Sunday, July 15, 2007

Cowpokes in the Heart of Oklahoma

I could almost see our minivan blushing as it slunk into a spot between a Dodge RAM 3500 and a Ford F-150. Not only was it... well... a minivan, but it didn't have even a speck of mud on it! Definitely a ride no self-respectin', mud-sloggin', tobacca-chewin' cowboy (or girl) would drive to the rodeo! Fortunately, our crew of mini cowpokes has no idea how cool our minivan is (or isn't)... they just know they're at their first rodeo (not to mention Kyler's first big outing.)

We're just off Kickapoo road at the International Youth Finals Rodeo (IYFR) at the "Heart of Oklahoma Exposition Center", Shawnee, Oklahoma in - say this one out loud a couple times - Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma.

As with any traveler entering a foreign culture for the first time, one of the first tasks was to get "gussied up" for the big event. Fortunately, the rodeo is equipped with a Western Market, stocking all manner of cowboy ("And cowgirl, Daddy!" - Danna) paraphernalia. We passed on the $2400 saddle, but picked up a set of "real cowboy" (and girl) hats. Upon trying his new hat on, Jad declared that he was going to become the "most famousest cowboy ever", and Danna broke into a dance in front of the mirror, trying on her best "Cowgirl Licia" face (her alias while in cowgirl gear). Suitably equipped, we picked our way through the horse trailers, motor homes and big, muddy trucks to the grandstand just in time for the big show.

Click here to continue...

There are a couple things you have to understand about Oklahoma. It's flat. There aren't any pro sports teams. There are oil rigs everywhere. Oklahomans live on Sonic (a drive-in eatery that allows you to enjoy great drinks like "cherry limeade" while eating your extra-long chili-cheese-dog in the comfort of your own car!)

Oh - and one other thing. Actually, the most important thing. In 1943, a little musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein opened on Broadway. Starring characters by the names of Curly (a cowboy), Jeb (a farm hand), and Laurey (a farm girl), the musical Oklahoma! (note the exclamation point) has become the central tenet of life in this great state. In fact, all kindergarteners are required to learn the lyrics to the title song (also named "Oklahoma!") before graduating to first grade (both Jad and Danna already know them, by the way.)

Back to the rodeo. Being a public event, and being in Oklahoma (in the "Heart of Oklahoma" no less), the festivities kicked off with a couple horses galloping around the ring, their riders holding American Flags high. The crowd of several hundred rose to their feet as one, removed their hats, looked toward the guest singer with anticipation, and joined with him as he sang...

Where the wind comes sweeping down the plain
And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet
When the wind comes right behind the rain...

More horses flew into the ring, each rider carrying a flag with one of the letters of the State's name. By the time the final "Yeeow!" rang out from the bleachers, the crowd was ready for a party. The chaplain said a quick prayer for the soldiers, the cowboys (and girls) and the livestock, and the show was on! Oh... they did also manage to sneak in a quick rendition of the national anthem while the US flag was on the field and everyone was standing, hats in hand for "Oklahoma!"... but it was pretty clear that the audience's true alliance was with the state with "plen'y of air and plen'y of room."

Official songs out of the way, the rodeo got underway! For the next several hours, we were entertained by a procession of cowboys (and girls) roping and 'rasslin all manner of cows and goats, and riding horses that were doing their level best to buck them off! Did you know that a good cowboy can rope and 'rassle a steer in under 8 seconds? That a cowgirl who's worth her salt can tie a goat in 7 seconds flat? Oklahoma's record rain in the past month added a healthy dose of mud to the festivities. But then real cowboy boots are supposed to be muddy!

This is what home leave is all about! Getting reacquainted with authentic American culture. Learning new songs. Wearing cowboy hats. Slurping down refreshing drinks from Sonic. That's the news for now, from the Heartland of America!

1 comment:

Joel and Angela said...

I love that picture of Jad and Dana!! That is too cute! Looks like you all are having fun!
Hope things are going well with the baby!