The thing I miss most from my childhood is raising steers for the fair. I’ve never found any activity since that provided the same competitiveness, camaraderie, financial reward, fun, or friendship. And when I say friendship, I’m talking about the relationship I had with those steers. They were some of the best friends I’ve ever had.
Abe, Able, Cherokee George, and others helped get this socially awkward kid get through the difficult period most kids go through in high school. When you’re spending 300 hours with your steer every year, you don’t have any time left to get into trouble. To this day, I can remember every steer’s little idiosyncrasies and quirks. I told those steers all my troubles, celebrated all our victories together, and was proud of our accomplishments. Plus, they got me out of the house where a mean alcoholic father was destroying the fiber of our family.
I’d never been to a fair before I showed my first steer as a sophomore in high school. I was immediately smitten with the five-day celebration of rodeo, horse shows, old rock and roll bands without any original members, demolition derbies, the midway, exhibitions, and every kind of unhealthy food a person could eat. I never ate a healthy meal the entire fair, and my diet consisted largely of deep-fried Twinkies® and Oreos®, cinnamon rolls, hot dogs on a stick, snow cones, cotton candy, corn on the cob, churros, and triple cheeseburger donuts. I was much more impressed with the fair than I was with Disneyland, which I didn’t get to see until after I graduated high school despite living only two hours away.
There was only one thing I didn’t like about showing steers, and that was the white pants I had to wear to show my animals. I can get dirty taking a shower, so keeping my white pants clean while getting my steer ready to show was a major challenge. In the 1960s, adults couldn’t be seen grooming a kid’s show animal, and if they were, you were immediately disqualified. If fair officials saw an army of professional fitters like you see standing behind today’s champions when the pictures are taken, they’d have escorted you off the fairgrounds. That meant you had to blacken the hoofs, fluff the tail, groom the animal, all the while avoiding any close encounter of the manure kind.
My mother hated the white pants even worse than I did because she had to clean them every night and attempt to get the stains out. Wednesday was show day, so they had to be clean for that, ditto Friday for showmanship, Saturday for the Junior Livestock Auction, and Sunday, if you were fortunate to win Grand Champion as I was for two years in a row, you had to attend a breakfast where they gave you your big check and then in the afternoon you had to parade your animal before thousands of rodeo fans. One year on the front page of our county newspaper, I appeared to have a stain on the knee of my white pants, and my mother was so mortified she tried to buy up every newspaper so no one would see it.
I know what you’re thinking… why didn’t I just buy more than one pair of white pants? Because I didn’t want to invest that kind of money in pants, I’d never be caught dead wearing under normal circumstances. It’s been over 50 years since my show days, and I haven’t worn a pair of white pants since. By the time I was a senior that one pair of white pants was showing some wear, and I’d experienced a small growth spurt, so the pants ended at the top of my socks.
When I left for college, I left those white pants behind, and later in life, I asked my mom what she did with them. She tried to donate them to the church rummage sale, but they were rejected. At this point, the pants were like canvas and could stand up in the corner by themselves, so my mom burned them in the burn barrel. There was so much organic material embedded in the pants they literally exploded. The flame shot so high the fire department came, and Apollo astronauts reported seeing the blast from outer space.
Talk about hot pants!