Sunday, August 21, 2011

4-H: From Radishes to Rosettes

When I was a kid, 4-H was a pretty big deal. All the kids I knew belonged to it, including my siblings. Most of us were farm kids, to one degree or another. Some families were serious farmers, some had other ways to make a living, but did some farming because it put food on the table. We belonged to that second category.

When I was old enough to join, I had some mixed feelings. I knew I was supposed to look forward to it, but much like baptism, I wasn't sure it was for me. I liked the idea of it, the actual  practice of it not as much. It was a club and clubs had rules and regulations, along with what felt like, to me, too many expectations.

For starters, most of the girls were expected to do girl things: baking and sewing for the younger group. I wasn't violently opposed to these things, but I was not particularly enamored of them, either. Produce from your garden was a possibility, too, but arranging potatoes on a plate to be judged at the county fair didn't sound too appealing. So, I made less-than-delicious oatmeal cookies, sewed dresses that were unseemly (the puns are semi-intentional), and even participated in a fashion show where everyone wore the dresses they'd made. I don't think I was such a bad seamstress as the choices for material were not appropriate for small town country girls. Blue and white geometric patterns didn't go over well among the local 4-H elite. White ribbons were not uncommon and humiliation came easy. Yet, I forged ahead, because it was expected.

My sister, Jane, a couple years older, had a similar penchant for less-than-acceptable clothing. One year, she made yellow, dotted- Swiss bellbottoms with white lace sewn around the bottoms, right up to the knee, with matching sleeveless cropped top. By cropped top, I mean her belly was exposed.  We were not supposed to expose our bellies, but we did. As often as possible. It was the sixties and we were going to participate, come hell or high water. I can still see the look on the Agriculture Extension Agents's face when he came to our meeting and saw her project. I imagine his stifled smile arrived with the realization that, "the times they are a changin'."

One year, probably the same year, a boy named Allen, who I had heard through the grapevine had a crush on me (the grapevine being my cousin, Karla), decided to join our little band of potato growers. Unfortunately for me, he showed up for the first time on the same evening that I was expected to give a little talk about something or other, the project we were currently working on, or something else of interest and apropos for 4-Hers. I had to stand up in front of the group and deliver. Right now, in this very moment, what I spoke on just came back to me. I had, with the help of my mother, decided to give a talk/demonstration on how to make rosettes from radishes. I kid you not.

Handling a knife with Allen in the audience, audience being about a dozen kids or so, was not what I had planned. It became a blur, but I got through it.

And never went back again.

I never got to do photography, floral arranging, or pinning butterflies onto cloth under glass. And that was okay with me. My parents, however, may have occasionally wished I hadn't cut my 4-H years short. Allen did, eventually, become the second boy I ever kissed. We were supposed to be at a youth group meeting at our church, learning to be better youth. I discovered I liked kissing better.

Which brings me to our pledge. It always hung above our booth at the county fair. I'm pretty certain I broke it more than once over the years.


  1. I enjoy 4-H kids at county fairs. I see they have done something above the others around them. It wasn't a club in my suburban school that many joined, I was never interested at that age. I have bought a few projects like lamb and rabbits.Yesterday a girl got 34,000 for her grand champion steer so the hard work paid off.

  2. Dear Teresa! I have not heard about this before, but I feel so much for the kids who have to join it. I hate such competition and I think it's too much press and stress for the children. "Competition is bad" said a Nobel prize winner I heard from Sweden in a TV-interview. "It removes the creativity." He isn't necessarily right because he's a Nobel prize winner! But there is some truth in it.

    It goes for grown-ups too. There is too much competition, and some people go berzerk doing competitions...........
    Grethe *_*

  3. Rather than 4-H we had all the things you describe in our Home Ec class, and I can recall whining about why the boys got to do all the fun stuff. I mean, what can you do with a list of 101 manners? You either know them or you don't. Baked Russian was something to be proud of though.

    This is a great post Teresa that brings back a lot of fond memories for me.

  4. Hello Teresa:
    What an absolute delight this post is. You write so evocatively of your time in the 4-Hs in such a self-effacing, amusing manner that this is a pure joy to read. We are with you every step of the way, from the 'unsuitable' dress making, to the potato(!!) exhibits to the 'Radish Fans' - almost beyond belief - and finally the first kiss!

