The Flash Fiction Rodeo begins next week! When I was old enough to know the rodeo season, I’d start to get excited by the flurry of activity. Working buckaroos had to get their chores done, their best western shirts pressed, and their show tack ready.
I learned young how to soap a saddle. The ones in our tack room were seventy-five to a hundred years old, and yet their age only made them all the more beautiful. They were stamped by famous saddlers in the San Fransisco Bay area. I used to marvel at the different artistry as I rubbed in the soap, going in small circles with an old but clean cloth — basket-weaves, florals and Spanish embellishments told the story of our heritage passed down from the vaqueros of the Californios.
All the ranch-hands, owners and countless children in between gathered to show their skills. A ranch owner might take pride in his fine stock. A ranch hand savored the competitive opportunity to show his who was boss on the back of a bull or bronco. A daughter wanted to show she could throw a rope and race a horse as hard as any brother or buckaroo.
I’ve always liked the word buckaroo. It’s genderless unlike cowboy or cowgirl. It’s also specific to a region and its heritage. Before Sutter found gold in his Californ-i-a mill causing the ’49er stampede, the Californios of Spain (and then Mexico) operated huge land grant ranchos, raising beef, saddle horses and vineyards. Most ranchos settled near the missions. I was born near Mission San Jaun Batista where my father’s family had run cattle since 1852. My mother’s family diversified, running turkeys and growing hay and apricots. I was born a buckaroo.
This meant I was indoctrinated into the San Benito Rodeo and Saddle Show early. It’s still held annually at Bolado Park near my hometown of Tres Pinos. Until I was seven, I lived on my mother’s family’s turkey ranch. Today it’s a golf course, the vision of my Papa Sonny who was as big and boisterous as our ancestor Cobb McCanles. I spent most my early life on the back of a horse at the Law Ranch, now called the Paicines Ranch after its original rancho name. One grandfather was its foreman and the other would later buy it and fail to develop it into another golf course.
I doubt either grandfather would make me a welcome guest there today, but I knew those hills, valleys and vineyards well. My first horse, Acorn, went blind and thereafter ran with the cattle herd. When I think of the Law Ranch, I think of my horse walking in circles to find his way through the vast green valley with the herd, his black main and tail long and tangled like a mustang’s and his dark red coat dusty.
Another horse came to me from that ranch, my best friend Captain Omega. Co was also dark red with black mane and tail. He bucked me off the first time I rode him. I got back in the saddle and we settled that argument. Before my bay horses, I rode the red sorrels my family favored. Often my grandfather waited at the stockyards until some fine horse-owner decided to dump an expensive horse with phenomenal breeding but bad habits worthy of dog food. My grandfather would pay the cheap stockyard prices, train up the horse and show off its breeding and skills at the Rodeo.
It was on the back of one of these sorrels I won my first trophy. It was called Best Girl’s Outfit. It meant I had to have the gleaming tack, thus why I learned early to soap a saddle. We made all our own reins, and I can still remember how to braid rawhide the way vaqueros did it for hundreds of years, but I can’t remember the button patterns. What we lacked in silver, we made up for in fancy buttons and horse hair weaves. To win the trophy I had to sit in the saddle straight, walk my horse to the end of the arena, turn him around and run him back. I wore a chocolate colored Stetson, turquoise and pink frilly western shirt, jeans, roughed boots and white gloves. I was three.
The Rodeo has me waxing nostalgic for a heritage I can’t extract from my blood no matter how far from it all I am. I’m sure my three-year-old self could out ride me today! But I can definitely out write my three-year-old self. If you want a buckaroo soundtrack for the upcoming Flash Fiction Rodeo, 2017 Carrot Ranch FlashFiction Rodeo Playlist. Songs 24, 25 and 26 are heritage specific. Song 20, True Grit, is my anthem minus the need to “find a man with true grit.” More like this little girl found her own grit within. I’d change that line to “when you find writers with true grit.”
That’s you, that’s me. Writers with true grit. You remember that as you prepare for the Rodeo. It’s about having the courage to push into your writing, to do something that makes you afraid, to be bold. Write into that.
With the Flash Fiction Rodeo (check out the details on the Events Page) the weekly challenges will wait until November 2 to resume. For those of you not interested in a contest and liking the challenge of a prompt, you can still follow along. Instead of entering the contest, you can submit a response that won’t be judged for top prize. If you do, I’ll ask if that’s what you intended because entries are not in the comments or on your own blog. You’ll need to use the form or the platform (Twitter) outlined in the contest. There will be one on Tuesday, and one on Thursday each week Oct. 5-31.
Be sure to check in Oct. 3 for Rodeo Fest. You’ll get a chance to hear me reading from The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology, Vol. 1 and can enter a random drawing for books, chocolate or rocks by leaving a comment on the Oct. 3 post before 10 am, 2 pm and 6 pm.
I have some soaping to do, and the last two compilations will post before the Rodeo begins. I hope you are as excited as this buckaroo is!