Brave For Another
I’m a professional rodeo rider. It was a career path that I knew would be mine from when I was a child. I grew up on a farm with bulls and horses, and I went to rodeos early on in my life. One of my uncles was a rodeo rider, and I can say that he was early on a hero of mine. I wanted to be just like him. When anyone asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, I always said ‘rodeo rider’. There was never any doubt in my mind that that was what I wanted to do with my life.
I fell in love with cowboy music early on in my life. It began with Gene Autry’s “Back in the Saddle Again.” I have long been a fan of the music of Ian Tyson, identifying in particular with the lyrics “Someday Soon”, especially the parts about the subject of the song loving the “damned old rodeo” as much as loving the woman singing the song, and the father’s feeling that someone like me would leave the poor girl crying. That would be an understatement for me. The rodeo has always come first, everything else second. Then there was George Strait’s version of “Amarillo by Morning”, especially the part of losing love along the way, certainly true once I started riding professionally. I lost a string of girlfriends along the way, never a wife like in the song. I doubted that I would ever have one to lose. You don’t miss what you have never had.
My High School Career
I didn’t do too badly in high school, even though I had no worries about having marks enabling me to be accepted at college or university. The only problem I had was when we had to make presentations. I would rather have faced a charging bull than stand up at the front of the class and speak to my classmates. They knew it too. Some of them began laughing as soon as I slowly made my reluctant way to the podium. That made my presentation worse. I would have nightmares before and after such experiences. I still occasionally have them, and wake up in a sweat.
One of my teachers was very supportive. She silenced my classmate critics before I began my speech, and glared at anyone who she thought was going to mock me. I felt less nervous presenting in her class, and didn’t make a bull-sized screw up when I spoke. She was the best teacher I ever had. I had good marks in her class. At the end of one particular such class, she told me to wait for a few minutes after class, and told me of one of her former students, who was at that time mayor of our town, but who, at first, had a hard time speaking in her class just like I did. I appreciated that.
Her daughter Mary was in my class. I liked her, but she was very shy, and I dated cheerleaders at that time. They preferred athletes, and considered rodeo riding as an impressive sport.
I still have a very hard time speaking in public. I really hate it when someone walks up to me after I have won in a particular rodeo event, and sticks a microphone in front of my face. It is bad enough when it is a radio interview, and I give dumb-assed answers to questions that are just as dumb. Recently, I was asked “How do feel about your victory today?”, and I replied with a quiet “Good. I like winning.” I’m sure there was someone out there in radio land who thought, ‘He must have fallen and landed on his head a few times.’
Television interviews are worse, as I do not like speaking in front of a camera. I just look down and mumble. The local interviewers know that, and are reluctant to interview me, even if I have won more than one event. Increasingly, they just have the camera on me, and talk about how I performed, putting the camera on me, but not approaching me with a microphone.
A High School Reunion Changes things
It was the tenth anniversary of my graduating class, and we sat up at the front of the auditorium, to the left of this year’s graduates. Before this we had mingled in the hallway and shared gossip about our classmates. It is funny how my former classmates and I made a point of looking on the left hands of the others, seeing whether or not they were wearing a wedding ring. About half of us were.
One of our former teachers, Mr. Math as we called him, gave us some bad news a few seconds before we walked into the auditorium. He told us that my favourite teacher, Mrs. Kirk, had died just a few weeks before. I had wanted to talk to her, and thank her again for how she lessened the stress in her classroom, and how she helped me graduate.
When I saw Mary, I walked over to her and told her how sad I was to hear about her mother. There were tears in her eyes, and I gave her a hug, not something that I generally did with women that I was not involved with. She hugged me back. We both were slow to let go. I noticed that she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. I think that she looked at my left hand too.
The new principal introduced each one of the speakers before they walked up to the podium. There speeches went fairly well if you like that sort of thing. Then, he called upon Mary to speak about her mother. This appeared to have taken her by surprise. She stood up but did not move. She cried and shook her head.
I then made a decision that surprised the two of us. I stood up and walked up to the podium.
“Hi, my name is Steve Cook. I am a rodeo rider, and that’s no bull. [Laugher insued] I believe that Mary Kirk would have me speak about her mother. She was by far the best teacher I ever had. Sorry Mr. Math, but my marks did not amount to much in your class. Mrs Kirk saw that I was shy and she gave me confidence. I couldn’t believe that a teacher could do that, but she did. That confidence has helped me in my career, and in my life generally. Now I want everyone who had her as a teacher, and know that they benefitted from that to stand up and cheer as loud as you can. Let’s rock the auditorium.” All of my graduating class stood up and cheered loudly, as I knew that they would.
As I walked back to my chair, to more applause than I have every received for talking, I could not believe what I had just done. But I knew that Mary needed someone else to speak for her concerning her mother. Knowing that overcame the usual lack of speaking confidence that I had.
Another surprise awaited me. As I approached my chair, Mary stood up and gave me the biggest hug I have ever had, then held both my hands tight, and kissed me right on the mouth, then whispered a ‘thank you’ for my ears only.
I had a feeling that my life was going to change, and not just when I would be interviewed in the future.