Some days I don't want to come back. My new company's territory requires me to cover a huge area into which I go much deeper into the ranch and farm lands than I've gone in a long time. I hop from small town to small town, getting lost in the vast acreage of the cattle ranches, horse breeding operations, or chicken farms which separate these towns. And I love it out there.
Although I still want to liberate the poor chickens. I swear, one of these days I'm going to wait while a chicken-truck driver stops to take a leak at a convenience store. And then I'm going to sneak out to the truck and do what I've fantasized about doing for two years, which is to throw open the back of the truck and yell: "Run for your lives! Did you hear me? I said RUN!"
Anyway, this is the land of my forefathers, the land of my heritage. And I feel comfortable here. Very comfortable. I understand these people and they understand me. Rich or poor, black or white, Hispanic or Native American---they are my fellow Texans. I love each and every one of them--and I feel connected to them. I feel safe and comfortable here, lost in a simpler life, in a simpler time.
In the years since I fled the big-city life and have settled into this self-imposed exile, I have become permanently attached to this way of life. I find myself wondering why I ever left in the first damn place. I don't even think of the big cities any more. I couldn't care less if I see the gargantuan urban wastelands of Dallas, Austin, or Houston any time soon. I have settled comfortably into the down-home, folksy comfort and familiarity of this lifestyle and culture--which is that of my present-day kin as well as that of my ancestors. And I have never looked back. Each day as I press onwards, streaking through the countryside in my trusty Jeep, time seems to go backwards, faster and faster, until it no longer feels like I'm even IN the twentieth or twenty-first centuries anymore. If I drive long enough the layers of time peel away, one by one, until I find myself in locations which still look like the Old West-- places where if I listen carefully... to the wind... I can almost hear the hoofbeats of long-dead Pony Express riders.... or the faint, echoing shots of an ancient shoot-out... or the whistle-blow of a locomotive as it tries to outrun masked train-robbers on fast horses... Some days I go so far into ranch country that I leave the smaller towns behind--I go so far out that there's just small scatterings or groups of small businesses and residences sprinkled hither and yon in the shadows of the green rolling hills of vast cattle or horse ranches, or perhaps acres of the endless inter-connected pens of livestock "sale barns".
Some days I get so far out into the more sizeable ranches that I can drive literally 15 or 20 miles and not ever see a human--but yet I am surrounded by animals. And when I finally arrive at whatever ranch house I'm aiming at, that ranch's family life is completely centered on those animals' upkeep and maintenance. And amazingly enough, some of the smaller places are right on the main streets of the tiny towns--literally next door to the grocery store or something. Some of these places have been there so long that the state built the Interstate right through their property.And thank God for Texan manners because in this horrible heat I would simply fall down and die if it wasn't for my patients constant offerings to me of that magical Texan refreshment-- a "glass a' tea". That famous ice-cold, brewed tea, heavily sweetened (called "sweet tea"), which every Texan drinks daily from birth. It is the only elixir which can revive me on those most damnable of hot days--those sweltering days when it's so damn hot and sticky that I can't even catch my breath and I feel like I'm about to keel over. These "dog days" of August are so damn hot that you can fry an egg on the sidewalk-- and even the flies won't buzz. It's so damn hot right now that the cows won't stand out in it, either. They all just kind of clump together under whatever available trees there are or else they will wade into the nearest pond and just stand there, hoping things will cool down soon. (Yes, the cows do hope for better weather--I know this because the Message Goat translates cow-speak for me.) Because despite what people think, cows aren't totally dumb. See? The cows below (to the left) are smart. They found the shade. Versus the idiot cows on the right who don't know there's a perfectly good tree with some leftover shade over there....
Here's a smart mama cow and some calves:
(Do you think they're talking about me? I mean, you'd THINK the gossip would have made it down to this territory that I am that strange Road Nurse Who Wears IPod Headphones and Takes Her Camera out with her on visits....)
(You know, if they truly wanted to be neighborly, they'd pose for me --but I guess I can't expect too much at this early stage.) (I'll have to get to know them better first--give me time....give me time....)
