Watching local western color where things are black and white…

Here’s a Mother’s Day joke from God Bless America country:

The rodeo clown told the announcer that he was afraid of three ma’s, my ma, your ma, and ObaMA.

And that was after a singer had sung a song that said something about the Pledge of Allegiance being taken out of school, something that I was not aware of.

(Of course I do know there is an ongoing controversy about praying in school or school personnel led prayers, and about the use of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and the fact that since the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, there is a line of thought that contends then we can hardly have the government, in the form of the schools or whatever, leading us in one type of religion.)

But anyway my wife and I attended a local rodeo, called a Mother’s Day Rodeo, on Saturday — they’re having another performance today (Mother’s Day).

And the theme was kind of Motherhood, apple pie, retaining our way of life and so on.

I have no problem with that. I’m all for it. I often wonder, though, why politics even has to be mentioned — the slight of President Obama, an example, along with the possibly exaggerated remark about the Pledge of Allegiance (and there was the now obligatory mention of the tea party by the announcer).

That having been said, I enjoy settling back into something that is at once a real part of my background and maybe an imaginary world at the same time, and maybe a kind of comfort zone, to some extent anyway.

In this world there are no grey areas to trouble you, things are black and white. You either are an American (a citizen of the USA) or not. You either believe in American values or not. You eat steak with no guilt feelings about cruelty to animals. You support the troops in their wars against the infidels without question — of course who would not support those who are on our side? — and therefore even though you mistrust the government, you support its policies that sent the troops where they are, because if the USA is doing it, it has to be right, otherwise why would we be doing it?

You value family. And who could argue with that?

(In reality, we all know that each family has its own trials and tribulations and it is not all harmony and good feelings, but there is an ideal we aspire to or long for.)

You value hard work and don’t expect something for nothing.

You appreciate your heritage, those pioneers who left everything behind — first coming over from the Old Country and then making the trip across the plains and mountains and deserts to settle in the West (oh, I live on the West Coast).

To be sure, not everyone who came out here was a cowboy or a cattle rancher, but for some reason the cowboy heritage seems to symbolize all that is good and right in the Western way of life.

The setting for this rodeo seemed authentic, amid the oak trees and right next to one of the major livestock markets on the West Coast, the Cottonwood, Ca. Auction Yard.

The arena itself is rather modest, simple if you will, and I think that adds to the down-home atmosphere.

And the whole time I watched the events from the grandstands, I kept looking at a saddled horse in the back parking lot tied to a horse trailer amid the oaks.

It was either a bad day or a lot of amateurs, for there were a lot of no scores in the various events, but it did not bother me. I always try to take in the local color at these types of things.

 Add 1:  Now that I think of it, the best entertainment was when the outgoing rodeo queen was handing over her official queen regalia to the new queen. The outgoing queen was wearing some wide blue chaps that were too long for her. She was walking bowlegged around the arena. Lucille Ball could not have done a better comedy act.

For my part, I thought the women’s barrel racing was the best event. While I know next to nothing about horseback riding, it seemed to me most of the contestants looked comfortable in the saddle and had a fluid motion with their horses.

And it sure takes team work with horse and rider. One horse was too skittish — something must have upset the creature — and would not take off, so the contestant was disqualified.

The day was perfect, in that the sky was clear, but the temperature mild. Today started with rain, so it may be soggy out there. But I’ve been to rodeos in the pouring rain, and sometimes that adds to the fun — if not the comfort — what with all the mud flying.

(Didn’t get this posted as soon as I thought, so I can now report the weather has apparently cooperted today after all, so no mud for the rodeo, unless some was left over from this morning.)

And as I watched the rodeo I thought of my own tenuous connection with it.

Okay, here goes:

When I was a little boy, the only thing I knew about cowboys was that they carried six shooters and went after bad guys. I was relying on TV. Then I went to a local rodeo of sorts — I think what they call jackpot roping and some steer riding — and asked my dad why they were not wearing guns. My dad explained to me that what you see in the movies and TV was not necessarily the same thing as in real life and not in modern life, anyway.

Though the years I found out that my dad had been kind of a cowboy wannabe as a youth growing up on a dairy farm. He raised his own horse and did quite a bit of horseback riding, but he left all that behind for other pursuits (although he never did quite get it out of his system).

I also have a mysterious grandfather (my father’s father), who I know only by an old photograph of him sitting atop a horse, wearing a broad-brimmed hat, gloves with gauntlets, and a mustache. The photo, I believe, was taken out in an area that is still cattle country today. My father was born on the ranch where the photo was taken. Apparently my grandfather was is some type of business with some investors but somehow lost the spread or something, and took off for parts unknown.

I read a letter he wrote to his family back in Nebraska, in which he told of good grasslands out in California.

I really do not know what his usual trade was. I’ve was told that he worked on ranches and was kind of a horse or mule trader.

My only direct connection with cattle ranching, other than dealing with some ranchers when I worked as an agricultural news writer, was when I was in high school and raised a few head of beef cattle.

I purchased a heifer calf from from an old man who was the last cattle rancher in these parts and maybe the West Coast to actually drive his herd in the old-fashioned manner, with men on horseback, between summer and winter pastures. In fact, the day I met him he had just returned from a drive to his home place. I was in a pickup truck with my ag teacher and we had gone to his house where his wife had said he was down the lane a bit. We went down there and this little old wiry man came walking up with a saddle over his shoulder. He threw the saddle in the back of the pickup and jumped back there with it and motioned for us to drive back up to the ranch house and beyond it where there was a corral with that calf in it.

His dad had been a butcher and then I guess went into the cattle business and this man carried it on. He knew his way of life was dying out — he did things the old way — just as he was dying out himself. But he seemed to enjoy every minute of what he had left.

Once when I had become a news photographer, I did a photo story about his cattle drive. And I used this line in one of my past blogs, but it summed up his attitude: He came through the dust on his horse and grinned (a metal tooth shining) and said, “it’s a great life if you don’t weaken”.

He also at one point advised me about my chances of getting into the cattle business:

“You either have to be rich or marry into it.”

Neither one of those apply to me.

But sometimes I venture back into that world, such as I did Saturday.


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