There are times in a child's life when you learn that being vulnerable is not necessarily bad.
I went to the State Fair this week, and for me it evokes marvelous memories of the scent of cow barns, the joy of first love and the fear of a 600-pound calf who had me quaking in my cowboy boots.
As a 10-year-old 4-H member, I chose the project of raising a heifer calf to show at the Mower County Fair. When Diamond was born to one of my Dad's dairy cows, she was -- like most babies -- entrancing, compliant and adorable. But like the teenagers I have since raised, she became increasingly rash, strong-willed and independent as she hit adolescence.
Suddenly, I was dealing with an erratic female who one minute would allow herself to be led sedately by the halter and the next would bolt, dragging me at the end of her rope. Withheld treats, timeouts away from her peers and abject begging did little good. Diamond wanted to do what she wanted to do and there was no predicting what that would be. My angst grew as August and the fair approached.
The County Fair was the cornerstone of life in my rural corner of the world. Those of us fortunate enough to be showing animals were assigned to barns where we got to hang out till all hours, tend our animals and flirt with other farm kids. Heady stuff, but to earn this privilege, one also had to parade into a large arena and show your animal.
I woke up that morning with my stomach in knots. Was I to be humiliated, crippled for life or would I somehow survive this ordeal? Which Diamond would show up -- the saint or the hellion? The minute I tried to lead her out of the barn, it was apparent that the hoyden had shown up. Only Dad's steady arm kept her from bolting. But Dad could not lead my calf into the huge arena -- I had to. I took her lead in my sweaty hand and stepped through the doorway. And then a miracle occurred.
Diamond was a shameless hussy. The sight of hundreds of people watching her grand entrance transformed her. She became Marilyn Monroe in cowhide. Her head flew up, she threw back her ears and strutted into that arena like a starlet. I quivered with relief when we made it to our place in a line of 60 competing calves. The judge worked his way down the line; I was terrified his examination would set her off.
Instead, Diamond flirted with him, posing provocatively with one leg out. Now, calves are supposed to stand four square, so when the judge wasn't looking, I stuck my foot behind her hoof and was lifting it into place when he glanced my way. Apparently, I froze with foot and hoof in mid-air -- caught in the act. A wave of laughter swept the arena as the judge looked at my beet red face, grinned and moved on.
"We've made it!" I thought. All we had to do now was follow the other heifers out. But the judge gestured for me to lead Diamond further up the line. Every time I had to move her, I trembled.
Would this be the time she would take off and drag me in the dirt? At last he disappeared and I relaxed -- until I heard the loudspeaker announcing that we had won the class and should take our victory walk out of the arena. The stage was set for my worst nightmare.
But for the moment Diamond had other plans. She tossed back her head and stalked like a temptress past the cheering stands and out the arena door. And then the wild child returned. She took off bucking down the alley.
Yet Diamond had done the impossible for me -- won a trip to the State Fair -- the ultimate farm kid's dream. Together, we had climbed the mountain.
There are times in a child's life when you learn that being vulnerable is not necessarily bad. It can teach you to ride out your fears and hope for the best and that sometimes miracles occur. Diamond taught me that and I shall be forever grateful.
Suzanne Nelson is a retired school aide in Apple Valley.