    We shall certainly show this to our friends Zoli and Viktor who, only yesterday, were recalling time spent in the compulsory Young Pioneers. Did they, we wonder, ever pledge to make radish fans?!!

    Thank you so much for such a wonderful glimpse into your past.

  5. Head, Heart, Health and Hands - remember it well. Surprisingly,we were rather diversivied down in the Bayou State - made my mark in public speaking (after demonstrations on how to make biscuits/cherry pies) and got a foothold from the public speaking stuff that carries on to this day - flubbed electricity - never could sew worth a damn - had my first kiss at 4-H Camp - however, Millie raised a calf in her bac yard that she sold for big bucks and put herself thru college - have fond memories of it all - but it was one of life's stges - and taken as such (even then).

  6. Love this post! The expectations of a distant time when children were little versions of their parents and we learned the skills of home eck... 'scuse me.. economics.

    I was a Girl Scout. Mom talked me into it. I only did it because I wanted to wear the outfit to school like all my friends. The meetings were always after school so we would all come to class in our little green outfits like little clones of each other. I remember that it was fun. We would all walk down the halls being cool.
    My mother was a troop leader. We actually did some fun stuff.
    We didn't have 4H. We lived in the suburbs and there were no farms in sight.
    I always thought it would be fun to raise an animal for the county fair until my Dad said that we didn't have room for farm animals in the backyard and that you had to sell the animal at the fair.
    I always thought that 4H was all about animals... not making rosettes out of radishes. I'm crushed.
    Thanks for the truthful insight.

  7. Hi Steve, Well, I was certainly not on the short list for making any moo-lah, but I can see where it would have been an incentive for some. I do like knowing there are kids out there still having fun with it.

    Grethe, "Competition removes the creativity." Good point. It seems we could use a whole lot more creativity, i.e. innovation, as opposed to not-so-good old-fashioned competition. "Us against them," has led us down some dark roads. It's insidious and to be avoided, in my opinion. Thank you for your comments.

    Linda, Belated congrats on that Baked Russian. Early '60's, right? :) I'm glad to assist in the recalling of fond memories.

  8. I lived mostly on military bases or in suburbs of military cities, so I didn't do 4-H. I'm not at all domestic and doubt that membership in that organization would have helped. I always liked playing ping pong and softball and reading.

    However, I love to go to the fair and see what all the kids have done. And I suspect the farmer who raised the grass-fed cow currently in our freezer learned a bunch about it when he/she was a youngster.

  9. Jane and Lance, Thanks so much for your response to this. Young Pioneers. I bet that contains some stories.... I am so glad you liked this. Greetings to your friends, fellow "pioneers."

    Kittie, Sometime between then and high school I found my public speaking legs and I rather liked it. Made my heart race, but I had a penchant for it, it seems. Good times. Ditto for college and Oral Interpretation of Literature. I've always like reading poetry and prose aloud.

    " of life's stages and taken as such (even then)." Wow. I certainly was never able to see anything as just a stage in my life, one that would pass, I just saw life and sometimes it was very uncomfortable. It must have been a fine thing, to see it as a stage (even then).

  10. farmlady, Love your response. Home eck...onomics, yes. :) The best thing I did there was get an 'A' for a waistband I'd set in a pair of pants I'd sewn. Highlight ! Mostly, my friend Joey and I acted silly and made each other laugh. The teacher was a humorless thing.

    I'm so glad you got to wear those pretty green outfits. I suppose you were decorated like a general with all those badges and such.

    re: the radishes. It's hard, coming to the truth late, but enlightenment, whenever it comes, is good. Glad I could do my part. Maybe 4-H was good for something after all. :)

  11. Hi Linda, My mom was an outstanding cook and baker, so I did learn those skills somewhere along the line, but sewing never became my forte.

    I do like the county fairs that still revolve around such activities. Going through the barns is the first thing I do.

  12. I joined a 4-H group in 5th grade or so, when my Girl Scout troup ended for lack of adult leaders. My mom said, correctly, that 4-H didn't offer much for town kids. I seem to remember a talent show for which nobody was required to actually have talent. Beyond that, no clue what we did. I took sewing classes at the Singer store one summer, and my mom taught me to cook. I don't recall 4-H offering any real lessons, and I suspect the leaders weren't very motivated. I think we only had girls in our group. It was the 50s, after all.

