The cowboy had a strong handshake. He was small, strong and wild. His boots were worn and dirty. His frame hung loose and his fingers were long.
The bull was dangerously unruly, the luck of the draw. Cowboys sat on the railing, leather gloves pulled on tightly. A snort came from the bull as he was forced into the stall. The cowboy mounted it wrapping the leather strap around his hand.
Rider and bull came flying out of the gate. Eight seconds was a lifetime and everything depended on a strong handshake and a savage bull. It was beautiful.
A few weeks ago I wrote a “flash fiction” story about the rodeo. Rodeo was one of the memories that I took away with me when I left my home town to find my way in the world. Rodeo was symbolic of the triumph of the human spirit over all that life had handed us.
I was raised in a small town in eastern Oregon. The Oregon Trail passed a short distance from the little community. Cowboys, miners, railroad workers, prostitutes and their Madams, teachers, children, bar tenders, barbers, gas station owners,horse thieves all lived side by side. People from all parts of the world had emigrated there to find employment. Italians, Swedes, Greeks, English, Mexican good bad and everything in between lived in this tiny place. In my recollection there was only one murder while I lived there. The neighbor that chased his son around the ouside of the house with the butcher knife and beat his daughter was not taken to court.
Unfaithful husbands stole home late at night and the “second wife” of railroad workers bore babies or had them aborted in a nearby town. Men ‘played cards’ in the Tavern pool hall at tables set in the back. Women stayed at home and raised families or worked as “call girls” for the railroad or as waitresses. There was one nurse that never sharpened her needles and two hotels owners. The switch board operator was a woman and she was envied for her position with “the phone company”.
There were two church buildings: Methodist and Catholic. I was raised Methodist and never set foot inside the Catholic Church. I don’t remember a Catholic attending a Methodist marriage. Mormons met in homes, as did a small non-denominational church.
Dogs barked when they wanted, people yelled at their children without fear and no one ever thought of putting their dog on a lease let alone in a pen. There was one man, a railroad bull, that had his dogs in a kennel and beat them every night just to listen to them howl. Because there was no law, people tried to come up with a plan to make him stop but as with most things, it finally wore itself out and went away. In the end they remembered that a “bull” was a railroad policemen and fear probably played a part in their inaction.
I was fourth generation in this little town. I was, along with my cousins the last. We all knew that education would lead us out into a better life far away. But when we left we took memories of farm work beginning at the age of 14, bent ranchers and aging miners with us. Our parents were good people. They worked hard, read books, listened to music and took care of their parents. They raised successful children that adored them. It was, in fact, for it’s time a perfect all be it colorful life.
So while I was writing about the rodeo and the perfect 8 seconds of a bull ride I was taken back to a time when we judged ourselves by another measure. Just hanging on was enough in a lot of cases. The ride was rough and those that actually worked at the rodeo life walked with a limp and were bent from trampling. But their hats hid a defiance and pride born of staying on the bull. The rodeo was the stage play that symbolized what we stood for…triumph!