My Indiana State Fair

On this final day of the Indiana State Fair, I’m filled with memories of previous fairs and fun.  This is my 21st fair in a row where I have worked in some capacity.  I started out as an intern in 1994 with the Indiana Soybean Growers.  I spent two summers as an intern for soybean and made some great memories during those summers!!

In 1996 I was an intern for a farm radio network.  I spent that time at the fair doing interviews, writing stories and covering every square inch of the fair.  I interviewed dairy queens, antique tractor owners, fair board members and livestock showmen.  I learned where every nook and cranny on the fairgrounds was.  I found the best restrooms, where the best air-conditioning was located, and met everyone!

In December of 1996, the radio network offered me a full-time job.  I spent the next span of State Fairs doing what I had as an intern, covering every square inch of the fair, sun up to sun down, and loving every second.

The last 10 years of State Fairs has been working there in my wine job.  Educating people about wineries and vineyards role in agriculture.  This year it is also in our new Wine & Beer Exhibition area.  Serving wine samples, for the first time in over 6 decades, to customers who want to learn about Indiana wines.

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My favorite time of the fair is in the early mornings.  When I just arrive on the grounds and walk to my building.  The sounds of the livestock barns waking up.  The smells from the variety of food vendors.  The early morning greetings from the State Police Post.  Chuck, the local newspaper salesman, who has peddled around this fairgrounds every year I have been year, selling papers and making conversation.

It’s the excitement of a new day.  Another day to educate, entertain and enlighten people about my role in agriculture.  Another chance to create conversation, see friends, and just offer a smile.

This year’s fair is wrapping up as another major success.  The “Year of the Coliseum” offered a new look to a building that has seen so many adventures inside her walls.  And while I hate to see another fair end, I know there will be the 22nd fair for me next year.

There is the excitement of my Panda, now in her 2nd year of 4H, running through the project building anxiously trying to find her projects.

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And then there is the excitement, and tears in this case, when a project that she spent dozens of hours working on and fretting over, gets a special merit award, indicating it is better than a blue ribbon.  The joy that shines through made the hundreds of hours spent watching her work on projects this year worth every moment.

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There is my joy, as a former broadcaster, watching my Panda do her first radio interview, on my former radio home.  And watching her conduct herself with poise and answer each question without an “um” in the sentence!  When my broadcaster friend Terri asked her what she wanted to be when she grows up, I nearly cried when she said “I want to do what my Mom does, promote agriculture and tell people where their food comes from.” Whew…

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Each kid got a day with Mom.  My Monkey enjoys everything about the fair and doesn’t mind if I do silly things with her.

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And she still loves this cow with the large corn and soybean.

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The Little Man tends to be just as silly.  His joy for everything at the fair makes me smile!!

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There are the quiet moments in the birthing barn, watching a newborn calf take her first steps.

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And then there are my quiet moments on the fairgrounds, when I just need to take a break from all of the excitement and watch the people go by.

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In the end, I love the Indiana State Fair.  17 days of fair is exhausting.  But the time spent visiting with people, educating them about wine, grapes and all things agriculture, makes the extremely long days worth every second.

Until August 7-23, 2015, I’m done.

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Saying Goodbye…

This has been a week that has had me in tears.  A week I hope I don’t ever have to relive.  A week where I said goodbye to my first childhood best friend.  I laughed as I remembered some of our funnier stunts.  And wept when I realized that I won’t be laughing with her anymore.

When the family asked me to speak at her funeral, I said “yes” without hesitation.  But writing my thoughts turned out to be much harder.   It took me three days to sit down and put  my memories on to paper.  But once I started writing, my thoughts flowed freely.  I could have told stories for an hour.  The following is what I narrowed it down to.  With permission of her family, I am posting my speech I gave at her funeral.

I knew Jennie before we ever started school.  Our parents were friends early on and we headed to Kindergarten with a friendship already in place.  She was my first best friend.  So many of my childhood memories have her in them.  Her laughter and infectious smile started at a very early age.  It was fun to make her laugh and to laugh along with her.

Jennie collected rocks.  I can still see the windowsill in her room with painted rocks lined up on it.  And since she collected rocks, I would collect them too.  We painted plenty of rocks and even named some of them.

There were the countless hours spent at her pond, hanging out in the cabin, or 4-wheeling around the farm and trails.  It was at Jennie’s house that we constantly were chased by her very mean turkeys.  We spent plenty of time instigating them, and then laughing and running from them when they started coming after us!photo2

I’ve been reminded over the past week about how much Jennie loved the Smurfs.  It’s hard to see those little blue creatures and not think of her.

There are so many memories of our time at school.  As third graders we all had to prepare for Pioneer days.  Which included learning how to square dance with boys.  We spent plenty of time trying to decide between how awful it was to dance with boys and if they had cooties or if it was ok to have to hold their hands!

Jennie and I were in many of our grade school classes together.  When it came time for field trips, we would always end up in the same group.  Teachers would put us together or we would keep begging them until they would.  And since one of our mom’s normally chaperoned the field trip, we were exceptionally silly and probably excessively chatty.

