Lincoln, Arkansas Rodeo: 43 Years in the Making

Bull RidimgIt  has been 43 years since I last attended the annual Lincoln Rodeo in the state of Arkansas. In the time period between visits, I have been overseas(for over years), married twice, fathered two children and only recently moved back to the country of my birth. The rodeo, which runs over three days, started on Thursday and as I am working on the latter two nights,  I opted to attend the first night of festivities.

Time has marched on for me since that last visit and time has moved on for the small venue as well. One particularly telling moment was the sighting of a young cowgirl, dressed in all her finery, texting on her iPhone while easily sitting and riding her mount.

It was a surrealistic moment which spoke volumes about the female of the species being able to multitask and the technology that these modern rodeo participants have access to.

(Sadly, I was not able to get a picture. Besides the sight momentarily throwing me, it was far too dark and using a flash seemed ill-advised.)

Arriving that little bit late, the first thing I did was grab a rodeo burger and a cup of rodeo coffee. A long standing tradition that dates back to my childhood. My late father always headed to get food the second we arrived at the rodeo grounds.

Another tradition involved getting new cowboy hats, boots and a rodeo shirt, all ivory poppers and with the long tails that kept the thing tucked in. While I did not sport new boots, or a brand new hat, I did have on one of my father’s old western shirts. Memories of attending the rodeo in days gone by flooded my mind as the smells of horses, cattle, burgers and freshly raked dirt caused a bit of olfactory overload.

Calf ropingAlmost the entire event was spent in the company of my “cousin-in-law” who works for the same organization that I do. Good conversation, good vantage points and an overall sense of good bonhomie from the crowd made the night an entertaining one.

Only a handful of people were competing in each event, unfortunately I missed the bareback bronc riding, but each gave their all and this was a good buildup to the Springdale rodeo later in the summer.

There were not as many people as there used to be and I seem to remember the grounds being much brighter in terms of lighting. Cowboy hats were not in overabundance, although I did wear my straw one along with my Cornwall western boots.

The rodeo has changed somewhat since my childhood. Girls were now competitively roping calves, which was the biggest difference, and the bull riders all wore protective helmets. One thing that has not changed, however, is the innate beauty of the young women riding their steeds around the rodeo arena.

Each one possesses a poise and incredible confidence that is displayed by  their expert handling of the horses they ride. Whether  moving around the grounds “backstage” or racing barrels, they are one with their mount and are pictures of grace and control. It is easy to be thrust back to one’s teen years and fall in love with these western lasses.

All had long hair that streamed down and out under their cowgirl hats as the rode hell for leather to beat the timer. While it was impressive to see, one could easily imagine that each one had extensions rather than naturally long tresses. It did not detract from the sight, but, like the iPhone texting rider, it seemed like it could be another sign of the times.

(It is also lovely to see the connection these young ladies have with their animals and family. One young rider was cutting tight circles around her father, on her horse,  just before heading out into the arena to do her bit in the barrel race. The amount of trust between the two was incredibly touching.)

Youngsters at the rodeo participated in a calf catching exercise (although they grabbed a flag off the creatures tail rather than actually wrestle with the animal) and it was a cute display that warmed the heart. There was also a goat roping event outside the arena…

The rodeo kidsAll through the night the announcer kept the crowd informed about a line of thunderstorms headed the way of the event (which contained several tornadoes) and after things wound down the storms did finally arrive.

It may have taken me 43 years to attend a function that was a memorable part of my childhood and things might have been that little bit lowkey, but, it was an enjoyable night and one I would not have missed for the world.

The Lincoln Rodeo runs for two more nights and is an inexpensive way to spend an evening. The weather is meant to be a bit blustery but that only adds to the atmosphere.  Stop by and check it out if you can.


Agents of SHIELD Two Part Finale…It’s Science Beehotch!

