It’s State Fair time again, the last ten days of August. A big deal down here in the state’s economic backwater, the Fair is one of two major cultural/social events of the year–the other being the Pueblo Chile and Frijole Festival. That tells you a lot about Pueblo and the surrounding area–and I say that with great affection.
Once the Fair is over the powers that be up in Denver will start grumbling about the Fair losing money (or not making a big enough profit–it varies with the telling). The solution, they always say, is to move the Fair up to Denver, where it’ll have access to all of the money in Colorado that isn’t stashed in Aspen, Vail and Telluride. They’re probably right, but who the hell cares? Poor old Pueblo hasn’t got a helluva lot going for it since Colorado Fuel and Iron went tits up along with the rest of America’s steel industry. Pueblo’s average income is already $20,000 below the state average, so I hope the politicians will cut us a break for once and leave the State Fair where it’s been held for more than a century.
I was a late-comer to the country life, not moving out of Denver until I was 32 years old. That came about partly for a business opportunity, but mainly because Gayle, my late wife (who was a country girl at heart), had long wanted to raise our daughters in a rural setting. Less than a week after the move Gayle bought a Hackney pony for the girls, and with that the camel had its nose firmly in the tent.
Gayle enrolled our daughters in 4-H, following in her own youthful footsteps, and became an active leader herself. Showing of animals, however, was limited to dairy goats and horses–mostly because even a city kid like me knew that neither species was liable to end up on the menu. That has changed with my granddaughter, who has raised, shown and sold for slaughter meat goats (Boers), and this year for the first time a brace of pigs. All of this–helping piglets to enter the world, name them and raise them like pets, win blue ribbons with them and then sell them for big bucks to the place where Spam is made–happens with the co-operation, and even enthusiasm, of my granddaughter, her mother and her two aunts. The lot of ’em are made of sterner stuff than me. They get it all from Gayle, who looked like a movie star but was tougher than a Marine gunnery sergeant.
Now, I’m not one of those bleeding-heart PETA types who wring their collective hands over allowing all animals to enjoy “rights of self-determination”. Hell, I’m so old-school British Empire I think it was a grave error to give countries self-determination, let alone bloody parrots. (On second thought, maybe parrots. But not chickens.) That said, I’ve always had a nagging problem with the core of 4-H, the pet-to-slaughter part where kids are crying over the fate of their animals–although to be honest, I notice most of them recover nicely when the auction checks arrive.
Watched a clip on KOAA the other day in which a 4-H spokesman said the most important lesson kids learned in the pet-to-food process was learning how to provide food for the nation as future farmers. He’s partly right, of course, but only partly.
For my money, I think the underlying (and lingering) lesson is about life itself– its frailty, its inevitable losses and inevitable ending. Because to live life is to endure loss. That’s the price of love, whether for an animal or another human being. And, of course, the greater the love, the greater the sense of loss, the greater the price to be paid.
If you’re lucky–and I most certainly have been–the price is worth it.