Curly Weighs In

Better Than Yesterday

I was being dragged across the wood chip floored arena by an 1100 pound steer but I wasn’t afraid. I was embarrassed and ticked off. Curly was misbehaving at the worst time.

It was the UP State Fair. I was 9 years old and wearing borrowed cowboy boots and belt buckle. We had practiced at our farm but that couldn’t prepare my Simmental for the excitement of other cattle and bleachers full of people.

As Curly ran I held onto the halter like a beginner water skier. When he stopped I cranked his tail with all my might and got him in line. A few scratches of the belly with my show stick and he relaxed. Fortunately the judge wasn’t rating behavior.

The previous fall we had purchased this calf with a curly white haired noggin from Wilbur’s farm for $300. I couldn’t wait to be a farmer. I thought it would be fun. Boy was I wrong. I learned quickly a farmer doesn’t take days off. Cleaning pens and breaking ice from water buckets isn’t what most third graders would choose to do after school. I didn’t do it willingly either, my father had to crank my tail often. In the spring we practiced showing. Getting Curly to comply seemed impossible. Everything was hard work.

A big incentive was that I would auction Curly and keep the profit. I could buy the BMX bike I’d been dreaming about. Along the way I learned some valuable lessons. I learned delayed gratification – resisting a smaller but more immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later. Delayed gratification is one of the most effective personality traits of successful people. People who learn how to manage their need to be satisfied in the moment are more successful than people who give in to it. The immediate rewards sure are easier though. When I placed a quarter in a video game at the Wooden Nickel the reward was instant. A year of carrying pails and shoveling you know what… not instant reward!

After all the work however, was one week at the UP State Fair. A boys dream. I found a beef barn full of kids like myself from all over the U.P. I made friends with boy from Germfask. Each following year I would look forward to seeing my buddy Norman. We’d watch horse shows, go to tractor pulls, ride Double Ferris wheels and reluctantly attend the 4-H dance. Every day I woke up in a pop-up camper, ate elephant ears and played Carnival games. I thought to myself “this must be how famous people live.”

The day of the auction came at week’s end. Curly fetched over a dollar a pound. I was rich! However there was another tough lesson when I had to say goodbye to him.

The following week I went to the Hancock bike shop and purchased a Schwinn Predator with chrome painted frame and red mag wheels. I treasured that bike. In the fall I enthusiastically jumped in the truck with my dad to go find next years calf.

Thank you to all the people who continue to make livestock shows and fairs possible. The parents who sacrifice. The volunteers on the fair boards, 4-H clubs, judges, auctioneers and those who bid up a young boy’s steer so he can learn a few life lessons and buy a new bike.