It's not the most amazing thing in the world to be from this part of the country and make a simple declarative statement indicating you spent a day at the Southwestern Exposition, Livestock Show & Rodeo. Announce it in a crowded room and no one will even pause long enough to give you a funny look. This is, after all, Fort Worth, Texas. "Cowtown"
...for those of you who promise to say it with affection. We are a large metropolitan city with a university, a few smaller colleges and some peerless/ world class art museums , but many folks in these parts still wear cowboys hats and boots as part of their daily dress. Here, it's not a Halloween costume...it's just tradition.
But for me...not so much. I mean...I have been to the rodeo before...many times over the course of my life. But see, I'm a bit of a genetic mix. My mother's family members are pretty much all from here. All of my male cousins wear cowboy hats and boots because, with the exception of one, they really are cowboys. They raise horses, mostly. You see these guys at a wedding or a funeral, the footwear and headgear don't change a speck.
My father's side of the family, however, isn't from around here. My dad was born in Vermont , and--until I was well into junior high--he used to say "worsh"
the clothes. His father, my grandfather, was born in Germany and came here as a teenager. My grandmother was born a year after her parents, brothers and sister came here from Russia...speaking Polish which they dropped as soon as they got here.
We, meaning me and my sisters, are a mixed bag. None of us really ride horses as a rule, though we have done it once or twice. We feel kinda silly in cowboy hats and we don't know squat about livestock. Hell, we never even owned an animal while growing up. ( I don't count my brief and tragic ownership of Fred Mertz, the gerbil I rescued from 7th grade science lab nor our cranky parakeet, Aggie, whose capacity for unconditional love was extended ONLY to our father.) All three of us graduated from our father's university, that oft-ridiculed Texas school of engineers and farmers. And though we each came to own a pair of boots, learn to kicker dance and think of beer as a food group, we emerged with our respective graduating classes as fully-formed city slickers.
Slicker or not, when it's time to hit the rodeo, you'd best look the part. "When in Rome..." and all that. So that was the conundrum I found myself in early Sunday afternoon as I went tearing through one of the closest area stores that offered Western clothing in order to find something that trod the delicate line between tourist/poseur and a 4H-Club graduate. The line between what looks natural and what looks like you are trying too hard. The shirt was an easy pick and I already had the boots, but (ladies, this is for you) shopping for a pair of roper jeans is a special kind of hell that should be avoided at all costs.
Roper jeans, even when they fit right, seem to have a "lift and separate" feature that makes you feel as though you're wearing a thong two sizes too small. If you normally speak in an alto range, you will be a soprano for the duration of the evening in pants like these. The customary relaxed fit that I favor in a pant is simply not possible unless you get something far larger than you usually wear, the swollen result of which is your uncanny resemblance to the bovine critters you'll be gawking at later on.
And then there is the "rise". Dear God in Heaven...spare me from the rise. (For the guys...rise
is where and how low the waistband of your pants rests) At least the categorization methods make some sense, once you've got your geography down and you can calculate just exactly how much of your pregnancy-traumatized abdomen you'd like to have hanging out above the zipper. Calgary
, being the regular rise, was my pick. Tulsa
, was low rise, Jackson
was lower, and Houston
was so low that it required a bikini wax before wearing was even advisable. I tip my hat to the wisdom of the Canadian fashionistas whose insight provided me with a way to dress the part of a cowgirl without inadvertently mooning everyone when I bend over to flick some dirt off of my boots. I found my pants...eventually...but not before breaking a sweat while doing it. How those girls, many of whom are big enough in the "saddle region" to merit my cousins' favorite insult--"heifer"--, are able ride horses in these pants all day, I will never
The evening turned out great. Will Rogers Coliseum holds a lot of childhood memories for me and it always smells of corn dogs, Belgian waffles, popcorn, arena dirt and...most importantly...of horses. It's a smell that is comforting--which is odd given that I'm allergic to horses. However, dope me up with enough Claritin to keep a buffalo awake for 72 hours and I'm good to go. We ate dinner in little corner of the coliseum that was frequented by its legendary namesake. I had calf fries for the first time and we drank beer and bet quarters on the cowboys and cowgirls that performed in their featured events. (My barrel-racer won!)
The most surprising part, though, came near the beginning of the show. I'm bugged about how big I think my ass must look in these jeans and I'm suddenly remembering how the rodeo announcer, who's been here forever, has a bad political spin to his spiel that leans just a little too far to the right for my taste. The riders come out with the flags of the U. S. and Texas and the lights go out so I'm fumbling for a place to set my beer so I can sing the "Star-Spangled Banner" without looking like a total hick, which I am not--despite my dreadful accent that I denied until I heard my voice on a tape recorder. But before we start singing, the aforementioned announcer says in a sincere and booming voice , "It's a beautiful day in Texas and we give thanks for the rain"
....and I remember suddenly what a miracle yesterday's little storm truly was in a drought-plagued place like this. Dying cattle, fires everywhere, foundations cracking in homes and dust on every surface. I realize I'm in the presence of people whose very survival depends upon the rain for crops and animals. All I had to worry about was whether or not the Scotchguard would keep the suede on my boots looking good. Not a bad trade-off. It just goes to show you that you're never too old for perspective to kick you in the ass. And if you're wearing the right pants, it only hurts a little bit.