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Column: Hog memories wrestle up fondness for 4-H

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As I was going through the Johnson County fair schedule for the week ahead, there it was: hog wrestling.

The words immediately took me back. Back to the feeling of a hog standing on my foot, snorting inches from my face, and wanting to get far, far away from me. The description of the new event at the fair says that groups of four will jump into a muddy pit to wrangle a pig onto a tire that is on top of a barrel.  Let me translate that for you.


Several years ago (at a fair unnamed to protect the innocent and to keep the photos hidden), I was roped into a hog wrestling competition with three other women.

I grew up on a farm and showed pigs at the county fair every summer for 10 years. In our heyday, myself and about eight cousins would round up our animals and haul them to the fairgrounds. Before we ever left the farm, the eight of us would wash 20 to 30 hogs. Get out the dish soap, rubber boots, garden hoses and brushes. I’m not kidding you. Goggles anyone?

At the fair, the free-for-all begins. We’d use pieces of fencing to set up a hog maze so that our animals would make it from the livestock trailer to our assigned pens in the barn. What if your pig got away? That involves getting on your knees and being ready to turn a pig running at you.

During the showmanship competition, you have to keep your sweat and temper under control while guiding (chasing) an animal around the show ring. The best of the best could get their pig into a pen without any help.

But back to my “official” hog wrestling of a few years ago.

The horn sounded, and the four of us jumped into a pit filled with muddy water. The pig was dumped in, too, but kept trying to jump out and run on the very narrow ledge around the pit.

We had to grab a slippery, scared, nearly full grown pig and lay it across a tire that was on the raised barrel in the middle of our muddy water pit.

Journalists are supposed to provide details that really take the reader to the scene, so chew on this: My clothes were thrown away that night. I had a gritty taste in my mouth for a week (I don’t even want to know what that was from), and we had bruises that took forever to go away.

Oh, and we didn’t win.

But I’ll never forget the experience, or all the fun I had with my family and friends during my 4-H years. Those come flooding back about this time each year, as I watch new generations go through the 4-H experience and grow to love the fair.

My 8-year-old niece learned cake decorating from her 80-something great-grandma by spending one day a week with her this summer. My nephew built a stool and wired a lamp and will forever know how to work with those tools, tinker and create.

They are making friends, making memories and getting ready to chase some pigs. This is the stuff that Indiana’s county fairs and the 4-H program is all about.

Have a great week, 4-H’ers, parents and leaders. You’ve earned it.

Michele Holtkamp is editor of the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net

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