I want to start by explaining that I ain’t no cowboy. I’ve always been more of a hunter-gatherer sort of fellow. When all the kids in the neighborhood played Cowboys and Indians on the vacant ground next to our house, I was always proudly on the Indian side, sticking feathers in the thick tangles of my hair, building teepees with 2x3s and old quilts, and stringing up sticks to make bows and arrows. Most of the other kids were hard-core team Cowboy. They’d sneak up and terrorize the tribe. To be clear “the tribe” only consisted of me, my little brother and my big sister.
When my sister turned 11, she fell in love with Manolito on The High Chaparral and she started to cross over to the dark side. She convinced Mom to buy her a pair of used cowboy boots at Saint Vinnie’s. It was disappointing, but not my concern. Not, that is, until she decided to drag me and my little brother into the foray along with her. Without even asking, she signed all three of us up for the rodeo. For steer riding!
If my sister was going to do it, what choice did us boys have? Figuring that Mom wouldn’t let us do it anyways, my 8-year-old brother jumped at the idea. I did too. But we hadn’t counted on Dad overruling Mom: he said we could do it if we wanted to. I wasn’t no coward, or at least I wasn’t willing to let the possibility that I might be go up for any kinda public debate.
On the day of the rodeo, all the kids that had signed up to get bucked off a steer waited in a line along the back side of the bucking chute. I kept it to myself but I was more than a little disconcerted to see the size of those steers. They were bigger than I’d expected, and there was no safety gear: no helmets, no masks, no body armor – nothing. But you had to wear heeled boots, so we were gonna take turns wearing my sister’s.
Her turn was coming up before ours so she climbed up on top of the fence to take in the action. She sat there just as cocky as she could be in her red flannel shirt, Levis and those old cowboy boots, which she hooked behind a board of the fence.
I had to wait my turn for the boots so I sat on the ground in my stocking feet and eyed the steers lined up in the chute. Most of them seemed confused, nervous, or maybe even scared, but not overly aggressive or fierce.
There was one steer, however, that was clearly agitated. He was a’snorting and a’swinging his head around, hitting it against the fence posts, and kickin’ violently at the steer behind him. He seemed angry and his eyes were red and bugged out. I counted back to see which poor kid was going to get stuck with that savage beast, and – just my luck – you know it was me! This was not good. I felt the blood drain from my face and, suddenly, I had a very real need for the toilet. But there was no escape – well, no escape with honor anyway. My little brother, sitting beside me and coolly chewing on the end of a piece of timothy weed, nudged me. He had a shit-eating grin on his face as he pointed out the steer that I was gonna be riding.
It was almost my sister’s turn. They were telling her to lower herself onto the back of the steer in the chute. She started to throw her leg over its back, but then, at the last minute, she pulled away, shaking her head no.
“I ain’t gonna do it,” she said. “I can’t. I’m scared. Let me off.” They let her get down and she, red faced and despondent, sat on the dusty ground to take off her boots. “You don’t have to do it, you know,” she told me. “It’s dumb. A guy could break his neck out there. There’s no point.”
I don’t know if she was trying to convince herself or me, but it didn’t matter. I was going to ride her easy steer, and it was my smug little brother that would have to ride the crazy one. I slipped the boots on and climbed up and over the fence, mounted the steer and slipped my hand under the rope just the way the cowboys at the gate told me to. And I held on – but not for long. I hit the dust almost immediately after the gate was opened. I fell off so quickly I practically tumbled back into the chute. In this particular experience the anticipation had played a much greater role than the participation.
While a few members of the audience politely clapped, I hustled back over the fence and kicked off the boots for my little brother. He was cussing me out as he pulled on the boots because we both knew that his steer was more than half crazy. He was an Idaho boy though, so there was no way he was going to back out now. That’s what girls do, as our sister had so skillfully demonstrated.
My little brother, with those oversized boots, clambered over the fence and, with false bravado, he mounted the wild steer. He nodded to the cowboys as they gave him tips. Then the gate opened and out they went. The steer went berserk. He kicked his back legs in the air. He twisted. He spun around. He kicked and twisted at the same time. He spun around the other way, kicking and twisting and flinging his head every which way, until finally, my little brother hit the ground. The audience was on their feet and the cheering followed him as he dusted himself off and made his way over the fence to change out of those oversized boots back into his beaten up tenny shoes.
I could only shake my head at him: imagine not being sharp enough to get quit of an animal like that any sooner than eight seconds.
About the Author
Chandra Gair is a retired Modern Language teacher originally from North Idaho and currently residing in northeast Scotland. In another lifetime some of her work appeared in local Idaho publications, including The Palouse Review, The Palouse Journal and the Idaho Argonaut. She is a member of the Elgin Writers’ Group.
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