This piece is dedicated to the people of Lousiville. From Chef, who made the thick and hearty chicken broth on my first day of sickness…to Ms. Vickie who loves me and all my babies, and gave them all sweet nicknames and taught us how to shine our boots the southern way…to my sweet cousin I hadn’t seen in decades and who drove and gave up her weeknight just to spend an hour with us… and all the folks in between: you have all taught this band of northerners what the phrase “Southern Hospitality” means. Even though most of my time was spent in my hotel room, it was a beautiful trip because of you. Thank you.
So I took my kids -my own kids and my 4-H kids- South for their big competition and it was all they ever wanted and all they had been looking forward to, and two days after we got there, I got sick.
Now, you have to understand somethin’ bout this Mama. If I ever tell you I got sick, I got sick. Having a mind that tends toward worst-case-scenarios, I’m in the business of intentally down playing any illness that may strike me. I constantly talk myself out of being sick so that I don’t end up seeming sicker that I really am. Plus, other than the wonky thyroid, I’m very seldom sick. I had to go back and look up the last time I was sick, because that was the time I was so sick I had to write a blog piece about it.
I was SICK y’all.
And now, this time, I was that sick again. Except this time, I was 5,000 miles from home, I was trip coach to my team and chaperones who were on their dream journey to a national competition, I didn’t have a car, I was bunking up with my two teenagers, and I was stuck in a hotel room with windows that DON’T OPEN.
It was sheer pain, hell, and knarliness for six straight days and the worst of it was, I wanted to TALK! I got to be coach for the first Alaska team of our type to EVER grace these competitions and I had coaches to meet and new friends to make! Nope, by Day 3, once the fevers, chills, and body aches had subsided, so had my voice.
By the time my second kiddo fell, I was tired and feeble enough from the long days of illness to have several quiet spells of crying at the unfairness of traveling all this way just for my big boy to not be able to attend the banquet that would tell him how he and his team did, or to only get to do half of the fun tours we had planned that would show us around this huge city most of my team had never seen.
By the time I had the hotel shuttle man, Eddie the Awesome hustle our hineys over to the Kroger -did you know you can see a nurse at the Kroger now?- where I spent $400 for a nice man in scrubs to tickle our nostrils and tell me the kids were still showing for Influenza while my boogies were clean and that really the best thing for us was just to rest up in our hotel room, (if I’d had a voice I would have laughed hysterically, as it was, he just got a deadpan stare.) I was a mad mess of mama coach mixed in with irritation, surrender, and resolve when we left. No more tears, we just needed to get through the rest of the trip and infect the least amount of people we could and try not to take any souvenirs of the Influenza Type A type home.
My team moms took the reins and 3/4 of the team still got to see the sights. My kids all rocked it and worked through the sickness (one started to fall on the day of the last competition, bringing the team sickness ratio to 2:3) and they celebrated that, as the contest’s obvious Underdog, they succeeded in NOT taking the title of last place. We all laughed at the differences between livestock people and chicken people. We made a group decision to skip out on the official dinner in order to go gather round the tables that had become so familiar at the hotel restaurant so we could be homey and enjoy our last meal in Kentucky together just us, as a team. They leaned in to my whisper voice and I smiled at their accomplishments and the good that comes even when things go much much differently than you’d anticipated.
And then, on the way home, our week flown much, much too fast and yet dreadfully slow at the same time, my team girls were strewn all about the airport chairs, legs akimbo and having conversations teens have when they talk as if they are the only ones in the whole world, and one said to the other as they laughed over junk food….
man that’s so sick.
And they just laughed and laughed and glowed the glow of youth when they’re just happy and perfect and content and everything is perfect and cool -sick- in their world.
We took our sickness south.
We didn’t win by any means. Not even close. Heck, out of 19 teams, we didn’t even place in the top ten. Second-to-last is farrr from winning.
And on a scale of one to ten, with one being Small Fry Farms and ten being Big Ag, we learned that here in Alaska, we’re barely on the paper.
I had folks tell me that all the big states had qualifiers to even go to their state competition and that by the time their kids got to Nationals, they’d been competing at the national skill level for years.
We had folks tell us that Alaska would lose.
But we didn’t lose and do you know why?
Because we went.
We put our little Ag big state on the map of national livestock contests and we showed them that we want to be part of things too.
We met people over the course of our six days that’d we’ll remember forever and we gave out smiles and we gave out hugs to folks who won’t soon forget us.
We took all of the love of our community, and all the well wishes and financial support of our sponsors, and we put it in our pockets and we put it on our shirts and we put it in our hearts and my kids were brave and they went.
And everywhere we’d go, out of all the teams, it was Alaska that got the biggest applause.
Not because we won, but because we showed up.
Because it’s pretty dang cool that a little band of everyday Joes from a land so far away that it’s barely on the map would drive three hours to take three different planes for a whole day of flying to go to a land to play on a playground with kids who are so used to the playground equipment it feels like their backyard tree fort, while the faraway kids are just seeing the playground for the first time.
That’s what the clapping said. That’s what the questions asked and what the smiles spoke. And everywhere we went in our new southern city, we were bombarded with questions like Alaskans always are when they go Outside, but at the end of it, after all the questions and all the learning, what my kids heard from their peers, these kids who grow up Ag, was
We’re glad you came. It’s good that you’re here.
Half of us missed the events and tours we had scheduled.
I became more familiar with a hotel room that I ever want to be again.
I wish our group would’ve been able to spend more time together.
We weren’t 100%.
But as we came home, I realized that the magnitude and the excitement of what we had done hadn’t been changed just because we got influenza or even because we hadn’t won.
Nothing had changed at all.
We still put Alaska on the map.
We showed folks that we care enough to show up.
We saw so much.
We learned SO MUCH.
Team, you smiled at your accomplishments instead of seeing your lack of winning as losing.
You were the Underdog but you were brave.
You were brave.
And that, my kids, is SO sick.