Shyly standing with her petite brown 4-H heifer, she was certain she'd take a prize at the county fair. Judging criteria are completely inexplicable to anybody not initiated into the sacred mysteries of livestock showing. But to an unpracticed eye, girl and cow both look like winners, hooves and boots glinting in the sun, every curly auburn hair in place.

Mom's still pretty disappointed 70 years later, mystified that any judge could be so blind to all that was perfect about her adored young cow. Things like that stick with you. I wish she had won and yet I'm glad county fairs remain a strict if obscure meritocracy. Most of the time, our culture's sin is making winning too automatic for kids.

The yellowed photo of Mom at that long-ago fair hovered in mind a couple weeks ago as we sampled raspberry scones at the grand Western Washington Fair. With a late uncle who was president of the fair board, my wife brims with nostalgia for "The Puyallup," named for its Pierce County hometown and its snappy and inescapable jingle. To me, it's more like Disneyland with manicured critters instead of sweating men dressed as Donald, Goofy and Mickey, with their creepy plastic corporate grins. A few weeks ago someone dismissively described it to Capital Press Managing Editor Carl Sampson as "just an old scone feed," which Carl quotes in an amusing assumed accent.

We mostly went this year to give our 11-year-old her first live rock concert - Fergie, lead singer for the mainstream hip-hop group Black Eyed Peas. Though she puts on a convincing bad-girl pose, Fergie was a straight-A student, spelling bee champ and Girl Scout - definitely not the worst possible role model. My bad ear is still merrily ringing from the Apocalypse-loud and bad opening act. Note to self: in the future take earplugs and don't sit down until the warm-up band leaves the stage.

Elizabeth loved the main act, standing on her seat and swaying throughout Fergie's show, rushing the stage with others of her age to wave a slender hand for "the Dutchess" to touch. As always, it was refreshing being in the confidence of someone with such innocent enthusiasm. Reminded me of my big 1970s crush on Karen Carpenter back before the demon of thinness stole her away.

Thank goodness, Elizabeth isn't a screamer. Even on the aptly named Extreme Scream, which I wouldn't ride for $300, she was stoical about being sucked straight up into the sky about 15 stories and plunged downward fast as a falcon. It made her mom and I gasp just to witness it.

Although doing the Puyallup was something I resisted, it was a delicious experience. It wasn't cheap entertainment by any means, but it has the real appeal of getting people outdoors and exposing them at least a bit to the farm animals and agricultural producers upon whom we all rely for our very lives. And those hot scones are yummy.

Talk of economic depression in the past couple weeks has me wondering just how well we'd do if confronted by anything like the same scary conditions that Mom and her folks endured at the time of that long-ago fair in the Wyoming mountains. In the 1920s and '30s, productive farms bordered nearly every town and city. Nowadays, if things broke down I'm not real sure how a lot of people would feed themselves. Most consumers have only the vaguest idea of where food comes from. As my Grandpa Bell observed, people think hamburger is somehow produced out of thin air in the back of the store, plastic wrapping and all.

Some will barely notice a downswing. Others are already suffering. As in the Great Depression, I suspect we're going to see a big upswing in hunting and gathering, vegetable gardening, home canning and all the other make-do mechanisms people have at their disposal to stretch their dollars till they whimper and tear. In our blessed nation, there's no good reason for anybody to go hungry. We'll need to make sure nutrition gets where it needs to. Out here on the coast, we may have to learn to swap fish for Willamette Valley produce.

In other ways, an economic slap may be good for us. We've gotten awfully complacent and too big for our britches. It's time to focus once again on the fundamentals of this country, on security and peace in our own homes and neighborhoods. It's time to live within our means and our borders.

Chinook Observer editor Matt Winters lives in Ilwaco with his wife and daughter.

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