The year was 1983. I was the 4-H state winner in Child Development and would represent my state along with 44 other Louisiana delegates at the 62nd National 4-H Convention in Chicago, Illinois. It would be my first trip to the “northern” states and my first flight on a plane. I looked forward to both.
I took time off from my Freshman year at college and left the day after Thanksgiving for Chicago. A friend from high school and fellow delegate, Angela, would be my travel buddy and roommate. It was Angela’s first time as well to fly; she was nervous and scared. Angela’s mom had made her pack Dramamine in the event of motion sickness. While at the airport, waiting to board our plane, Angela somehow talked me into taking a Dramamine with her. I did not see any harm in taking it if it helped calm her nerves. Unfortunately, I had no idea that in no time at all I would become so drowsy Angela would be walking me to my seat on the plane! I fell fast asleep once seated and missed my entire first flight! Angela had no side effects from the drug at all and she rather enjoyed the plane ride. We laughed about it when I regained consciousness!
My Chicago trip was a great experience. There were banquets, tours, speeches, and entertainment such as Shari Lewis and Lambchop. It was the Christmas season; there were twinkling lights and window displays. This small town girl had stepped into a different world.
As much as I enjoyed the experience, what I remember most about my trip were the people. There were young adults from nearly all 50 states. Never before had I seen such a rich mixture of cultures and regional diversity. The Texans wore cowboy boots and talked with a “twang”. East coasters had a preppy style and that Bostonian accent. The slow southern drawl of Georgians made me chuckle as did their Bulldog cheers. I also marveled at the diversity of accents and customs of all the delegates from my own home state. My southern Louisiana Cajun accent sounded nothing like the dialect of those from North, West and East Louisiana. Our nightly state meetings were always very entertaining, as the individuals with the thickest accents and drawls were the also the most talkative.
We were all so different, but…
At the beginning of each day, each one of us delegates stood and put our hand on our heart and stated the Pledge of Allegiance to our Flag. We were united in that we were all Americans. Some of us came from mountains, some deserts, some, like me from swampy flat lands; all of us came from the U.S.A.
What happened to us?
Identity politics has forced American citizens to categorize and label ourselves. We have to be defined by race, sexuality, political party, income level…the list goes on. These definitions came into being with the promise of bringing understanding and respect; instead, they have brought division and condescending attitudes.
I am proud to be a Cajun. I am proud to be a Catholic. I am proud to be a wife, mother and grandmother. There are many “labels” that apply to me. First and foremost, I am a child of God. I was created by God my Father and given the gift of life. I was blessed to born in a nation that was founded on Judeo- Christian principals and beliefs. This nation that has been a beacon to the world, a safe-haven and defender of justice and liberty. This nation has always been great.
Louisiana delegates at 62nd 4-H Congress, Chicago, Illinois. (Sherry Kenner bottom left)
The last day of my Chicago trip was extra special because it snowed. We do not get many snow days in Louisiana and it had probably been about six or seven years since I had seen snow. Following our final state meeting, most of us Louisiana delegates jetted outside to play in the snow. We were joined by many other fellow southern delegates. I remember rolling snow balls with girls from Florida and Hawaii. Delegates from the north got a kick out of seeing us so excited. “This is not a lot of snow,!”, they kept telling us. We disagreed, and they smiled and enjoyed watching our enthusiasm.
I consider my flight home from Chicago as my “first” plane ride since I was awake for that one! My parents met me at the airport and as they had never been to the state of Illinois, they wanted to hear all about Chicago. I told them very little about the place, but I told them a great deal about the many different people I had met from the many different places. Still to this day, I remember very little of the tours, banquets, and surroundings from that time. I do remember the faces, laughter, jokes, and accents of my fellow Americans. We did not have to label ourselves, we knew we were from different backgrounds and areas. Differences were accepted and appreciated. We wanted to learn from each other and share our stories with each other. We were all Americans.
What happened to us?
I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, My Country, and my world.