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Memories of rodeos past

By Bev Barr BCC Editor

When I was a little kid I went to a few rodeos, ran around in the soft dirt of the arena, tried to snatch a ribbon off a calf’s tail and hung on for dear life to the wooly nap on the back of a partially sheared sheep. From the stands, I watched a favorite uncle ride bulls and wrestle steer, and Big Jim let me stroke the muzzle of his trusty horse, Old Blue. But truth be told, my immediate family were not really rodeo people.
As time went on and I moved to other parts of the country, I explored ways to tell people about my Texas roots and in so doing, I happened to learn that my uncle was a living legend. Surprisingly, the farther away from home I traveled, the more famous Big Jim Bynum seemed to become. I met people who recognized and delighted in his name and talent as a steer wrestler in places as hippy-dippy as Southern California, as far away as a university in Tokyo, and as seemingly boring as a basement coffee shop in Worcester, Massachusetts. No kidding.
So it was fun for me to go to the rodeo again. And after all of these years, I saw things I never saw as a childe. These were some my impressions.
Modern western casual
People wear all kinds of things to a rodeo, but primarily, people wear the stuff they might wear at a day’s work at the ranch. Yet, it’s not surprising at all to see a young woman wearing cut-off denim shorts with a real Coach handbag slung over her shoulder. Perfectly normal in Texas.
A family activity
The rodeo is a carnival atmosphere with a Western Ranch twist. There’s beer and junk food, face-painting and balloon doggy building. Young children ride a slow moving mechanical bull —and play.
You cannot help but lighten up
What is rodeo humor? It’s humor with the refined edges polished off. It’s Mutt and Jeff and Moe & Joe. It’s amazingly corny and sometimes crass. And it never ever lets up.
The rodeo is one place where everyone pokes fun at themselves and everybody else the whole time.
It’s serious sport
Let’s say a 200-pound-guy gets tossed from the back of a 2,000-pound-bull. At a rodeo, no one bats an eye. No one gasps, or stops for just a moment in their tracks, or attempts to still their racing heart. To the contrary, at a rodeo you’ll hear comments about the condition of his landing.
On Saturday night, one cowboy was hurled from the back of a bull and landed on his feet – like a cat, or gymnast. The emcee-stand-up comedian announcer says, “Let’s give him a big hand!”
Meanwhile, a couple from the East Coast makes a quick escape, tiptoeing through the parking lot looking for their rented, luxury-edition Prius. (Ok, I made up the part about the Prius.)
How do I know, you might ask?
Because we sat together at a picnic table in Cowboy Camp and ate BBQ chicken and plain old fashion potato salad. We talked about all sorts of interesting and seemingly random things: the making of “The Wire” which was set in the city they were from, the number of traffic lights in Waxahachie when they used it as location for the movie Tender Mercies, the lack of zoning ordinances in Houston, which my new acquaintance says, “explains everything.”
And of course, we talked about Big Jim.
Because even though rodeo is alive and well in Bandera, Texas, the rodeo really is a step back in time. And that’s nostalgic.