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Harass Not Lest Ye Be Judged

, , , , , | Right | CREDIT: Tom_Marvolo_Tomato | May 13, 2021

Back in the late 1980s, I was invited to help judge the vegetable contest in a neighboring county for their 4H Fair. Each crop had different score sheets, and different points were awarded for different attributes. Were the tomatoes ripe? Were the beets trimmed? Were they all uniformly sized? And so on. The total points determined which ribbon the vegetables earned.

We didn’t meet the kids who submitted the vegetables and nobody was supposed to be in the building with us while we judged.

I got started. I was looking at green beans first. There had to be twenty on each plate, the beans had to be uniform — all straight or all curved — their stems had to be trimmed to less than half an inch. Lots and lots of rules. And I had maybe forty or fifty plates of beans to look at.

I was working along, minding my own business. I did notice several people walking through the building — fair officials, most likely. Most of them ignored me, so I returned the favor. But one woman stopped and watched me work for a while. She asked me what the points meant, and I, being a good educator, explained that each attribute was rated one to ten, and that this plate got an eight for uniform shape, a six for stem trimming, a nine for cleanliness, and so on. She seemed okay with my explanation and left.

Next, I was working on sweet peppers. Again, I had forty or fifty plates to examine, and I was now rating them for uniform size, uniform shape, uniform color, same number of bumps on the bottom, etc. The woman stopped by again and watched me for a bit. She then pointed to a plate I had already finished and asked why it got only forty points. I explained the points I had given for that plate — seven for not-quite-uniform size, four for different colors, etc. She “hmphed” and left.

I moved on to other veggies, scoring and grading as I went. And every so often, the woman would come back and question what I was doing and why I was scoring how I was scoring. I tried to remain polite and explain what I was doing, but I was beginning to notice that she was asking about specific plates. All of the names and personal identification were hidden from the judges, so I didn’t know whose plate was whose… but apparently, she did.

I was beginning to get a little annoyed with her constant questions and became more annoyed when she suggested I was being too tough on my judging.

Woman: “That cucumber is trimmed just fine! Why are you picking on that poor kid?”

Me: “Ma’am, I’m supposed to be here by myself; I shouldn’t be talking to anyone. I don’t want you to get in trouble for disrupting a judge.”

Woman: *Sniffing at me* “Don’t worry about me. I’m the wife of the fair board secretary. Nobody will dare to say anything to me.”

Fine. I continued on with my judging.

After a long while, I was doing my last crop: tomatoes. I was nearly done when the woman swooped in again, this time with a young boy in tow. The kid was looking around and picking his nose and altogether didn’t seem to care about anything being judged. The woman looked over the plates and then screeched at me.

Woman: “Why did that plate get a red ribbon?! What is wrong with those tomatoes?! Those are excellent looking tomatoes to me!”

Now, don’t get me wrong; these were perfectly fine tomatoes, if I was going to slice them up and eat them. But compared to the other tomato entries, they weren’t quite up to snuff — certainly not what anyone would call a “blue-ribbon tomato.”

She continued screeching at me about how unfair I was being. And I finally had enough.

Me: “Let me understand. You don’t think these are red-ribbon tomatoes?”

Woman: *Snarling* “No!”

Me: “You want me to change the ribbon?”

Woman: *Smugly* “OF COURSE, I do!”

Me: “Fine! I will.”

And I did. I took off the red second-place ribbon… and put on a green “Thank you for showing up and participating” ribbon. Then, I turned to her son.

Me: “Young man, 4H is meant to be an educational association, and you are supposed to learn something. I hope you learn to leave your mother home next year.”

And with that, I gathered up my scorecards and walked out. As I was leaving the garden crops building, I looked back. The boy was still looking around aimlessly, not caring about anything going on, but the woman looked like a catfish someone had hooked and left on the side of the creek, her mouth opening and closing and her throat puffing up like she was gasping for water. I don’t think anyone in her entire entitled life had ever talked back to her before.

I turned my scorecards in, collected my judge’s fee, and never heard a word from anyone at that county fair about taking that woman down a peg or three.