on your own dirty face. You might even feel like a million bucks.

Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.

Randy Riley

Contributing Columnist