This year’s rodeo just wasn’t the same — last year the rodeo was the highlight of the summer. This year was a little tough. Rodeo was one of the things Patrick and I did together — we grew up at horse shows back east. I went to my first horse show at six months old, tucked under the bleachers in a basket while my mother ran the old Lake Forest Horse Show, which like the stables at Onwentsia, is now long gone. From the time we could talk we were told by various grownups to “watch that” as a horse jumped a fence, were schooled in the finer points of confirmation by our parents and aunts and uncles, all of whom are trainers of some sort. Patrick picked up a lot more than I did, since he worked the circuit for a number of years in high school and college — grooming and managing barns and driving horse vans around the midwest and East Coast.
So when we got out west, we went to rodeo. We’d go to the Cow Palace in the fall — always the last night, but usually one or two nights earlier in the week as well. We went to the Ellensburg Rodeo the summer I spent in Seattle — that was the rodeo where a calf was hurt in the calf roping. Later in the afternoon they brought in a calf on a little trailer, the announcer telling us all to look, that calf is just fine. That’s when Patrick leaned over and whispered in my ear (we were in the locals stand) that the calf on the trailer was a different color than the one that had been hurt — look, it’s so recovered that it’s changed color entirely! And when we first got out here, we drove over to Billings one night for the Nile rodeo — which after all those years in San Francisco watching rodeo in a crowd that didn’t really know what it was watching — it was a joy to be in that arena in Billings, where people really knew what was going on. We’d even talked for years about going to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas for my 40th birthday. The NFR happens over my birthday week, and we thought it’d be fun to get a bunch of people and go to Vegas …
So while the rodeo was pretty good this year, while it was great fun to watch my friend Wendy’s little girl Eleanor, who’d never been to a rodeo before, sit the entire time with eyes as big as saucers, absolutely rapt, and while it was fun as always to go on the fourth, which is very social; while it was great fun to see Francis, the editor of a French publishing house and to get the full four-kiss French greeting, while it was great fun to explain to the various foreigners we had with us — a couple of Germans, a couple of folks from Kenya, a couple of French people, what was happening — while all that was great fun, I was deeply sad that my rodeo buddy is gone. That I don’t have someone to really watch the bareback and saddle broncs with, that I don’t have someone who has been watching horses his whole life, and who knows more than me to watch the roping and the steer wrestling. That when Jake Barnes came out on Friday night with his partner and demonstrated what perfect team roping should look like, Patrick wasn’t there to see it.
And it’s not that I didn’t have a fun weekend — I did. The parade was great — everything you could want in a small town parade and our friend Matt, of Matt’s Meats, had a fabulous float with a paper-mache cow who squirted water out of it’s nostrils. There were clowns and bagpipers and mule trains and kids in costume. There was a fun party on Saturday night full of people I really like and just enough firecrackers — and I had a barbecue on Sunday afternoon where the rain clouds parted just in time for a whole bunch of people I love to show up in my backyard. There was rodeo on Friday and Sunday and the slack competition on Thursday afternoon. There were fireworks, unfortunately probably for the last time as there was a dreadful accident on Sunday night and our local fireworks guy was hurt pretty badly. And there was a bull ride on Sunday night at the end of the rodeo, in rain that was coming down in sheets, that was probably one of the most astonishing bull rides I’ve ever seen. It’s just that Patrick wasn’t there, and I kept seeing the ghost of him from last year, standing by that pole over by the bull chutes, in his white shirt, looking grumpier than he actually was, looking like a guy who’d spent most of his life watching people ride animals in dusty arenas.