But let's not talk about the damn heat and the dumb cows. Let's talk about the triumphant highlight of my week: I MET one of my TRUE AMERICAN IDOLS, yee-hah!!! I met someone I've been dying to meet! Someone I've been hearing about for a long time and was excited as all get-out to finally meet in person. However, let me warn you---I er....um...did sort of make a fool of myself in front of this person. Okay, I met one of the most famous female Rodeo Stars of Texas!!!!! LORD, I was excited. Her mother is my company's patient, which means I am her case manager. The patient is the matriarch of a famous Texan "horse family", her daughter being the famous Rodeo Star (who I'll just call "Rodeo Star" here...) Anyhoo, the Rodeo Star is a legend in Texas. She owns a very exclusive horse-training and horse-breaking business. The entire family helps run this business. She also competes regularly in all the state's largest and most famous rodeos and livestock shows, both for riding skills and the "showing" of horses. She is constantly winning prizes and high-dollar purses by "clocking out" in barrel races, riding in Western and English style dressage events, "placing" high in livestock shows, and she's regularly featured in a lot of ceremonies and events. Her picture is always in well-known magazines and livestock publications---and young riders mount colorful posters of her on their bedroom walls.
When I was assigned to manage her mother's care, I practically drooled at the thought of getting to meet her daughter, the Rodeo Star. And it's always fun to go out there. It takes me an hour to get out to their ranch but it's worth every mile. And when I get there I get to play with their rodeo dog--a chihuahua named "Pinto Beans" who rides on horseback. That dang dog will jump right up onto a horse's back and ride it for laps and laps around the round pen--and it can even ride while standing up on it's hind legs while waving its front paws in the air, never falling off!
Also, these people raise their own breed of miniature spotted donkeys who are no taller than your knees. They have little custom-made harnesses for the little donkeys so that they can pull little miniature carts during parades and rodeos-- while Pinto Beans rides in the cart and waves at the crowd! It's a magical visit for me and I never want to leave. Anyhoo--- Finally, FINALLY......one day when I went to see my patient, the Rodeo Star was home! She answered the door herself and I was dumbstruck. This lady is an Amazon. Nearly 6 feet talk, totally tan from working outdoors all the time, lanky, with wild hair askew in a top-knot on top of her head. That day she was wearing jeans & cowboy boots and a huge silver rodeo buckle on her belt. When she opened the door she thundered: "Come on in, darlin!"
I walked in but stumbled over a huge Western saddle that was lying on the porch--and I ended up FALLING over the threshold.
(Which reminds me of a funny story that my father told me once. He was on the committee which verbally interviews potential candidates for the United States Foreign Service, the Diplomatic Corps. He told me once that one poor guy was entering into the interview room and suddenly tripped over the threshold, landing in a heap in front of the startled interviewing committee. The guy never batted an eyelash. He simply raised his head up off the floor, crooked his right arm into a questioning pose, and (still lying on the floor) calmly asked the committee:"Well, Gentlemen. Are we ready to begin?" He was hired on the spot.) Anyway, I was not so graceful. I lumbered to my feet, picked up my nurse bag, dusted myself off, and then hemmed and hawed around a bit before beginning my visit with my patient, the Rodeo Star's mother, who was sitting on a settee in the front room giggling at my embarassment. I was glad that the Rodeo Star's attention had suddenly been diverted by her cell phone ringing. It's ring was a "Prince" song and she grabbed the phone off her belt answering: "Don't you EVER hang up on my ASS again!"
While I wondered who in the Sam Hill was fool enough to have hung up on the Rodeo Star, I began my assessment on my patient, all the while DYING to talk to the Rodeo Star.
The Rodeo Star gabbed on the phone for awhile and then piddled around with some paperwork on a big oak desk. I finished up my visit on her mother and then sat on the couch to chat while I played with Pinto Beans. "That damn dog is a mess," my patient told me. "I pulled my boots on this morning and found a buttermilk biscuit in one of them. Had to change my socks. I give that dog biscuits every morning at breakfast, with butter and jelly in 'em, but d'ya think he'd TELL me when he's full? Nooooo, he jest hides 'em." I got up to admire the picture wall. One long wall of their living room is covered with pictures of the Rodeo Star and her rodeo escapades, showing her in action on strikingly beautiful horses in the midst of racing barrels or carrying flags in parades. There's also loads of still-shots of her receiving prizes for her show animals. I was especially impressed with a picture of her with the mayor of Houston. I stood there looking at the pictures, green with envy, wishing to High Heaven that I was a famous Rodeo Star.....
