Molly Balint re­counts her daugh­ter’s first county fair.

My daugh­ter’s first 4-H project taught her to rise above heart­break.

Country - - CONTENTS - BY MOLLY BALINT Churchville, Mary­land

There’s a part of the county fair that I skim over ev­ery year. It’s one of the hard­est parts for our girls—Mary, Emma, El­iz­a­beth— and for me. But at the same time, it’s one of the most im­por­tant pieces of the girls’ 4-H ex­pe­ri­ence. The re­al­ity is that the lambs we buy in the spring for the project are raised for their meat and sold in an auc­tion at the end of the fair. For 4-H kids, this comes with lots of re­spon­si­bil­ity. If there ever was an op­por­tu­nity to un­der­stand and honor where your food comes from, there’s not much that matches rais­ing it your­self. Not only are they learn­ing about the sources of their food, they are part of the process. The lambs are treated with re­spect, kind­ness and gen­tle­ness. They are nur­tured and loved, and for the time that they are in our care, given the best home pos­si­ble. But de­spite the fact that we all know how this story is go­ing to end, hearts still man­age to be­come en­twined with th­ese four-legged woolly an­i­mals. For my girls, the good­byes come on Satur­day night. The ex­cite­ment of the auc­tion in the show ring barn is min­gled with dread of what’s to come. It’s not easy for them, but they un­der­stand. The 2016 fair was dif­fer­ent. For starters, it was El­iz­a­beth’s first year show­ing, and she is my ten­der-hearted child. When she was younger, she got es­pe­cially at­tached to one of Emma’s lambs and sobbed the whole way home from the fair. To com­pli­cate things even more, El­iz­a­beth and her lamb, Nora, be­came at­tached to each other. Dur­ing the first few days of the fair, peo­ple stood out­side our pen, look­ing Nora over. Many thought we had one of the best-look­ing lambs there. And while this may seem like an ex­cit­ing prospect, it left us quite torn. If Nora won the show, we would have to sell her. The grand and re­serve grand cham­pion lambs must go through the auc­tion. So I asked El­iz­a­beth if she would like to pull Nora from the show. Af­ter much dis­cus­sion, El­iz­a­beth said she wanted to go for it. She was go­ing to put Nora in the show. And then the bit­ter­sweet hap­pened: Nora won re­serve grand cham­pion. We were thrilled, but I have to ad­mit my heart sank a bit when the judge shook her hand and gave her the big pur­ple rib­bon. When auc­tion night ar­rived, El­iz­a­beth seemed OK. I thought about try­ing to buy Nora back, but I knew I might not be able to af­ford it. And I hated to give El­iz­a­beth any false hope. As El­iz­a­beth and I stood to­gether wait­ing for her turn to go into the sale ring, sud­denly she looked at me as her face twisted up and she started to cry. I wiped her tears and whis­pered in her ear how proud I was of her. When her turn came to walk in the ring, El­iz­a­beth man­aged to pull her­self to­gether. But her red, puffy eyes gave away her sad­ness. I stood in the back and lis­tened as the price climbed higher and higher. When the gavel dropped and Nora was sold, I was dis­cour­aged to find out she’d been bought by a bank. I fig­ured a bank would be un­will­ing to lose money and let me buy Nora. El­iz­a­beth and I pushed through the crowds to find Nora’s buyer stand­ing in the back. His name was John Ea­ton and he worked for Peo­plesBank. We thanked him for his sup­port of 4-H kids. Then I ex­plained the sit­u­a­tion to him and asked if there would be any way he’d con­sider let­ting us buy Nora. Be­fore the words were all out of my mouth, John stopped me. He told us that he had a flock of sheep on his farm. He said that Nora was a nice lamb and he told us to keep her. Not ev­ery fair ends this way, but some­times things work out. It was a good year at the fair. I’m proud of the hard work my girls are do­ing. And I’m truly thank­ful for good peo­ple who give so freely, like that kind banker stand­ing in the back corner of the sale barn. Go to for more of Molly’s sto­ries about life on her Mary­land farm. the­farm­house­cre­

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