MERCED — When Mona Solimini was out cutting cattails a couple of weeks ago, a friend passed by in a car.
Her friend slowed down and said, "Must be fair time" to the 56-year-old Merced resident.
Yes, it's fair time, and yes, Solimini was picking cattails for a floriculture exhibit she wanted to enter.
A lot of people enter the floriculture part of the Merced County Fair, which is taking place through Sunday. But Solimini is a little different from a lot of entrants.
Solimini's mother enters the floriculture competition. So does Solimini's daughter, son-in-law, son and, this year, her granddaughter.
Earleen Henderson is the matriarch of the family. At 84, she enjoys a long history with the fair.
"I entered the first time 61 years ago," Henderson said.
Her mother, Josephine Hendrick, was a flower arranger, and Henderson grew up making flower arrangements.
"Even as a girl I loved flowers," Henderson recalled. "We would compete in the garden club's camellia and rose shows."
According to the Merced County Fair, Henderson has entered the fair 544 times over the years. And a lot of those entries took home first-place blue ribbons.
This year, a category was named in honor of the Merced native, called "Classy Lady." People entering the category had to use a hat in their arrangements.
Solimini is just one member of the family who's a familiar face at the fair. Solimini's children Dustin Edwards and Jolene Mills have competed since age 5.
Mills' husband, Jack Mills, has entered for four years, and Solimini's husband makes metal containers for the arrangements.
And then there's Maelee Mills. When she celebrates her second birthday Saturday, she will already have a few competitions under her belt. Maelee is the daughter of Jolene and Jack Mills, the granddaughter of Solimini and the great-granddaughter of Henderson.
"I try to set her up for success," Jolene said. "I put a bud vase and a bunch of flowers and plants in front of her and she picks the ones she likes."
Little Maelee was awarded a third-place for her garden at the fair this year, and Jolene thought the garden might never get done.
"I would take her to the fair, and she would dig one hole, plant some flowers and then go off and play with a couple of little boys," Jolene said.
But then the little boys encouraged Maelee, and she got her garden done in time, including making a map. Her mother was going to help Maelee, but then she let the little girl scribble with crayons to make the map.
Most of the flowers entered by the four generations of family come from Henderson's back yard. Henderson's east Merced home has a beautiful yard, and despite two hip replacements and one knee replacement, Henderson spends a lot of time working in her favorite place.
"I can't get down on my knees anymore," Henderson said. "I used to love spading — I can't do that now. But there's still a lot I can do."
Henderson's daughter entered her first fair competition at age 5, as did Henderson's grandchildren.
"The family is the main reason I like to do this," Dustin Edwards said. "It's a good chance for everyone to get together and it's a lot of fun."