The county fair: one brief vacation for a Pennsylvania farmer

The Farmer: One in an occasional series.


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The last time Ralph Frye went on vacation with his family, his wife, Ann, was pregnant with their youngest son -- 30 years ago.

He does not mark his summers with trips to a beach or time at a lake. Instead, his summers are noted by the rotation of crops in the fields of his farm in Unity. Mornings start with milking. In late afternoon, he is milking again.

But this year the Frye family stepped back into a tradition that had ended when their youngest son, Chad, outgrew the 4-H Club competitions: Two of Mr. and Mrs. Frye's grandchildren -- Emily Frye, 9, and T.J. Frye, 7 -- showed two of the farm's calves at the Westmoreland County Fair.

"Is this what it takes to get you back here?" Jane Guyer of New Florence, the superintendent of the 4-H Club and Future Farmers of America, asked Mr. Frye when he arrived at 10:30 on Thursday morning to see how his grandchildren were coming along with the grooming of the calves.

The county fair was also a family reunion, with Jason Frye, their oldest son, and his family coming home to Westmoreland County on Thursday night from the Washington, D.C., area to see his niece and nephew in the final day of all-breed dairy showmanship.

The children were in the midst of their first day of competition when their father, Todd, and uncle, Chad, started to plan how they were going to get ready for next year.

Emily was new to the cow showmanship ring. She had worked with her 7-month-old heifer, Isabella, since May, walking the cow around the barnyard, practicing leading the calf in a circle and standing.

The cow that her little brother T.J., showed, Ole Betsy, is just 3 months old.

Emily competed in the youngest age category for 8- and 9-year olds. T.J. was with the "pee wees," who were as young as 2 and not formally competing.

As Emily stepped into the ring to show off what they'd practiced, Isabella had other ideas.

The calf that had been so compliant on the farm was not about to be paraded around. Isabella balked at being led, stopping when she wanted to and trying to leave the circle of calves.

Emily burst into tears.

A neighbor, Todd Frescura, who was helping out in the ring, walked over and calmed both the showman and her cow.

The judge, Jean Kummer, interviewed each of the children in the circle about their cows, taking a little longer when she got to Emily, helping her regain her composure while still asking about the cow and handling the animal.

It's hard to know why Emily got rattled. There is no judge tougher than her grandfather, who had already brought her to tears by calling her to task during practice recently on how she had been handling the cow.

"There's a wrong way, there's a right way and there's my way," he says about any chore done on his farm. He doesn't really care about the first two, but he does want things done his way.

By the end of the conversation with the judge, Emily wiped the remains of her tears on the back of her hand and was ready with a smile when the judge lined the children up with their cows just before handing out prizes.

"This little gal, how about a round of applause for her," Ms. Kummer said as she was giving out the awards. "At first she was upset, but then she just went for it."

Emily won a blue ribbon, just like the rest of the children in her group.

"It was kind of tricky at first," she said later.

Later, when T.J. was walking Ole Betsy with the pee wee group, his mother, Carolyn Frye, called out to him, "Smile, T.J., smile."

Emily agreed. "I smiled the whole time, even when I was crying," she said.

This was the first county fair in which any member of this branch of the Frye family had competed since Chad Frye showed cows.

Todd Frye did not compete as a child, but he watched as his brothers worked with their cows. Now, still in the background, he is planning to pick out heifers much earlier than May, which is when they started this year.

The children's mother, Carolyn, knows better about the material that needs to go into the binder in which the children are supposed to record their growth of their animals.

And Emily already has the smile down.

By 1:30 in the afternoon, the two calves were back in their stall at the show barn and Ralph Frye was itching to leave.

"I have to go do something," he said, thinking of the chores going undone while he was spending time at the fair. So he and Ann went home, where she started the peach cobbler they would have for dessert that night and he got the cows in the barn before a lightning storm came through.

That three hours had been enough of a vacation for him.


Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699. First Published August 25, 2013 4:00 AM


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