Saturday a.m.: appreciations for walking other paths

I appreciate the paths less taken by each of my parents. My mother, was the first in her family to get a BA. She had sought out adventure, the kind that travel fosters, since high school when she attempted to be an exchange student. Her travel bug metamorphised probably much earlier than that. While attending the state university in Boulder, one of the gigs she chose was to become a resident advisor. 

Through that RA, she made an acquaintance with my dad. One of the few stories that i can recall from what I have been told was how they were supposed to do a new student orientation. Well, when it came time to begin speaking with the students, he was silent and left much (if not all) of the talking to her. A pattern that has been evident for much of the four-plus decades that they have been together. 

The collegiality of RAs led to them getting to know one another, and eventually going on a date. I cannot fathom what it was like for mom, to date a black guy in the mid 1960s. They married in June of 1967, 12 months prior to RFK’s assassination in Los Angeles. 10 months prior to MLK’s assassination in Memphis. 

There are so many instances that I can glimpse how she is walking another, a different path. From having her own business in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Bringing silver jewelery from Taxco, Mexico and selling it around Denver. I have never asked how much she would make, but it was a creative outlet, exploration, and set of skills that mom built in the midst of raising four kids — who in 1980 ranged from 2-10. 

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My father’s path of embodying a different type of maleness is what has been salient to me. To be a grown male in the latter half of the 20th Century, was a particular thing. Yet, (some of) my father’s uniqueness comes from not only being a man, but a Black man. Who was an oldest child. Having a father who had fought in the Korean War, and later taught at Tuskegee Institute. A father who was not only in the service and a veteran, but one of the Tuskegee Airmen. There are so many layers to my relationship with my father, and I can only fantasize (hypothesize, romanticize as well as idealize and be frustrated by) what my father’s relationship to his father was. My grandfather died a few years before I was born — I want to say three years prior, but I am not convinced. So, what I have known of him have been through stories, photographs, and family traditions, mannerisms and other subtleties that may be passed through genes as much as upbringing. 

A few more forms of my father’s intersectionality include black/male, oldest child/with a developmentally disabled sister, only boy/with two sisters. Over the past decade, I have attributed meaning to who my father is, trying to lump my notions — of identity, experience, values — onto a skeletal structure of what I conceptualize his early life having been. I am more conscious of the gender make-up in my dad’s family, and in my own, because he embodies such a unique form of masculinity for me. 

In my 20s, i was flabbergasted, sometimes irate, with his inability to express, to divulge, to share. As a kid, he taught all of us the mantra, “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it.” (that reads with far too many negatives than my lawyer-father would utter. if my memory serves me correctly) Those notions kind of worked in elementary school and as a teenager, but in adulthood I sought more perspective from him and everyone else in my family on what was coursing through his veins, his soul, his heart and mind. In my 20s, I fought the reality of what was, rather than embrace things for how they were. And those struggles have played some part in things being different today than they would be if I had not banged on the door of his feelings that he did not give voice to. A lot has changed in the eIght years since my mom told me how the only times my father would express his feelings were when he was sloshed. 

 

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My first time at the Rodeo

 

gorgeous long-haired livestock

Mom + 1 of the long-haired cattle

On Friday night, I got two tickets for Mom to accompany me to the 105th National Western Stock Show — an annual event situated under the I-70 interstate that cuts across north Denver. And what was I, a Black man, doing at the rodeo?

Foremost, I was reacquainting myself with Colorado. But I was shocked to find out that that this was Mom’s first time ever at the Stock Show. She never attended as a kid in Akron. Nor while in college at Boulder. Or as a young woman/mother/wife in the 26 years between 1968 and 1984. Nor come once in the ten years she’s been back in Colorado.

As for me, I also wanted to go because a) I had never been to the Stock Show, b) it was some quality time with Mom before she departs next week, and c) it is a highlight every January. I learned that Mom was jazzed to go considering that she i) wanted to arrive an hour early, and ii) put on her finest cowgirl boots and her favorite scully, from Denver-based Rockmount Ranch Wear.

Once we got there, Mom was on the prowl for some grilled bison meat. No such luck. We settled for 1/4 lb sausages — mom having bratwurst, I opted for the polish smoked — that were on the far side of the Education Barn.

The rodeo began with bareback riding. It featured cowboys with names such as Buck Lunak (from Cut Bank, Montana), Tanner Aus (from Granite Falls, Minnesota) and Tim Shirley (from Bailey, Colorado). Mr. Shirley was riding a horse named Lion Eyes. or is it Lionize? I wondered. Turned out that that buckskin’s name is spelled Lyin Eyes.

The second event was steer wrestling. Though there were hundreds of people of color — Latin@s and Blacks — in the crowds milling about and in the stands, there was only one Black cowboy in the ring — #958, Darrell Petry from Beaumont TX. Petry was the first of the steer wrestlers to be successful. As the announcer said, “that veteran cowboy” bundled it up in a wee 4.1 seconds. Seconds seems significantly longer in the 4 or 8 seconds that one person is grappling with 800 pounds of power and flesh.

The third event for the night offered the most laughs: mutton busting. Mutton busting is 6- and 8-year old boys and girls gripping onto the backs of full-grown sheep. So, the mutton has more to do with the little kids riding on the back, protected with their hockey helmets.

Clippers on a cow

The rest of the evening entailed bronc riding, tie down roping, the barrel race and ended with the bull riding. The announcer and clown kept the mood light-hearted, and the sound guy looped rock, motown, metal and hiphop. Even a little bit of Tupac’s ‘California Love’ when a Cali cowboy was in the gate.

The National Western is now over. I’ve got my focus and calendar ready for the Granby Rodeo, that runs from Memorial Day until July 4th.