Jerry Nelson: A walk down memory lane took me to an old club

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Jerry Nelson

I’m a history buff, so it’s always thrilling to discover a long-lost artifact. It’s even more enjoyable when the item contains juicy details from the distant past such as when Abraham Lincoln said to his wife, Mary, “Our cat has a long tail tonight.” Nobody knows what Abe meant, but it certainly sounds juicy.

It gave me great pleasure when I recently stumbled upon an ancient relic. My pleasure was markedly reduced when I realized that the artifact had belonged to a much younger me.

A page within Jerry Nelson's 4-H record book during his first year as a County Liners 4-H club member.

The item in question is my 4-H Record Book, which dates back to the year that I joined the County Liners 4-H club at age nine. We’re essentially talking about the late Cretaceous Era.

As with many such things, the deepest sedimentary layers are the oldest. Flipping back to the first chapter of the book, which recorded my initial year in 4-H, I was pleased to see from the handwritten list of my fellow club members that my penmanship was excellent. Then I recalled that Bob Liebsch, our junior leader, had filled out that part for me.

The rest of that year’s club activities were recorded in my wobbly handwriting. It was clear that I was struggling to master the art of cursive writing. I also had spelling issues, writing “lice” as “lise” and “printed” as “prented.”

The book documents the schedule of our club’s monthly meetings. Every June, the club’s proposed activity was listed as “tour and hayride.” The tour part – traveling from farm to farm to view members’ projects – always took place. Not so for the hayrides. I think this was because most of our members already spent ample time riding on flatbeds and throwing hay bales. A hayride isn’t very thrilling when it’s an everyday activity.

My 4-H project that first year was a barrow named Blackie. Blackie luxuriated in his own private pen and was given only the best vittles. He received all the pig grower he could eat, often supplemented by tasty table scraps. He gained weight like a balloon that had been connected to a gushing garden hose.

By the time Achievement Days arrived Blackie had grown to the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. At least that’s how I remember him. But wait! Buried in my Record Book is a blurry snapshot of Blackie and me in the show ring! He was huge, with a backline that was even with my waistline. I was much shorter then, but still.

Just prior to Achievement Days, I learned that I was supposed to be recording the income and expenses associated with raising Blackie. I despise numbers, so this was distressing news. I impulsively scribbled some concocted figures in the designated spaces in my Record Book. My recordkeeping system could best be described as Guess And Hope For The Best. This is pretty much the same bookkeeping system that I continue to use.

Upon being informed that I had to turn in my Record Book to be judged at Achievement Days, I hastily filled in a few of the blank areas. It didn’t bode well that under the categories labeled Achievements and Community Service I wrote “none.”

Under the area titled Health, I checked the “no” boxes for dental and medical checkups. Nor did I check any of the boxes for smallpox, diphtheria, or polio immunizations. A person could infer that I was a healthcare scofflaw.

Sensing that things didn’t look so good, I scrawled a statement under Participation in Activities that reads, “I always go to bed at a certain time and get up at a certain time.” This sentence had the advantages of being both vague and unprovable, a writing technique that I continue to use.  

A White Award sticker adorns the front page of that first chapter. I was fine with receiving this award until I was informed that it was the lowest one possible.

But this meant that there was nowhere to go but up. Indeed, later chapters of the book show that I consistently earned a Red Award for my Record Book. That’s just one notch above White, but still.

Later chapters of the book show that my penmanship never improved. I gave up on using cursive in my teens and switched to printing. This increased the book’s legibility, but never enough for it to garner anything better than a Red Award.

The goal of 4-H is to help youngsters become well-rounded adults. I believe that this is true for me. I have nothing but fond memories of my years as a member of the County Liners and our kindhearted leader, Harold Husby.

In fact, I would give my 4-H experience a solid Purple Award.     

If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at and at booksellers everywhere.