Agents of SHIELD
Okay, so it has been a far number of days since the season two finale of Agents of SHIELD was aired on television, but wow! What a finish. In a nutshell, Phil gives an arm to save the world and Skye/Daisy. Raina puts her life on the line, and loses it, to prove that Jiaying is a murderous nut-job. Hunter comes to Bobbi’s rescue after she takes one for her ex in the process. Agent Ward loses someone he actually cared for and Simmons is consumed by her work…literally. On top of all this, Hydra has a new leader and that artifact crystal hybrid in the bottom of the ocean is now available in an Omega 3 supplement near you.

On a sidenote, Kyle MacLachlen almost stole the show as Daisy’s daddy, when he changes sides.

How all encompassing is that? This two part finish was well worth the wait. The entire first season of this small screen Marvel series had a tough time gaining and keeping fans. With an expectation that all or some of the avengers would be making weekly cameos in the show.

Considering that the last time I watched the show, Agent Triplett was cancelled from SHIELD with extreme prejudice by the same power that changed Raina and Skye, my reintroduction to the Marvel telly verse was full of surprise. One of the biggest surprises over the course of this two part finale was the script’s sharing of clever dialogue.

Usually Phil gets the best, and most amusing, lines in the episodes. The second half of the season’s end was full of amusing quips. Lincoln telling Melinda May, “We are not bad, we’re mislead,” while stopping her from shooting Alisha. Mac also has a fair number of one-liners. Mainly the interchange with Gordon. Mac, “What’s your name?” Gordon, “Gordon and who are you?” Mac, “The guy who kills Gordon.”

Although later, in further interaction with the eyeless villain, it is Fitz who gets the prize for cool quip of the episode. When Gordon finds his transporting abilities hindered, he expresses his amazement at how this is possible. Leo responds, “It’s science beehotch!” Hands down the best line of the show.

Mac does come a close second with his, “And I thought my mom was bad when she began to watch Fox News.” Phil still got his far share of amusing lines in and almost tied with Mac for second place in the run up to the big battle with “no-eyes” Gordon. As he and Fitz run in to help set up the disruptors, a battered Mac says something along the lines of “it’s about time,” Phil responds, “It’s a big ship with poor signage…” Another great one from the head of SHIELD.

If you have not watched this finale read no further! Big time spoiler ahead…

By the end of this double header episode, things have changed yet again in the small screen Marvel-verse and has left things wide open for a big increase in non-humans. Both Calvin Zabo retiring as a veterinarian, payment for his coming to the aid of SHIELD, and Phil possibly being stuck with the nickname of Stumpy pall in comparison with Simmons’ apparent demise.

It will be interesting to see what season three will bring, what with Skye’s new division being a secret part of SHIELD and Ward having taken over HYDRA. Not to mention all those “healthy” fish oil supplements…

While waiting for the new season to air on ABC, it may behove me to binge watch season two and pick up all the episodes missed. Agents of SHIELD has definitely graduated from its first season meandering to become one of my favorites on television.

Memories of an Unsettling House

Not the same house, but very similar in design.

When I was about 11 or 12 my dad bought a big two story house in the small town of Lincoln, Arkansas. It was right next door to my Gran’s house, except for a vacant lot that sat between the two houses and served as a great place for baseball, football, and any other leisure activity you could think of.

We lived quite a long distance from this house and weekends were spent going down and ‘camping out’ in the house while dad renovated the house for us. It was fun. We slept on camp beds and by the time Monday had come along, everyone was glad to go back to their regular pursuits.

The house itself could be a bit unsettling. Hell, to call a spade a spade, it could be just downright scary. The family who’d lived in the house before we bought it had a son. This young man was a bit off in left field. That is the kindest way I can think to put it.

The detached garage that came with the house had been graffitied from the floor up to and including the ceiling. Swastika’s filled just about every free space. A number of statements that declared that all Jewish people must die fought for equal billing on the garage’s interior. To step into that place was a gooseflesh inducer. It felt creepy, wrong and on some deeper level, scary.

Going into the house and upstairs to the bedrooms we found that two of the rooms led right to the attic. The attic and one bedroom was filled with iron crosses. These crosses had all been stolen from Civil Wargraves throughout the regions cemetery’s. I cannot remember the reason they’d been stolen. I don’t know if it was for the metal or for some other arcane and disturbing reason.

