One of the favorite pictures I have ever taken (and the one I keep meaning to put up on my office wall) is the sunlight falling on my six year-old boots. I was wearing them and the scars and stains on those suckers looked just right in the late afternoon light next to the dark blue of my jeans. I haven’t uploaded the darn thing anywhere, so I’ll have to post it later when my camera has . . . charge . . . a cord . . . is anywhere near me and a computer . . . I am the worst amateur photographer in the world. I can’t even find the time to upload the pics I love so much!
But that has very little to do with that picture, and what it means to me. I’ve been working in “cowboy culture” since I was seventeen. I worked at a beautiful place called Flying W Ranch because they hired high school students and because I’d been to enough events hosted by them to know I would want to work while I was there. It was that job that introduced me to “cowboy culture.” I don’t care if a rodeo has been running for one year or one hundred years; the minute you step onto the grounds, you feel like you’re part of something older and bigger than you. I fell in love with that sense of culture, community, and history when I worked that summer at The Ranch. I did anything I could to stay there, but my schedule was not conducive to working during the school year or the next summer.
I can tell you, my heart ached, missing The Ranch when I worked as a nanny. And yes, I fell in love with the kids, too, but something was just off. I considered myself a product of The Ranch. Being away felt wrong at the deepest level of gut instinct. So, when I came back from my first year of college and KitKat was working at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, it seemed like a good idea to join her there. We had been worried about spending enough time together in our short five-week summer (I came home from college in July, she left for college in August), so this seemed like a perfect solution. And it was. The love The Ranch inspired and planted grew at the PRCA. I worked full time for a year and went to school part time and when I went off to a college, it was chosen for two specific reasons: it had a good rodeo team (good = treated as a sport and successful competitively) and an English degree well-suited to my needs (not too much American Lit and the possibility to write a creative thesis). Yeah, the rodeo team was the higher priority than the degree. I considered several schools, some of them with absolutely terrible (for me, not academically inferior) programs. I refused to even think about the schools that considered the rodeo program a club. I was properly in love with rodeo by this point and would not live without it.
Rodeo, in many ways, saved my life after it fell apart in January of ’07. My fiancé broke things off and my barely-under-control Bi-Polar spiraled out of control in hurry. Those coping mechanisms I had–which were unhealthy in the extreme–intensified and turned into life-threatening. I was two steps away from the hospital EXCEPT I still had work. If I could make it to work each day, if I could make it to school each night, I was doing okay. I started back into therapy. I woke up, in more ways than one. I got better. If I hadn’t had those dual lifelines of school and work to cling to, I’m not sure I would have. Barely healed, I went off to college and maintained that progression with the same two lifelines: school and rodeo (it seems wrong to call it work when I love it so much). In addition, there was a social aspect that came with both now that I was a full time college student and working on rodeo grounds instead of in an office. My twin lifelines combined to give me more than just a reason to progress, they gave me the support system to do it. At Valley (Missouri Valley College) during the semesters and the PRCA during the holidays, I found a home. When I was stressed or frustrated at school, I hiked out to the rodeo grounds. When I suffered similar problems during breaks, there always seemed to be a cowboy calling in to shower me with heaps of praise and one or two pet names to make me feel part of the cowboy family again.
Now what does this have to do with a pair of six year-old boots?
Those boots are the first boots I ever purchased. I got them in fall 2006, about two months after I started working at the PRCA. They were my only pair until earlier this spring (I know, I’m not sure how I survived either). They have seen every rodeo I have ever attended. And every time I think they’re too ugly, too worn, too something to wear anymore, I just can’t find it in myself to put them up. I never feel like a proper cowgirl without them on . . . even though I have much newer, more pristine boots now. They’ve been so covered in mud, I’ve had to take a coin to them to scrape it all off. They’ve been soaked in ice melt and are stained by the salt that melted said ice. Horses have stepped on them, I’ve scuffed them up kicking them off, and forever stained them by leaving mud on them for days. They’re so comfortable because I’ve worked them and worn them silly. They were at EVERY perf of all my Missouri Valley rodeos and I cried when I took them off after my last college rodeo. They’ve been at a couple National Western Stock Shows (Denver, CO), more than a few Pikes Peak or Bust rodeos (Colorado Springs), another couple CO shows, and a Sedalia show. And now, it’s rodeo week again. Last night, I wore my new boots. Tonight, I’m wearing my scratched, stained, falling apart, six year-old boots. The difference in how I felt last night (I hate dressing out, grump grump grump) and today (this is home) is astounding. My boots are a lot like me: a little bit broken and not too pretty with scars and stains aplenty, but right where they belong.
Happy Rodeo Week, Colorado Springs. It’s good to be home.