Wednesday, July 9, 2008

White Freezer Paper Time

I just got wind that the Dickey County Fair is about to begin, and for many years of my childhood and adolescence that meant certain things: A mad scramble to finish the 4-H project record books with paper and pencils and markers and tape and photos spread out all over the kitchen table and meals taken in little patches of it so as not to disturb the ongoing work as my sister and I documented a year of progress on many projects in just a day or two. And early morning through late night long days spent finishing up the last touches on the sewing, the crafts, the dried floral arrangements, the photography album, and various other projects. And last minute preparations for the early morning baking of the foods project. And my personal favorite, the annual covering of the peach crate or cardboard box of similar size with glossy white freezer paper and masking tape. You see, the garden vegetables had to be displayed in a white box, and freezer paper, the kind that was white with a glossy waxy side, was durable and thick enough to make a sturdy display box. It was called freezer paper because butchers and homemakers wrapped meat in it for freezing, in the days before thick plastic bags with zipper seals. Masking tape worked best on the glossy paper, but you had to fold ends in and use loops of tape behind them so that the brown tape was concealed. There were specific rules for these vegetable displays: In a lean year, you needed 3 kinds of vegetables and in a year of abundance, you needed 5 kinds, so there was last minute consulting of the fair booklet to see what the officials would be looking for this year. And for each kind of vegetable, you needed to display a specific number. Maybe 5 string beans, maybe 5 peapods, maybe 5 radishes, maybe 3 tomatoes, maybe 3 carrots, maybe only one muskmelon or one cabbage. So when you chose what from your garden to display, there was some strategy involved, because if you only had 4 good beans, that 5th bad one was going to count heavily against you, so better to go with the carrots that only required 3. And when you gardened with your sister, you had to fill two boxes so that you would show equally well but you did not want to have identical selections that would make it obvious you shared a garden, so there was some strategy to work out there too. Then, before the judging, you had to wander past all the vegetable boxes and assess how yours stood up to the rest, and after judging, you had to see if you got a blue, red, or white ribbon, but especially in the later years, you needed to be casual about it so as not to let on that you cared. Ah, it was a complicated time, but it was the metrics that defined failure or success as a 4-Her for the year, so it was a Pretty Big Deal. And it all represented one more thing too: The end of serious summer when you worked on projects and the beginning of fun summer when you only had to weed the garden if you wanted to work on your tan.

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