The crosses looked exactly like these but were all metal.

A few phone calls later and the crosses were on their way home. It had apparently been baffling police for sometime as to who had taken the crosses and where they might be. I am pretty sure that they were all put back on the graves they were taken from.

On the same day that we found the garage shrine to Hitler and the Civil War crosses, I found the puzzle box lid. The caption or name of the puzzle has long since vanished in the recesses of my memory. The actual picture on the box lid of the puzzle, has not.

The scene was set in a ‘Hammer’ version of a Victorian England graveyard. A red brick mausoleum lurked in the background amid bushes and trees. In the foreground a werewolf moved through the gravestones toward some unsuspecting victim. Doesn’t sound too bad does it?

But, it was.

The amount of detail was incredible. The werewolf looked as though he could leap off the box lid and rip your throat out. The amount of blood and gore dripping from his claws and mouth attested to the fact that he had already attacked someone. The eyes in his furry face rolled madly and he literally scared the crap out of me. As I sat looking at this box lid, my brother had wandered to the back of the closet where we’d found this horror puzzle box lid.

He found more Civil War crosses and as I moved to see what he’d found, the closet door slammed shut and we were trapped in the closet. I kicked the door, but as the closet was not very deep, I couldn’t get enough power behind the kicks to pop the door back open. We tried yelling for help and even banged on the floor with one of the very heavy crosses.

After what seem like an eternity, my father came upstairs looking for my brother and me. By this time we were so hoarse that all we could manage was a quiet, ‘help.’ We were let out and my father made note of the fact that the door handles on the closet were the wrong kind and set about removing the one currently on the door.

When we next came to see the house the box lid with its monstrous werewolf had vanished.

When I asked my dad, he could not remember seeing it, but was of the opinion that it had belonged to the ‘black sheep’ son of the previous family. He then told me a story about the young man.

“Seems this boy drove his motorcycle over the state border into Oklahoma. He went to one of the ‘Indian’ towns there and parked his bike on the main drag. There was a Pool Hall there and he could see a load of boys from the area playing pool. After a minute or two of watching the local Indians play pool through the hall’s plate glass window, he decided to go in. The second he gets in the room he starts singing, ‘One little, two little, three little Indians…’ He didn’t get any further than that. One of the braves broke a pool cue over his face and he got thrown through the plate glass window.”

Dad stopped there and wiped his forehead, “What a crazy-assed thing to do.” He looked at me and smiled. “You know,” he said, “they still haven’t found his motorbike, but, he’s still got the scars from that night.”

I know what he meant. After all the years since we lived in that house and some of the downright strange and scary things that happened there, I still have memories that are like long healed scars. The puzzle box lid for instance. I only have to close my eyes and the lid leaps to the front of my mental eye. I can recall just about every detail of that damned werewolf. The slobber that ran from his mouth, the blood and gore that dripped from his claws and chin, and the torn  bloody state of his clothes.

Not long ago I had the brilliant idea of Googling this particular image and got absolutely nothing back. I even varied my search. Still nothing. That’s okay though. If I was a better artist, I could draw from memory the image of the box lid. But to be really honest? I’m glad I don’t have that talent. Like everything else that this strange young man had touched, it just seemed wrong.

I also hope that whatever strange phase this fellow was going through, that he outgrew it, or at the very least grew up and lost interest. If he hasn’t, I hope I never bump into him.

At night.

In the dark. 

Excuse me pal. You gotta light?

Revisiting my Past

I wrote the other day about being “re-born” on the 4th of July. While I pondered over our trip, my daughters and mine, I thought about how eventful the whole thing was. I started with our day of departure and our final packing for the flight and came up with these thoughts.

24 July 2011. We packed our bags (I know, it sounds like a song lyric), not sure of what to bring or to wear on the flight, Then a friend dropped us off at London Heathrow Airport. Midway over the Atlantic ocean, it finally dawns on me that we are going to visit our home for the first time in eleve years. Emotional moment.

