It’s exhibition time and 4-H clubs from around the county are ready to show off their projects. Recognized by its distinctive green four-leaf clover emblem with the four capital Hs, the organization is celebrating its 100th anniversary (the first Canadian club began in Manitoba in 1913) so in honour of that, let’s all learn what those “haitches” stand for: Head, Heart, Hands and Health, as in, I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, my health to better living, for my club, my community and my country.
Edith Wood of Linden has dedicated her adult life to fulfilling that pledge. Although she joined 4-H briefly as a teenager, she returned wholeheartedly when her three children joined the Linden club. She’s been a 4-H leader for 42 years.
“This is still happening today. A lot of 4-H kids have a 4-H background. Their families were all 4-Hers,” Edith says.
“When my kids came along, the club had become a bit stagnant by then and one of the other men, who had been a 4-H member too, decided we should get the club going again. I decided that since my kids were going to be in it, I should take part, too.”
4-H covers a variety of projects, including, but not just limited to, the livestock projects. Members also work on photography, sewing, woodworking, small engine repair, or heritage, to name just a few of the possibilities.
“You need a leader for each one of those things,” Edith says. “You don’t have the same leader every year. I have done a few turns at outdoorsman, crafts and gardening.”
But for most of her 42 years, she has been the leader for cake decorating projects.
One might imagine she’s seen a lot of changes in almost half a century with the traditionally (but not exclusively) rural club but Edith is emphatic about one thing that hasn’t changed.
“The majority of 4-Hers don’t get into trouble,” she says. “They don’t have time, for one thing. These kids are busy. If they’re in 4-H, they’re in something else as well and most of them do chores at home. They’re not idle; that’s part of the reason they don’t get into trouble. In the 42 years I’ve been involved here, we’ve had one member that got involved with the law. That’s a pretty good record.”
According to Edith, 4-H members (ages 8 to 21) develop a respect for property and people, as well as social skills.
Raised on a farm, she married a farmer and continues to live in the house they built in Linden even though none of her kids took over the farm.
“Country life is great,” says Edith. “I think you have more freedom than you do in town. You’re not hemmed in. I guess you can take advantage of these wide open spaces and the views you have.”
At 84, her back and knees give her some trouble so she gets help with house cleaning from home care.
“One little gal from Amherst said to me, ‘I feel so sorry for you folks who live in the country. You must get so bored.’ I said, ‘Bored? What do you mean, bored?’ ‘But you have nothing to do’.”
Edith smiles and sighs. “Look at my calendar. Sometimes I get so many marks on it, I can’t see the days.”
Along with 4-H, she’s involved with her church and the community hall, as well as the local fire department and a small group of women that does fundraising for the Amherst hospital.
“I think 4-H helps keep you young,” she smiles.
A knock comes and the door opens as a woman hollers, “Knock, knock, Edie, I need to use your phone.”
Apparently, her cell phone isn’t working.
“The ditch is burning, opposite Lloyd’s, on our side,” she says into Edith’s phone. “You can’t see across the road, the smoke is so thick. Lands and Forest are there.”
After the woman leaves, Edith asks where we left off in our conversation.
Then the phone rings, a neighbour wanting to know what’s going on up the road.
“There’s a fire in the ditch across from Lloyd’s. I’m not sure how it’s going to pan out. I’ll let you know. Oh, here they come now, I can see them now.”
The Shinimicas fire trucks go by the house as Edith hangs up. The phone rings again
“I’m fine. I’m in the middle of an interview. About that fire? The trucks just went by. It’s just across from Lloyd’s. No, not yet. No, the wind is blowing from the west. I’m fine.”
That was her son, Brian, a member of the Shinimicas volunteer fire department who had heard the call and wanted to make sure his mother was okay.
Who says living in the country is boring?
“They look after me, they really do,” Edith chuckles. “I tell you, the older I get, the more people I have looking after me. I tell you, this old age thing is great.”
Isn’t that part of the 4-H pledge? Helping each other, lending a hand, providing support. Ideas put into practice that form the character of children and last a lifetime.
“At this stage of my life, I can’t imagine being without youth around,” Edith admits. “Really, I would miss them something terrible. But it’s not only that; it’s the satisfaction, the feeling that I get that possibly I might have been able to help one or two live meaningful lives. I think I might have helped to structure their life a bit. It’s the same sort of satisfaction I get on Achievement Day and I see what these kids have done. You get a good feeling about it. You feel like you helped them achieve something.”
She pauses then adds, “I’ve learned a lot too. I have much more self-confidence now than when I started. You think you’re teaching them but they also teach me.”