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Heritage

October 19, 2022


Most evenings, I read aloud to Mom and Thomas. We have covered many a book this way and enjoy interacting with each other and literature. On Sunday, we finished reading Shane by Jack Schaefer and immediately watched the classic 1953 western starring Alan Ladd. During a rodeo scene, Thomas mentioned to me that he didn't think he had ever been to a rodeo. Apparently I have failed to pass on a part of my heritage to him.

My father was a real, live, cowboy. If I remember the story right, he began cowboying at the age of 8 or 9 when he spent his summer weekdays on a ranch keeping an eye on the cows for a local rancher. I don't know when he began to love cows and horses, maybe during these summer months, but they ranked higher than we did as his children. When he was of an age to be drafted during the Korean War, his boss had his cowboys deferred as they were raising beef to help feed the soldiers. As a young adult (not a teenager), he did not have the money to run his own cattle, but he worked for those who did. As soon as he could afford his own horses, he always had at least one. He would tell us what a great cowboy he was, but because we heard the same from those for and with whom he worked, it didn't seem like boasting, just stating a fact.

When I was a little tow-headed girl, I wanted to be a cowgirl. Dad gave me an old mare named Queenie. She was blind and stayed in the corral, where I could climb the boards of the corral and climb onto her bare back whenever I wanted. My brother, R.D., had to feed her as I was too little to do so. He hated that horse, because she kept stepping on his feet, not being able to see them. One day, I came home from school and found the corral empty. Dad told that Queenie had been taken to the glue factory. I don't remember crying, maybe I

did, but I understood that that was what happened if a horse got too old.

Because we did not have our own ranch and own stock, I was not truly taught how to cowboy. Dad was busy doing the job he was paid to do, not to bring us along to cause problems. He did teach R.D. to ride and rope, probably because R.D. was actual help. I would ask Dad to teach me to saddle the horse. He would show me, but never let me do it. And then he would tell me to, "Get on and come back in an hour or so." At least I was riding. Dad did teach me to rope, and I was pretty good at throwing the loop and catching the dummy head stuck in a bale of hay. I never did learn to rope from a live, moving animal.

Dad was also an excellent roper, and going to a roping was a family affair. We usually had to travel 30 to 50 miles to a roping. Dad would stop by a Kentucky Fried Chicken, and we would get a bucket of chicken with the fixins. Once at the roping, Dad would put me on his registered stud, Overtime Gold, and have me ride around the arena before the roping would begin. It was and is very unusual to have a stud gentle enough to put a young, maybe 10 or 11, year-old girl on, and he received many a stud fee by having me do this. He also roped on Overtime Gold, another way to get stud fees.

Dad also took us to the Phoenix Jaycee Rodeo of Rodeos each year. We saw bull riders like Larry Mahan and western stars like the cast of Bonanza. We saw cowboys accomplish amazing feats of bravery and skill. We also saw them trampled and gored. Rodeo isn't always pretty.

Living in Maricopa, Arizona, was one of the happiest times in my life. We lived at a feedlot where Dad was the manager and had thousands of cows right outside our front door. This afforded me many adventures. We played at the doctoring chutes all the time. My brother discovered that crickets expand when injected with a large syringe of water and can be thrown like water balloons. We ate steaming hot huevos de toros (mountain oysters or bull testicles) fried in hot grease as soon as the bull was castrated. The workers would hand us the meat on the tip of a pocket knife. (I'm not sure I would enjoy this delicacy now like I did then.) The feedlot had a dead-cow pile where dead cows resided before they were hauled away. We found out that a bloated dead cow makes a great trampoline. My brother chased and shocked me with a hot shot electric cattle prod. And the smell of manure still brings back great childhood memories.

During my high school years, I wanted nothing to do with my father's lifestyle or music. I was too cool for that. But just a few years later, in college, I was all about being western. I had boots, a belt with my name tooled in leather, a silver and turquoise belt buckle, and I looked fabulous in a pair of Wranglers. (Of course, that was minus 40 years and 100 pounds or so.) I saw and danced to George Strait when he performed in a local bar in Phoenix, before he became so popular that the next time I saw him I was sitting in the nose-bleed section.

I haven't worn a pair of Wranglers in years, and my belt and boots no longer fit, but I am still a cowgirl at heart. Classic country music pulls at my heartstrings. Cowboys and the West are part of my heritage, and I am proud of the skills and traits my father had. So, I will make sure Thomas gets to his first rodeo, but it won't be mine.


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