Yesterday in the midst of the re-fencing of the pasture for the piglets and mama, I spent a great amount of time in the house cellar, plugging in and unplugging the electric fence controller. While I was down there, I gazed around checking out the extent of the spring thaw on the dirt floor, and thinking that I could wait another few days before plugging in the sump pump. My grandfather’s shelves and shelves of things line the cellar. Not all of the things are special or extraordinary. Many times a brief exploration of a shelf of stuff only yields an empty Savarin coffee can in near pristine condition from the 1970’s, that we now use to scoop out pig grain. Sometimes we learn of hidey-places for a special kind of nail or screw, and lots and lots of mouse poop. Yesterday, while in the cellar, I grabbed a box, and found a treasure-trove of old fair ribbons.
Agricultural fair ribbons are funny things. At least they are to me. When I was winning ribbons at agricultural fairs by exhibiting my registered Jersey cows, and my one misguided foray into Holsteins, they were a constant annoyance. There is something about a colored piece of fabric that flutters in the wind that sets a lot of bovines off — I am thinking toreador here… to many of my Jerseys, the simple act of the ribbon being handed to me as I stood at attention at their head while the judge stated the reasons for his placing, set the Jersey off. It became a controlled, but mad scramble to shove the ribbon into the rear pocket of my white pants, while calmly and collectedly walk backwards, guiding the now overly-alert cow out of the show ring, constantly scanning for spectators and other immovable objects in our escape route back to the barn.
At the end of the day, I would have a pocket full of ribbons, hay and cow boogers. I would hand them off to my grandmother, who religiously write on the small paper tag attached to the back of each ribbon; which cow won the ribbon, who the judge was, and any other important information. Then the ribbons would disappear. Mostly.
Each weekend, our farm would exhibit at two agricultural fairs, all summer long. We would begin in July and go through the second weekend of October, traveling all over the Commonwealth and occasionally venturing to fairs in Connecticut and Vermont. That is an awful lot of ribbons. We were traveling with about ten to eighteen animals to each fair, and entering between sixteen to twenty four classes each day. That means a minimum of two dozen ribbons a weekend, every weekend for months, and over a course of years.
Sometimes the ribbons would turn up again after the initial winning day. If it was a very special purple rosette, I would take it home and add it to my trophy cabinet. The other ribbons were smaller, plainer, and abundant, and lived under my grandmother’s caretaking. I was not sure where, but they did.
She had some show boxes of them in her closet that we found when we cleaned after she passed away in 1993. There were a few other boxes that we happened onto in the library a few years later. There were a few boxes of them in the attic. There are still boxes of them in the showbox that traveled with us to the fairs. And there was the box that I found in the cellar yesterday. The ribbons in that box were in pretty poor condition: water damage and corrosion has taken a toll on the colors, but the gold lettering is still intact. These ribbons are from the mid and late seventies, from fairs across the State: Eastern States Exposition in Springfield, MA. Westfield, Cummington, Littleville, Spencer, Blandford, Heath, Greenfield, and many others… I led a number of those animals around the ring at those fairs dating back to 1977. The memories for my mom go back much farther, but mine begin with the mid-seventies. The ribbon stashes keep popping up.
Wow. The memories.