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4-H: The H's stand for helping hands and harming horrible little sisters

Tammy Swift, columnist1 / 2
Tammy Swift's (far left) 4-H group was featured in the local paper.2 / 2

A lot of small-town weeklies seem to do it.

Besides the locals ("Agnes had a nice coffee with Clara and her unmarried son, Dirk, last week") and the senior citizen menus, small papers will often take a stroll down memory lane by re-running an article that was originally published 20 or even 30 years ago.

If you hail from a town of 500 or so people, it's just a matter of time before your number comes up on the roulette wheel of nostalgia.

This time, it was a group shot — or maybe a daguerreotype — of my old 4-H Club, Curlew 22. Our club was usually bigger than this, but it was taken during our hometown's centennial celebration, so everyone else was probably busy dodging Shriners in tiny cars or trying to drench our typing teacher in the dunk tank.

I had just graduated from high school, so my participation in 4-H had been spotty at best. By then, I thought the four H's stood for hooky, harem pants, hot fudge and Hagar. Woo-hoo!

Even so, I showed up for the photo, just so my embarrassing haircut could be dusted off and showcased every 30 years in my hometown newspaper.

The photo made me all sentimental about the days when every small town had an active 4-H club and every 4-Her's stock could immediately skyrocket to county-wide fame for a purple ribbon-worthy zucchini muffin or perfectly laid table. (Heck, we're still talking about Mildred Funnenwinger's apron of '79. She made French seams on a dishtowel apron, people. FRENCH seams!)

Some of my family's favorite memories center around 4-H. Memories of staying up all night and wrestling with Mom's notoriously temperamental Singer to get a set of yellow and orange-flowered appliance covers done on time. Or plucking the garden of all of its bounty so that we could enter a plate of perfectly symmetrical carrots or the Heidi Klum of zucchini in 4-H Achievement Days.

Our most popular story involves the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Incident. My sister Verbena baked the world's most flawless upside-down cake, only to have her little sister (name rhymes with Shammy) saunter by and nibble off a piece of it. After many screams and threats of bodily injury, Verbena hunkered down and tried to bake another prize-winner. But one can never fully capture the essence of the Mona Lisa, so every cake fell short. Finally, she came up with a decent contender, even though the edges were a little too brown and one cherry was not perfectly aligned.

When fair day rolled around, we all made a beeline to the "baked goods" section. We hurried through the narrow aisles lined with caramel rolls and kuchen to find her entry. Secretly, I prayed that she would do OK; otherwise, I would never hear the end of it.

Finally we found her cake, which happened to be topped with a coveted purple ribbon.

Great rejoicing ensued, and the story of my misdeed is now repeated at every single family gathering.

So, yeah, I actually never have heard the end of it.

I guess the fourth H stands for "harassment."

Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at tswiftsletten@gmail.com.

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