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One of my favorite memories started in 4th grade.  And involved boys.  Jennie and I each had our first real boyfriends.  Her boyfriend was Greg, mine was Shawn.  And the four of us spent most of our recess time chasing each other or just being silly.  It was in 4th grade we each got our first kiss and we spent plenty of time talking about those kisses and how it was pretty awkward and gross!  And we kept those boyfriends all through 4th grade.  At the start of 5th grade, Jennie convinced the boys we should switch boyfriends.  And those guys agreed!  So we went through 5th grade with new boyfriends.  And we still compared notes on how they kissed.  We were often the only girls invited to boy’s parties, and we could only go if the other one went as well.  We were a package deal.

Middle school brought she and I doing a lot of talent shows.  I recall one where we dressed up as purple monsters and made up some silly dance to the Purple People Eater song.  I don’t know what the audience thought, but we thought we were hilarious.  And then there was the dance we made up to the song Me and My Shadow.  Jennie was the lead, I was her shadow.  Because I always wanted to walk in her footsteps, trying to be just like her.

And while school days brought so much fun and laughter, it was the week of the 4H fair that holds the best memories and where her smile and laughter permeate my memory.  County fair week brought together not only our friends from school, but our friends from other schools as well.  It was   a week where Jennie, Lisa, Melissa, Dessa and I would spend lots of hours trying to chase the boys, Charlie, Scott and Rodney, amongst others, and dunk them in the horse tank.  It was a week of water balloon fights, watermelon races, excitement over projects and just where lots of memories were made.  There was the year we had begged our parents to spend the night at the fair.  We wanted to sleep in the sheep barn in the worst way.  I had begged my dad, while Jennie begged Joe.  We finally convinced them that we would be fine and nothing would happen.  I’m certain my father told Joe that I could stay as long as they kept an eye on us.  So while Jennie and I bedded ourselves down in the sheep pen, I think Joe stayed awake all night, making sure none of the carnies came and got us!  I remember it started raining on us too, but to Jennie it was just another adventure.  And then there were the talks on either her or mine showbox.  Just talking, about what, I have no idea.  And usually when we were supposed to be getting her cattle or my pigs ready for the showring.  I caught a glimpse of another friendship as strong this summer, when I saw my oldest daughter and her best friend sitting on our showbox, just talking.  I snapped a picture and sent it to Jennie, telling her I saw our friendship playing out for another generation, in another fair week.  And told her how grateful I was for her friendship so early on.

Jennie and I spent as many hours on the phone as our parents would let us.  She had a standing invitation to spend the night at my house, as I think I did at hers.  If my parents said I could have someone over, Jennie was the first one I wanted to invite.  And we made the most of those overnight hours.  Often doing each other’s makeup, telling stories, definitely not sleeping and just sitting out in the yard, a picnic between us, sharing stories and even some dreams for our future.

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We will all remember how much Jennie loved life.  But I’ll remember something else.  Joe – it’s how much she loved you.  She was a daddy’s girl.  Her eyes lit up whenever she talked about you or was driving a tractor next to you.  Jodie – it was always how much she wanted to be like you.  I do recall you guys fighting, as all siblings do.  But I remember talks where Jennie would tell me what a good swimmer you were and she hoped she could be as good as you.  Or where she admired your 4H success and she wanted to do as well too.  I know you had a special bond.  And anyone who talked to Jennie in the past few years always got a story about Taylor.  She loved you dearly.  I think Jennie was probably the best and coolest aunt and enjoyed every minute of it.  She loved you Taylor and I hope you can hold on to those fun memories that you had with her.

C.S. Lewis said “Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.”  Jennie lived her life with no regrets, head held high and embracing each new day.  It is a way I once again wish I could be more like her.

When Jodie called me last Friday to tell me that Jennie was in the hospital, I didn’t go visit.  Because while she was unconscious then, I knew she would get better.  I knew Jennie would overcome yet another obstacle and I would visit when she was awake.  And then Jodie called me Monday morning and told me yet another setback had occurred.  And I didn’t get to the hospital fast enough.  When I arrived, she was gone.  And I felt like a piece of my childhood was ripped from me. I thought I was in a dream that would surely end.  Because at 40 years old, I can’t believe I’m saying goodbye to my very first best friend.  The one who I wanted to be like, the one who taught me so much.  The one whose shadow I danced in, and was happy to follow in her footsteps.

Philippines 1:3 says “I thank my God each time I remember you.”   And while Paul may have been writing a letter to the people in Philippi, it is a portion of a verse I will hold on to.  Because when I think of Jennie, I thank God that I got to be part of her life.  I thank God for her smile, her laughter, her heart.  In her 40 years on this earth, she touched more people than some will accomplish in a 90 year lifetime.  And while I can’t understand why God chose her time to be done now, I do understand what an impact she made on those around her.

My dear Jennie – you are my light, my laughter, and you make up so many of my best memories.  I love you dearly and I look forward to the day I will see you again.

 

Jeanette2brownsmall

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