The following is a reprint of my Sunday column in the New Castle Courier-Times. Have a great week, everyone. I'll catch up with you on the weekend.
During more than three decades in a newsroom, I've been asked to judge a few things:
American history essays, newspaper-sponsored writing contests, best-decorated door at Christmas at a health facility, a library chili cook-off, a nursing home pet contest, a queen contest at a small-town festival, parade floats at another small-town festival, baked goods at The Mooreland World’s Fair (as we like to call it at the paper). I also judged beautiful handmade needlework for a DAR competition.
Being a judge is fun. There’s no pomp, but there are circumstances. Those generally involve heat and humidity. There’s no black robe and no one stands up for you when you enter the space, which may be a pole barn in August. Or, it could be a tiny room filled with stacks of handiwork that has taken the stitchers hundreds of hours apiece, only to be evaluated by a judge over a single lunch hour.
Once during a judging event, I had a dulcimer band quit playing when I entered its space. The musicians stopped not out of respect, but to yell at me. Apparently I had inadvertently interrupted their performance while setting up trophies for the parade winners. Other than that humiliation, most of my judging efforts have been anonymous.
Oh, but make no mistake. It’s serious business to determine if a homemade snickerdoodle is better than a seven-layer-bar. Perhaps I should have another bite of each to make sure.
When I judged the queen contest, it wasn’t that the committee had searched high and low for a judging team whose combined wisdom could determine the fairest maiden in the land. Um, no, it was that my coworker, who was originally tapped, didn’t want to do it and asked me to sub. So why was she selected to begin with? Could be that that the committee figured she would come with a camera and put the results in the paper? Bingo.
These situations take me back to a childhood full of 4-H. I sewed dresses, baked nut bread, crocheted an afghan, arranged flowers, assembled a terrarium, pressed and labeled leaves on a poster, and created demonstrations.
In the back of my mind while completing the work, I wondered what the judges would think, fretted if the poster was turned the right way, if the label was in the correct corner, and if the hems were straight.
All I’ve ever wanted to be, career wise, is a writer. But what I’ve come to see is that I will be that no matter what, and it’s not only the interviews but the experiences that provide subject matter. Whether I’m writing for a newspaper, working on a book, or posting a Home Row blog, regular life is my subject matter, and Lord willing, a writer I’ll always be.
As I approach age 59, I have no plans to retire, but people are asking me about it more all the time. Maybe it’s because my husband is retired (he’s five-and-a-half years older). Maybe it’s because I’m looking like I should be retired. Whatever the reason, I’m starting to think about what I want to do when the time comes, whenever that is.
I think I’d like to become a 4-H judge. I don’t know if there is a course to take, if there are more or fewer judges than needed, or how all that works.
I’m still covering fairs as part of this small-town newspaper journey, one that began 43 years ago when I decided – at a 4-H fair dog show, no less – that it’s what I wanted to be when I grew up. But what do I want to be when I retire? Guess that’s something I should think about.
How about you?
How did you decide who you wanted to be in retirement? What unique plans do you have? What plans have come to pass? Anything unusual or unexpected happen? Might make an interesting story. Share with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donna Cronk is Neighbors Editor of The Courier-Times and edits the quarterly her magazine for women. Her hobby involves speaking engagements encouraging women to live their dreams and bloom where they are planted, themes in her two novels. See the About Donna and Contact sections on this website for details.