County fair

I’ve always loved Chris LeDoux’s song “County Fair,” which reminded me of my 4-H days showing horses, rabbits, and art. (Yes, I know it’s a love song, but they go out into the midway, which is where we went between shows. I loved the quarter machine, which I thought I could actually win money at.) Today I got to discover what it was like on the judge’s end of the show. A woman at work leads a 4-H club for her kids and is involved in running much of the 4-H part of the fair for the arts & crafts side of things (not livestock, in other words). She sent out a bulletin at work asking for volunteers to judge, and I thought it’d be fun to try.
It really was. Lots of mediocre art, but then, looking back, my art was pretty bad at that age, too. But there were a few that really showed potential. I judged the ceramics, jewelry/beadwork, and weaving, all of which involved more than I thought they would. I even got to choose the grand champions–there’s a lot of responsibility riding on that!
And it was all up to me. Up till choosing the grand champions, it was much like being an editor: judge the
strengths and weaknesses, give comments noting those things in a way that both reinforces the good things and encourages improvement (do we ever stop needing that “start and end with the positive”?), and then make a judgement on what kind of ribbon it deserved (blue, red, or white). Oh, how I hated getting the red ribbons in 4-H, and I even got some whites, sadly, which apparently are rare in this county fair. I don’t think they were *as* rare in my own, but we didn’t have much money to invest in the things we showed, so sometimes my lack of prodigious talent was reinforced by poor materials.
But that’s where the similarities ended. Once I decide I like a book, I then have coworkers I can discuss it with, and superiors I want to like what I like so we can buy it. So I’m able to get concurrance and approval of my decisions–validation.
Well, being a 4-H judge means you need internal validation, because every time I asked the supervisor (my coworker) if she thought my choice of a grand champion was a good one, she basically just asked if that’s the one I wanted, and whether I had another one for a runner up. Tough!
But I’m pretty sure that I made some good choices. The jewelry/beadwork grand champion really was just beautiful. I would have worn it with a formal. The pottery grand champion was a tough decision and I wanted both to win. Weaving didn’t have as many entries and so it was pretty easy to pick a grand champion–it was the one that was the most elaborate and showed the greatest skill. Thankfully in that one I didn’t have to pick a reserve grand champion because it was too little.
Thus I have gone into the secret life of being a 4-H judge and found that … I grew up into one. Minus the responsibility of choosing the grand champion all by myself.