Though I am not a native of Indiana, I look forward to a little slice of heaven each August – the twelve days of the Indiana State Fair. My affinity for the Fair started out as a way to reconnect with my farm kidhood – a chance to see animals, smell familiar smells (smells that most don’t find as pleasant as I sometimes do), and eat some great food and share those things with my kids.
As a member of the Purdue Agricultural Alumni Association Board I knew that we were responsible for the Pioneer Farm exhibit. I have since learned that this area of the fairgrounds is unique in the country, with working demonstrations and wide variety of exhibits and activities that serve as education as well as entertainment for thousands each year. Once I saw it – especially the antique tractors – I was completely hooked.
Because of the Fair and those tractors, my father and I have cultivated a hobby of collecting antique tractors. Seven Fairs ago, I set a goal to exhibit a tractor there in the future, and for each of the last five Fairs I have had either one or two tractors there.
One of the best parts of having a tractor at the Fair is that you can participate in the parade each evening. Dad built a beautiful wagon for us to tow – so that family, friends, neighbors (and even the Indiana Bee Queen) can ride in the parade.
Parading slowly across the Fairgrounds with thousands of people stopping to watch is a very cool thing. In each parade I see older people smiling pointing to a tractor while talking to their spouses and/or grandkids. I know what they are saying – the smile tells the story. They worked on, rode, or knew someone that had a tractor like that. I see little kids mesmerized by the sights and sounds of the tractors, waving as enthusiastically as they can. And as the years have passed I almost always see someone I know in the crowd too.
And while the parade is about seeing the smiling faces, knowing that we helped create some of those smiles, and having a sense of pride for my tractor, it is also a time of solitude for me.
You see, I grew up on tractors. I spent more hours than I could count on them. I rode them in all kinds of weather – hot days, cold days, rain and snow and doing all sorts of tasks. And those times sit in my memory, an important part of who I am. And for 45 minutes on an August night with 50-100,000 people around me, I am transported back to those times. Strange as it may seem, with all those people around, and all of the waving and smiling I do – in those minutes I am completely alone with my thoughts and memories.
This year’s Fair was no different. I had a tractor and Dad’s wagon on the grounds. My family, a friend of Parker’s and my Mom and Step-Dad were there, ready for the parade. While everyone else started to take in the sights and sounds, I mounted a Purdue flag on the tractor and four American flags on the wagon. Then I washed the tractor – getting the dust of the last few days off, so the tractor would shine as we rode.
I hitched the wagon and everyone got in. I pushed in the clutch, opened the throttle, adjusted the choke and turned the key.
It was completely dead!
I unhooked the wagon and we tried some tricks learned long ago to try to start the tractor. After several tries, and the procession about to commence, I told everyone that we wouldn’t be parading that night.
I was a little embarrassed, sorry that Parker’s friend wouldn’t be able to be in the parade, aware how sad this makes Kelsey, my daughter who talks about the parades all year, and personally disappointed.
It is just a tractor parade, and logically I knew that, but I was still disappointed.
As is always the case, obstacles or challenges provide us opportunities to learn.
This evening was clearly one of those times. Instead of parading, I went through a 4-H Building with my Mom that we wouldn’t have otherwise done. It was something she really enjoyed, and I enjoyed being there with her. I got to ride two rides on the Midway with Kelsey, and I got to think about disappointment.
I’ll never forget that night at the Fair. I had two great parades later in the Fair (the tractor is fine now!), but I wouldn’t trade that night for anything.
Looking back, I got over my disappointment by focusing on others rather than myself. I spent more time with my Mom. I rode the rides. And I ate the best $2.00 milkshake ever.
The next time you are disappointed, focus on others and their pleasure. Put yourself in a place that you love (whether physically or mentally). Look for the lesson in the disappointment (in this case, start the tractor when you first arrive, so you have more time if something is amiss with a machine that’s 66 years old), and maybe most importantly, get over yourself.
Next year our Fair turns 150 years old. You can bet I’ll be there celebrating – probably with more than one tractor and on several parades. But I won’t forget the lesson I learned the night I didn’t parade. It is a lesson I’ll use the rest of my life.
If you plan to be in Indiana August 9-20, 2006, let me know – I’ll make a spot for you in the wagon.