I find it ironic that my very first blog on Rural Route 2 would come during National 4-H Week. Ironic because in the life and times of this Illinois farm girl, 4-H has been and still is a constant.
At the insistence of our favorite babysitter, Kathy Schnell – think a country Mary Poppins – our parents enrolled my sister and I in 4-H. Kathy and her sisters showed polled Herefords, goats and vegetables. Their mom was the leader and Kathy convinced my parents that their two farm girls and one farm boy would benefit greatly from monthly club meetings, service projects and those dreaded (my words, not hers) talks and demonstrations.
So, we joined Kathy’s club, Golden Aces, which was filled with kids from a neighboring school district. No one we knew. I was a painfully shy 9-year old at the time and while I was never the new kid in school, I know what that feels like. Walking into that first 4-H meeting, all those eyes looking, watching, wondering who are these kids? Thank God for my very outgoing younger sis. By her side, I navigated the social pitfalls of being the new kid and eventually secured a little self-confidence and a whole lot of awesome memories and life experience.
For several years, my annual talk and or demonstration created much angst for my entire family. Oh, the anxiety! Every 4-H member has to stand before his/her club and give a speech or demonstration about his/her project. I don’t know how many “how to make rice krispies” demonstrations I’ve sat through. I know I gave my fair share of “identifying cattle breeds.” We’d all stand rooted in one spot clutching our note cards and every speech started the same. “Hi. My name is Katie Dallam and this is my 6th year in 4-H. Tonight I will tell you how to show a cow.” Oh dear. Do you remember your 4-H talks?
Or what about those early mornings cleaning the club’s section of road ditches? I don’t know why we’d start off in the morning when the dew was heavy. We’d be soaked within minutes, but I don’t remember hating the job because we did it with friends and some pretty cool parent leaders who took their Saturday mornings to show a group of young people how to give back.
And of course there is the responsibility part of 4-H – the responsibility, accountability and follow-through, because as my parents were prone to point out, it wasn’t their 4-H projects being swallowed by weeds or waiting for morning chores, it was ours. My beef and dairy cattle projects taught me patience (lots and lots of patience; it’s a virtue I’m still learning), commitment to something other than me (those cows couldn’t feed and water themselves), and the value of the almighty dollar. Those projects funded my college education.
At 9-years old, of course, I didn’t realize how 4-H would shape my life. Looking back I can clearly see the link between the life I live today and that green four leaf clover. The 4-H motto is to make the best better. Isn’t that what we strive to do each day? Maybe not in a big, splashy, look-at-me fashion, but in subtle ways we don’t even realize. Each day is our opportunity to make our farms, our communities, our children, our schools, and ourselves better than we were the day before.
Hmmm. . . note to Mom, Dad, sis and lil’ bro, thanks for pushing me past the tears and “no, I don’t want to go” all those years. I think it’s the best decision you ever made.