DANG IT--WHY COULDN'T I HAVE BEEN A RODEO STAR????????? DAMMIT--I WANNA RACE BARRELS LIKE GREASED LIGHTENING WITH MY HAIR FLYING BEHIND ME AND THE CROWDS CHEERING AND YEE-HAH-ING WHILE RODEO CLOWNS RING COW BELLS AND WAVE THEIR KERCHIEFS IN THE AIR......
Speaking of Rodeo Clowns, have I ever told you my story about the Rodeo Clown who came to my emergency room once? I was working along one day, minding my own business while working in an emergency room here in Texas, and the rodeo was in town. Suddenly the two-way radio crackled on, calling us to let us know that the paramedics "had one". I answered the call and the paramedics announced that they were bringing in a Rodeo Clown who had gotten gored by a bull while trapped in a barrel during the rodeo.
Sure enough, they brought the poor Rodeo Clown in. A bull had indeed gored him, tearing a 6" round piece of his scalp right off of his head, which his fellow Rodeo Clowns had kindly picked up and saved for him. The Rodeo Clown was bringing the scalp piece to the ER with him so that the ER doctor could sew it back onto his head. He needed this piece of his scalp back because it still had his hair on it and everything. Plus, he was just plain pissed off that the stupid bull had gored him in the first damn place. So he wasn't in the greatest of moods when he arrived.
I checked him in when he arrived at the ER. I was kind of excited to take care of a real Rodeo Clown. These guys are legendary for their braveness as they save the cowboys from angry bulls every day.
But he wouldn't cooperate. He flatly REFUSED to tell me his real name or take off his Rodeo Clown clothes. And then he wouldn't take off his big red Rodeo Clown Nose so that I could wash him up and get him ready to be stitched. And I was in no mood for a sassy Rodeo Clown. ER's are busy places. And the paperwork simply MUST be done correctly. And busy ER nurses don't have time to argue with people wearing purple polka-dotted overalls, big floppy shoes, and BIG RED NOSES.
"Look here, Mr. Clown," I stated, "You've got to give me your real name so that we can submit your bill to the insurance company. And you've got to take off that damn Red Nose so that I can clean your whole face and head up so that the doctor can sew your damn scalp back on."
"The name's Mr. Jingle, and I NEVER take off my Nose!" he retorted, honking his Big Red Nose loudly. "WONK WONK!"
When he saw that I wasn't impressed, he continued sarcastically: "Can't you see that there's kids in here? Whaddya want me to do? Take off my Nose and let those children see who I really am? Do you want them to find out that I'm not really Mr. Jingle? Do you want them to find out that the great Mr. Jingle, Rodeo Clown, is really just stupid old Joe-Bob Cludstrom? What are you, some kind of monster?"
I realized that I really couldn't argue with his logic. It was kind of like the time a department store Santa Claus came into the ER to get his leg X-Rayed after he'd fallen down an escalator at Dillards. So I simply shrugged and.....
What was I talking about? Oh yes, I was looking at the Rodeo Star's picture wall, wishing I was a glamorous Rodeo Star.
That's when I blew it. Because I should have quit while I was ahead. I mean, I hadn't done anything stupid yet except trip over that saddle on the front porch...
But could I keep my mouth shut? Noooooooooo. I just couldn't resist trying to talk with the Rodeo Star. I swear if there's a way to make a fool of myself, I'll do it. Sure shootin', I'll do it.... Now, let me just say first that although I hung up my riding gear a couple of years ago, I've ridden horses since I was a little girl. For years I trained in dressage, riding English style. To be honest, I'm not very good at it. I am way too reckless and wild--preferring to hack madly through fields, jumping tree stumps and whatnot, instead of riding daintily through a show ring. And since I never could resist jumping anything under 5 feet of height I've gotten tossed a lot. Which hurts.
But I can ride. I can ride Western style, too, and I can even ride bareback.
Although I have never been interested in the finer points of horse breeding (since I have always ridden strictly for pleasure) I'm not entirely stupid about horseflesh. I've ridden many types of horses in my day and can competently compare my various experiences on Arabians, quarter horses, and a few thoroughbreds from all the years that I sporatically trained in hunter/jumper riding. (Once I even had the privilege of training on a magnificent, white Lippizaner.)
