County fairs are in full swing, and each time I attend one of these fun-filled summer events, I am reminded of my youth. As a kid, the thing I most looked forward to every summer was showing cattle at the county fair. As soon as school let out, fair preparations kicked into high gear. Fair animals were separated into a special pen. We washed and led them every day. We fed them a special diet. They were brushed and clipped. We filled the show box will all of our supplies and eagerly awaited move-in day at the fair.
I was fortunate to grow up showing at two county fairs, which meant twice as much fun. Portage County always held two fairs each summer – the Amherst Fair took place in mid-July, and the Rosholt Fair was the highlight of Labor Day weekend.
It was sheer delight when our cattle truck roared into the fairgrounds to drop off our animals. They were usually dirty from the ride, so the first stop was the wash rack. One year I had my picture taken for the local newspaper while giving one of my heifers a bath. Once everyone was clean and looking presentable, we settled them into their deep beds of fresh wood shavings and straw, decorated our area and took turns caring for the string with other members of our 4-H club.
I showed with my sisters as well as our friends and cousins who borrowed animals from us. It truly was the more the merrier, which made the experience all the more fun. My brother is 11 years older than I am, so he was out of 4-H by the time I started showing, but he always helped us get our animals ready for the show ring. He clipped them all before they left for the fair, and on the day of the show, he was there to help finetune each one to make her look her best before entering the ring.  
In addition to our animals, we took other projects to the fair, such as photography and artwork. And while at the fair, we made sure to carve out time for going on rides, playing games and eating all the delicious fair food, like cotton candy, snow cones and elephant ears.  
But nothing matched the excitement of show day. I remember feeling nervous as I dressed in my show whites and got ready to take the halter. All the anticipation and hard work culminated in this moment. My dad was there with his camera, snapping pictures of us before, during and after the show. My second year showing was the year I took home the most hardware between the two fairs, winning showmanship, grand champion, reserve junior grand champion and best junior-owned – all with my heifer, Hopscotch.
On the last day of the fair, when we packed up the cattle and headed home, a feeling of sadness swept over me and even tears were sometimes shed. My siblings and I would have the fair blues for a week. My mom, on the other hand, was always so relieved and happy when the fair was over, because it was a lot of work for her. Hauling all our projects to and fro, setting up our booth, and running kids back and forth between the farm and fairgrounds while also doing extra chores to pick up the slack from those who were at the fair left her exhausted.
The memories I made at the county fair are some of the favorites from my childhood and will always hold a special place in my heart. The county fair was laughter and competition, hard work and reward, water fights and other pranks. And, certainly, the best part of summer.