Daddy worked hard and played hard. For most of my growing-up years, he dedicated his free time to preparing for rodeo calf-roping contests. He had the same attitude toward calf roping as he did farming. He always wanted to be better, maybe the best, at whatever he did and he put in the time and money needed to achieve his goal.
He loved the rodeo competition. Calf roping is a timed event where cowboys compete to beat each other’s time, tossing a loop of rope over a calf’s neck, dismounting the horse, throwing the calf on the ground, and tying three of its legs together with the piggin string the cowboy carries in his mouth during the chase. Timing is exact and segments of seconds count. A well-trained cowboy and roping horse are essential to winning the competition.
Daddy, like all the other roping contestants, was always looking for a better roping horse. Timing was everything and a roping horse was trained to back into position, wait, and Gallup after the calf at the exact second it had gained its head start. And then, when the lasso slipped over the calf’s neck the horse stopped and pulled the rope taunt to hold the calf in place until the cowboy dismounted and ran to throw the calf. It’s serious business with a jackpot at stake. Daddy wanted practice so he built his own roping pen on a couple of acres behind the barn.
And I was hired to man the calf and chute. A dime a release. My timing was also of utmost importance but sometimes I had a little trouble opening the chute gate at the exact moment Daddy and the horse were ready. Some days on the job are just hectic for a ten year old.
Once I was pretty good at opening the gate on time, Daddy gave me more responsibility — And getting the calf in the chute from the pen turned out to be a little above my pay grade.
“Twist his tail and get him in there!” Daddy would say.
I concentrated on managing the young calf that outweighed me by a few pounds (I’m not sure the mom with the wet hen temperament knew about this). Still, what Mama might have said didn’t matter; I knew how short Daddy’s patients tended to be. I twisted that tail with all my might. It wasn’t enough. By this time, Daddy may have decided his daughter belonged in the house with Mama (or, maybe Mama decided). And I earned my dime pulling off his smelly boots at night.
I wasn’t all that sad when I lost my dime-a–release job, although I loved penny candy. If you’ve spent any times around young calves, you probably know their tails swish flies and get in the way of some bodily functions. I’m not sure how Daddy managed the calf release in my absence but I think he asked some of his competitors to practice in his roping pen. You know, a few seconds riding and roping for a calf release.
I can’t remember just when Daddy stopped riding in the rodeo but my son has good memories of watching his grandfather compete in the calf-roping contest. At some point, Daddy traded his roping horse for a golf cart. After that, he and my husband spend many hours on the golf courses in Oklahoma and San Diego. However, age and arthritis took their toll and the day came for Daddy to trade his golf cart for a … I don’t think he’d want me to finish that sentence.