The clouds that have been following us from London Heathrow have turned into a storm that the pilot has to avoid. He does a great job as we arrive at Atlanta Airport early. The elation at arriving early soon disappears when we find out that due to lightening striking the runway repeatedly all flights have been delayed.

After an eight hour layover in Atlanta, we finally take off and arrive at Bentonville, Arkansas. It is two in the morning. We disembark to a hot and muggy morning with a temperature of 89 degrees Fahrenheit. It was like walking into a wall of heat. I had forgotten how hot Arkansas can get in the summer.We are both tired, sleepy and sweaty. Welcome home.

Zombie-like we shuffke off the tarmac and enter the terminal. Luckily everything is easy to find and we locate our luggage and head to the car rental desks.

After picking up the car, I have a moment of unease when I realise the car is registered in Ohio. Great, I think, out-of-state plates and it’s from the north. They might as well put a big sign on it saying, Mr Policeman please stop me and give me a ticket.

Driving out of a town, that I’d never really even visited when I lived in Arkansas, and on wrong side of the road and on a road that had not even existed eleven years ago when I had last driven a car state-side and in the wee, very dark, hours of the morning, did not really equate to a calm relaxing drive.

My daughter was so tired that she began to hallucinate and she swore that an English double decker bus had just passed us on the road. I saw police on every corner and by every sign-post. The nice chap I had gotten directions from at the airport had helpfully pointed out that every town between us and our destination (about three in total) was a speed trap.

Miraculously we do not get lost and find our hotel. We had a momentary panic when we decided that the entrance door would be locked.  I had forgotten that hotels in America don’t lock their front doors like the hotels in England do. We pull up in front of the entrance and leaving my half asleep daughter in the car, I check us in. It is about four in the morning and I don’t feel exactly human or like I am tracking anything very well.

Luckily for us the room is right around the corner from the registration desk. My daughter has now gone beyond exhausted so I deposit her in the room, unpack the car and re-park it in the lot and put everything in a big pile in the room. I then turn up the air conditioner and crawl into bed. I am asleep in seconds. I do not even dream.

25 July 2011. We call my parents,grab a few biscuits and some bacon for breakfast and start packing the car up. Even though it is only about eleven in the morning the temperature is already over 104 degrees.

In the daylight, the area now looks more familiar despite the fact that the road has been widened, added to, and built-up with buildings either side of it. We both still feel tired, sleepy and too hot. We also feel very excited. I have not been here in over eleven years. The last time my daughter was here, she was nine months old.

We get in the car and drive to the farm.

The Apple Cider Trip

Reading my last blog, I realised that I had not written about my friend Vinnie’s funniest moment at the lake called Wedington. This moment will always be burned into my memory as the apple cider trip.The town we lived in was called Lincoln. Obviously named after Abe. In fact my grandfather on my mother’s side played Abe Lincoln in a Fourth of July town parade. As you drive into the town limits of Lincoln from the north you will pass an apple orchard. This orchard has been there for as long as I can remember. The folks who own it sell apple produce in the shops by the road. One of their biggest sellers has always been their ‘preservative free’ apple cider.

Now this cider is not hard cider aka alcoholic cider. No, that would be illegal  for them to sell as Lincoln is a “dry town” and alcohol for human consumption is not allowed to be sold within the town limits. In other words this cider is really apple juice. It is mighty tasty regardless of what you call it.

On this particular day Vinnie’s dad, and Vinnie of course, had invited me to go fishing at Lake Wedington. I have to explain that our family did not “do” lake fishing. We had always gone “creek fishing.” This meant driving until you found a farm or ranch where the owner did not mind you crossing his land to get at the creek  running through his property. Most farmers/ranchers readily gave permission as long as you closed gates behind you and did not litter up the place. The most important of these “understood” rules was closing the gates. If the owner’s cattle got loose and had to be rounded up, then the next person who wanted access to a good fishing hole was not welcome. After getting the required permission you then “walked” the creek. This involved sometimes walking for miles to find the best spots where the fish were “biting.”