  13. You have a great memory. Never did it myself. I think the FFA was a bit more prominent. I mean after all where the loam soil is the darkest it farming ya know not sewing and baking cakes.

    Peer pressure was so intense it took a lot of the fun out of things. It must have been the same when you grew up as well.

  14. Nancy, I think 4-H offered more in other areas, but it was not the case in my small town and following along with whatever others were doing didn't appeal to me. I did it sometimes, but I didn't like it.

    Hey Tom, No sewing and baking cakes? Ah, that good earth, and the FFA. One did what was expected. Fortunately, my parents kept it to a minimum. Some would argue that was the wrong course of action, but they did teach us to think for ourselves, in most cases.

    I have an almost uncanny ability to see my memories and describe them in detail and I have No doubt it's what happened, at least from my perspective, which is all any of us can go by, ultimately.

  15. Fun post... I lived in the city, so I joined the Brownies/Girl Scouts. It was short lived. I have never been much of a joiner. But, I did learn about the birds and the bees as we walked to one of the meetings. Needless to say, they had it all wrong. ha ha ha!

  16. TM! That walking to meetings when you're young leads to trouble. :)

  17. I think all children should learn how to be self sufficient because they may have to make do with the things around them. As the human race goes, these days, we have all had it way too easy. That's why a Great Depression is good, from time to time, to make people see who they really are.

  18. Abe, I completely agree with your point about children needing to be taught how to be self-sufficient, and I was. My parents taught me. I also believe children very much need to be taught how to think for themselves, as far too many follow the group, without thinking, for fear of being an outsider.

    It would be nice if we could learn how to co-exist and make do with less "Stuff" without having to go through a depression. I'm not sure a depression is good for anybody, but I hope whatever we are going through, or will go through, will be the catalyst for a much needed change.

  19. Oh yes! I was a 4-Her for a very long time. The sad thing is I would have found your demonstration absolutely riveting.

  20. BB, Not sad. Funny. Thank you for the chuckles.

  21. Hi Teresa Evangeline. 4Hers in my locality were mostly rural kids, mostly 'poor' families by the standards of the time. Bother my sisters were members and had enough enthusiasm for it to enter things they did there into the County Fair, etc. I recall thinking it was a 'girl thing', though I'd guess boys were in it too. For the boys FFA had more moxie because FFA was defiant, a declaration in a blue jacket that we didn't care what rich kids thought about it and could open a can of whupass on them if we wanted to, tell barnyard jokes and smoke.

    By hindsight I think 4H would have provided a better influence. I don't think 4Hers could throw a rock at a kid on a bicycle and catch him upside the head with it as good as FFAers.

    Nice entry. Hadn't thought about all that in a long time.

  22. But, you do make the best better, Teresa. You are doing it here every time you write.
    Growing up in an urban area, we had the girl scouting program. I liked being a Brownie, which is what you were before you "crossed over" to girl scout. I think it had more to do with what the word "brownie" evoked. My parents were a tad overprotective and I wasn't allowed to go to sleepover camps and was not, nor am now, known for my seamstress abilities. Why sew when you can use a stapler?

  23. Old Jules, Thanks for sharing your own experiences. It seems like a different world now, in many ways. Not necessarily better or worse, just different. Or so it seems.
    Always good to hear from you.

  24. LOTCO Penny, Brownies, mmmm, that's giving me pause for thought. :) I could probably pull something together if I had to, as I suspect you could, too, but yes, staplers will do and then there's masking tape, used on hems a time or two when time was of the essence and our ride was waiting.

    Thanks for the laugh. It feels good to laugh.

  25. And, Penny, thanks for the kind words.

  26. Poor you and all the other kids who were coerced instead of joining voluntarily.
    I have never been a joiner of anything, never been part of any group activity, not as a child, or as an adult. Perhaps I have missed things, perhaps I haven't. I simply don't know.

    Forgive me for saying this: the 4H motto seems pretty awful to me. You either are this person or you're not, pledges don't make it happen.

  27. Friko, I do not like groups, even now. They take on a dynamic that's not healthy for the individual. Usually, the biggest ego takes over and free thought is squelched. My pledging days, to anything, are long over.

    I appreciate your comments.