Anyway, there I was checking out the Rodeo Star's wall of pictures. And suddenly I noticed a picture which peaked my interest. The Rodeo Star was in the judge's ring, receiving a huge prize while standing next to the ugliest horse I've ever seen. The animal was plain ugly, I tell you. Ugly. What the hell is this? I wondered. Hideous the horse was--and yet it had a beautiful $10,000 saddle on it--one of those ultra heavy tooled leather affairs adorned with gorgeous turquoise conchos and gleaming ivory "Indian bones"-- but that dang horse was ugly. The horse was horribly stocky and it's huge body sat too low. The legs were stump-like with no hint of grace. And the animal's head was too big--and its ears too long. And it's eyes---aargh. The eyes looked sneaky and beady.
This animal just RUINS that saddle, I thought to myself. And those legs---yek--I bet it couldn't even jump a tree stump. And those beady eyes--the animal looked dull and stupid....probably horribly slow for crop commands and dumb enough to shy at a stable dog. And my curiosity got the best of me.
"Umm....Miss Rodeo Star?" I asked, trying to sound nonchalant. "What kind of horse is this one--the one you won a prize for in 2005?""Hah!" she guffawed. "You talking about Jinxy!"
And then, to my utter mortification and horror, she announced:
"Jinxy ain't no horse! Jinxy's a mule, darlin'!"OH. MY. GOD.
OF COURSE. I'mSTUPID STUPID STUPID! I thought to myself....
THAT's why that damn horse was so ugly!
A FRIGGING MULE! And then my tortured mind went crazy. Because mules are half horse, half DONKEY! AAARGH........
God, I just KNEW the Rodeo Star was convinced that I was the stupidest city girl she'd ever seen in her life. And what's worse--it was over a damn MULE! Which is half horse and half DONKEY... Because you all know how much I can't stand DONKEYS!!!! Those self-righteous, obnoxious donkeys who hang out in my territory and stare at me rudely with their beady eyes!Oh, the humiliation. I had embarassed myself in front of the Rodeo Star. I was so horrified at this that I instantly and heartily wished that I could just fall right down through the floor into a big hole and be covered over with cow pies. I deserved to be covered with cow pies. Donkey pies, even. DOG pies even.....
But, I never say die. Quickly I scanned my brain for a way out. I wondered to myself....could I recover from this disaster? "A mule?" I squeaked, as both the Rodeo Star and her mother laughed. "Well....er...uh...I KNEW that horse looked funny....." Desperately, I searched for a saving comment. To her credit, the Rodeo Star tried to save me from myself. "Don't worry about it, darlin'" she said, " A mule is half horse anyway so I can see how it might look a little horsey. Some mules look more horse than donkey anyway."
I managed to stammer out what I hoped was a half-decent excuse for my stupidity: "I just had horses on my mind, that's all. It's because that's all I've ever heard of you riding--horses. I just never expected to see you on a MULE with that wonderful saddle.""You can show and ride mules as well as horses," she continued. "In fact, that particular mule is worth more than most of my show horses."Whatever, I thought to myself. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I hate donkeys. And now I hate those half-breed mules.
Deflated and humiliated, I finished up my visit and left, muttering to myself as I drove away. Since it was a long drive back to town and I had my camera with me, I half-heartedly consoled myself with the decision to take some pictures on the way back.
About 10 miles out of town I noticed that I was coming up on a small ranch and I decided to snap a couple of pics of their animals. And then I noticed them.....
There was a horse and a donkey, grazing together in a pen. Lovely, I thought. Come back next spring and there'll probably be a new mule in town....
(Oh....I forgot to tell you. The ER doctor DID manage to sew the scalp back onto the head of Mr. Jingle the Rodeo Clown. However, Mr. Jingle was very ungrateful and bitched his clown head off after it was all over because he claimed that the doctor had put his scalp back on backwards, causing his cowlick to "face the wrong direction".)
Oh, you want to hear the rest of the story? Okay.
(The ER doctor had bitched right back at Mr. Jingle, saying something to the effect of: "Listen, Clown Man--this is an ER--it ain't no beauty parlor." )
(And Mr. Jingle had then flipped the bird at the doctor while loudly honking his big red Clown Nose,"WONK WONK!!")
So....I guess the moral of the story is this:
If you're ever at the rodeo and you see a Rodeo Clown whose cowlick faces backwards instead of forwards, it's probably Mr. Jingle....
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