I was sitting on the edge of one of the beds in my brother's rented motel room Saturday night in Edmonton, Alta, having just attended three days of rodeo action at the Canadian Finals Rodeo. We were talking about the cowboys, the stock and the fine shows that we had seen.
Last weekend I joined a few family members in Edmonton to watch my nephew compete in team roping and one of my cousin's husband try his hand at both team roping and tie down roping (some of us call this event calf roping, but somewhere along the line the name was changed in Canada).
I grew up in a family of cowboys, all competing in rodeos my whole life, beginning with my grandfather, father and both brothers. Most of them roped, but my grandfather rode the broncs and I have a cousin who was a professional bull rider. Its now the younger generations' turns, as each of them gravitate to the roping or riding events. Since I was "knee high to a grasshopper" as my mother would say, I was drug to rodeos. My eldest brother was a stock contractor providing the horses and bulls for rodeos for over 30 years. During my childhood I helped out with moving the stock, helping organize the rodeos and even recording times and scores. At about 15 years old, I couldn't wait to leave that business and attend school in Montana, living with my grandparents. It is interesting that through the years I gravitate back to the rural life, which includes rodeos more and more. I spent five great years working at the newspaper in Pendleton, Ore. and remember many fine performances of the famous Pendleton Roundup.
It occurred to me Saturday night that I was really enjoying the 31st annual rodeo of Canadian champions. Although I didn't get to see the finals Sunday I was able to see all the shows Thursday through Saturday. I watched with intent and interest, visited with the cowboys and caught up on the family news. The event drew about 16,500 people for each show.
I am of sorts the designated family historian collecting family pictures and writing down various family stories over the years. Every opportunity I have I take what I hear about our various families and record it. When older aunts and uncles pass away I usually receive boxes of old pictures I sort and try to identify.
The community I grew up in on the prairies of southern Saskatchewan is celebrating its 100th anniversary next year and they are gathering family histories with the intent of publishing a book. I took it upon myself to write up three family histories for the publication and shared my first drafts with the family members who attended the rodeo.
I had written the basic stories but wanted to make sure that what I was writing was totally accurate so no one would be surprised when they opened the history book next summer.
Three of my grandfathers homesteaded the unforgiving grasslands of southern Saskatchewan, each coming from a different circumstance to find a new life for their families. These have always just been stories to me, like I was reading fictional accounts in a novel.
Grandpa Gunn bringing his six children from England, forging a flooded Snake Creek in a covered wagon, wondering if he would even make it to his claimed land. And then there's the story of Grandpa Larson's struggle to make his dream of being a cowboy come true. He came from Minnesota where his father had homesteaded year's earlier, coming from Denmark. His was a story of determination and hardship as he created one of the top Angus cattle companies in Saskatchewan over a 60 year period.
My mother's grandfather homesteaded the prairies in the early 1900s and her father had to supplement his farming and ranching interests by coyote hunting during the drought years of the Great Depression.
I realized, possibly for the first time, sitting there at the edge of the bed that farming and ranching has been part of my heritage in Canada and the United States for at least six generations. No wonder I continue to navigate back to small communities, where the cowboy life is found. The farming and ranching is really in my blood. It's not only part of me but it is me.