“When I was five my mother always told me happiness was the key to life. When I went to school they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up? I wrote down “Happy” they told me I didn’t understand the assignment, I told them they didn’t understand life.” – John Lennon
June gloom is a real thing in Del Mar. To energize during the long Fair days, an afternoon walk backstage to grab a foundation soda on ice, is a quick cure. On one of these pilgrimages, headed down the Exhibit Department hallway, a thought came upon me, “How did I end up here?”
Not in the physical sense, but more in a who says “when I grow up I am going to be an Exhibits Director at the San Diego County Fair?” Pretty sure no one ever. Who even thinks that is a career? Doctor or movie star, lawyer or a teacher, but a fair employee, give me a break.
I am not complaining it is a pretty cool gig for a country girl who likes to create things and organize them at the same time. Sprinkle in some analytics, budgets and ten key, it is the makings of a dream come true. Growing up, we were given such a defined linear scope of career opportunities it gives pause to modern day attitudes toward work and business environments. As a freshman in AGB 101 at Cal Poly, I had no clue what I wanted to do when I “grew up”, not like today’s youth who can conjure up opportunities we never could imagine. This isn’t a blog about discovering how to reinvent yourself in the tapestry of today’s job market, no it pretty much is just a road map of my journey.
Jake Owen preformed at the Fair this summer and his recent release Homemade, really sums up my career path. Looking back one could argue I am a text book product of my environment. I grew up being a fair junkie. Combine with my desire to play office, design my own paper doll clothes and organize everything in sight, you have my job. (We can note I also played school, shocker)
Let’s start with my earliest Fair memory. My cousin Kelly showed her first steer at what was still the San Luis Obispo County Fair in the summer of 1975. I recall my brother John, cousin Stacy and I hanging around the barns waiting for Kelly and her beef buddy to march in the ring. Watching her interact with the judge and receive a ribbon it was magical. All I could imagine was when can that be me?
My first livestock experience was a Duroc hog named Felix at the Salinas Valley Fair, circa 1977. My best friend Shawna and I were novice showmen and encountering our first outing with a show cane. Our parents were sure we would not only embarrass ourselves but the entire town of Templeton. “You two silly girls pay attention to your 4-H leader”, they would echo. Low and behold not only had we paid attention but one would say we were star pupils. Driving those red hogs into first and second hole. Maybe it was winning novice showmanship that infected me with the Fair bug, but from that moment on there was no looking back.
And it was not just the years of raising farm animals (a term of endearment from the one and only Papa Bob Cumming) that built the foundation of my passion, there have been other future career clues. Did the decades of styling the ultimate ladies lead outfit, not only for me, but my sister, and my daughter, and telling the story of wool, play a hand? I am wicked bad with florist wire and a glue gun. (nod to Mr. Johnson, Carpentaria FFA, for teaching me how to make a bow and wrap floral tape). And let’s not forget that time I built an entire 10ft X 10ft feature booth for Templeton FFA in our game room or assembled custom stall cards for the entire Chapter. Oh, the memories, the pieces of cut burlap, shafts of barley, the electric train. Good times.
Dig deeper and I can recall the two years in junior high I decided to write to every livestock breed association to inquire about literature and photos. Our mailbox began to over flow with large envelopes and over size packages. Did you know the Angus association will send you posters larger than your wall? Then I would sort all the information in binders and files. I took a recipe card holder and organized all my contacts, not by desserts, appetizers, main dishes, but by specie, beef, sheep, swine, etc. you get the point.
But wait it didn’t stop there. When I ran out of associations, I moved on to Agriculture Colleges and livestock equipment companies. My mother lived in fear that one day a sample cattle chute or actual live beast would be delivered to our condo in Carpinteria. And it gets better. A 13-year-old Jacky received a rejection letter from the Veterinary College at Purdue, due to the fact that I was from out of state (California) and a female, did they even realize I was only searching for facts to collect and display or I was in seventh grade?
Today, I realize I was building educational agriculture exhibits before I even knew that was a “thing”. Who knew there was a career that actually embraced all my madness? Career coaches of today express the need for “doing something you love.” In the 80’s life was more about getting a job and financial reward. The joy of the day was not a talking point, work was work. But somehow, I have seemed to resonant with modern day theory and lucked into spending my days doing a job that was actually my hobby as a kid. Maybe Jake Owen is on to something, I will always be the (wo)man homemade, but at the heart, I am a blue ribbon product of my environment.
PSA: As Fair season is among us, be sure to visit your county Fair. The people that work there don’t do their jobs for a season, it is a life long passion. They spend hours planning ways to inspire, educate, entertain and celebrate their fairgoers. The art of competition and the memories made cannot be experienced anywhere else on the planet.