To get a chance to go on an actual boat and fish in the middle of a lake was something I wasn’t going to pass up.

I got to Vinnie’s fairly early in the morning. But his dad had been out even earlier and bought two plastic gallon jugs of delicious apple cider. Vinnie was in the kitchen drinking glass after glass of the stuff. It was a little like watching an automaton. He would go to the fridge, open it and extract a plastic jug of cider. He would fill his glass and state, “Boy! I love apple cider!” He did this each and every time he drank a glass of the stuff. He did not stop until he had emptied an entire plastic gallon jug.

Apparently Vinnie was not affected by this massive consumption of fruit juice. We got all our fishing equipment loaded in the car and went to the lake. It is a fairly good distance, if memory serves me correctly, it is about a forty-five minute drive out to the middle of nowhere. During the longish trip Vinnie and I talked with his dad about fish, girls, school and other things. There was no sign of the problems that would soon erupt.

We all got to the lake, got our boat, loaded it and put it in the water. Vinnie’s dad took us right out to the middle of the lake. We got our poles baited and cast into the water. Then we sat and waited.

Well, we would have sat and waited except that now Vinnie was starting to act very strangely. I noticed that he had started squirming the minute we cast our lines from the boat. His dad had so far not left the meditative state that was required for lake fishing. Suddenly Vinnie bent over so far that his face was within kissing distance of the boats bottom. Then he started groaning.

“I’ve got to go to the bathroom…NOW!!”  This was said with an almost hysterical edge to it. “What’s wrong?” Vinnie’s dad asked. Vinnie just looked at his dad, his eyes bulging and veins throbbing in his face. “I’ve got to go, NOW!!! “Just get me to the restrooms!” Vinnie’s dad was completely nonplussed. “I told you to go easy on that cider. Well, I’m not going all the way back to the restrooms. You’ll have to go into the woods.” With that pronouncement he started the motor up and went to the nearest shore.

Before we got within ten feet of the shore, Vinnie vaulted out of the boat and legged it for the tree line. From where we sat, it sounded like an elephant on a rampage. I swear he even knocked down small trees in his rush to go for a “dump.”

“Where’s he going? Texas?” Vinnie’s dad asked. We waited for what seemed like ages. Finally Vinnie came staggering back out of the woods. His face was pale and he was sweating like a racehorse. He climbed slowly and creakily back into the boat. Vinnie’s dad started the motor and took us out into the middle of the lake again. He had just shut the motor off when…”Goback,goback,goback!” Vinnie was yelling this as if it was one word. He was doubled up again. Only this time he was rocking up and down, as he tried valiantly to keep his bowels under control. His dad dutifully started the motor and back to the shore we went.

Like before, Vinnie did his rampaging elephant routine. After we sat there for awhile with no sign of Vinnie, his dad looked at me and sighed. “I didn’t come all this way for Vinnie to go into the woods and shit himself to death.” He looked in the direction we thought Vinnie had lumbered, “Vinnie! We going back out to fish! When you get done, come out to the edge and wave. We’ll come get you!” Without waiting for an answer, he started the motor up and we went out to resume fishing.

I’d like to say that Vinnie finished voiding himself of all that cider and continued fishing, but he did not. We checked the shoreline repeatedly looking for him with no sign. After awhile, we just sort of forgot to keep looking. Hours later, we remembered and there was Vinnie waving weakly from the shore. Vinnie’s dad mumbled something under his breath and we went to pick him up.

As Vinnie got back into the boat, he had gone through some kind of transformation. He looked and acted like he was about a hundred years old. His face had gone a horrible shade of white and he was now drenched in sweat. That pretty much ended the fishing trip.

I was, of course, very sympathetic towards Vinnie’s plight…NOT. All the way back to his house, I was in literal hysterics. I kept saying over and over, “Boy, I LOVE, apple cider!” And each and every time I said it, Vinnie’s dad and I laughed until we cried. I can honestly say my face hurt from laughing so much. Vinnie took all this in good spirits considering.

As far as I know, he does not drink apple cider any more.

I was also never invited to go fishing again.

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