The All-American Dairy Show. For anyone who has been there, those words alone bring a flood of memories and experiences: exultation, joy, laughter, or sometimes even sorrow, disappointment, and sadness. The time you placed higher than you’d thought but exactly where you’d hoped, the time your cow got sick and didn’t make it to the ring, or did make it but you knew there was hardly a reason to go because of how she was feeling. From our first show calf until we can’t show anymore, Harrisburg holds hopes and dreams, and once bitten by the Harrisburg show bug it becomes home for that week in September and if we, for whatever reason, can’t make it, we get homesick for the show, longing to be there.
The week of the All-American, or simply Harrisburg, as it is referred to lovingly by native Pennsylvanians, is unique among all other shows. It’s far different than a county fair, because it is bigger, better, and national; you see the friends there from other counties and states that you may not see any other time of the year. Different than other large shows; it’s the first stepping stone on the way to Madison. It’s (usually) warmer than Madison, and somehow the atmosphere is different than at Madison or Louisville. Though it has been months since Harrisburg, the memories are still as fresh as if we had come home yesterday, and that’s not just from this year but from all the years I’ve been there and they mingle together in a brain file marked Harrisburg that is visited often throughout the year as motivation, encouragement, and inspiration to remind us why we put all the work into this insane, amazing passion of showing cows. And it comes at the oddest of moments; a story that begins with, “This one time, at Harrisburg”, the hopeful mating we make for a cow, the moment a calf is born and you analyze and think maybe she has a shot at being good enough to go. You walk into a restaurant and it brings back a funny Harrisburg memory, or you log 20,000 footsteps and your feet are sore and you think “This feels like Harrisburg”, you never know what will bring back a Harrisburg memory. And the memories we make and friendships we form are indelible and lasting evidence of the bonds made at Harrisburg; scroll through Facebook and think about how many of those friends were met at Harrisburg- probably a third of mine were.
Harrisburg has so much to offer; not all of our memories are of the show itself. Judging, showmanship, meetings, the exhibitors banquets, all of these make up parts of Harrisburg too. And let’s not forget the toasted cheese sandwiches and milkshakes because Harrisburg has the best, they’re just better there than anywhere else. The early mornings, the late nights, bedding, washing, feeding, clipping, and everything in between all adds into the equation that makes Harrisburg special. It’s the people, the exhaustion, the passion and work ethic that makes a person so proud to be there and willing to work as hard as they can and put in as many hours as needed to make sure they do the best they can to get their cows ready. The first time I was there, I got lost among the barns and halls; now I can give you a map and direct you exactly where you need to go right off the top of my head. When I first went there, I felt like everyone there knew more than I did, that they belonged there and I didn’t; but I don’t feel that way anymore, we’re all equal, doing the best we can with the cows we are proud of. Yes, some of those cows are better than others, and I have yet to win a class, but that just gives me something to strive for, a goal to reach and a reason to work, every day, to have better cows that are ready for the next time Harrisburg comes around. It’s hard to explain Harrisburg to someone who doesn’t show cows, but there’s just something about that show that sets it apart from all others. Maybe it’s something about the people who show cows, or maybe it’s just Harrisburg, but when you leave there, no matter how tired you are or how your cow placed, you can’t wait to come back next year.
Rose Morian is a farmer’s daughter, milkman’s wife, former 4-Her, and author of the column Rose’s Ramblings in Farmshine. When she’s not writing she is working on her family’s farm, adoring her Boxer and Boston Terrier, helping coach the county dairy judging team, or any number of other farm things. She was 1st Alternate Red and White Queen in 2013, when she had 2 cows nominated Jr All-American, one of which was Honorable Mention Jr and Open All-American. Rose owns and shows Holsteins, Jerseys, Red and Whites, and Brown Swiss, having shown a homebred representative of each breed at All-American over the years. After her first time at the All-American in 2005, Rose has been attending Harrisburg faithfully since 2007. Many of her fondest memories and best friendships have started at Harrisburg.