They say you can never go home again; meaning, I suppose, that as we grow older and lose our sense of wonder about the world, places we return to just aren’t the same. And as we age, we lose our friends and family members, making us all the more homesick. Well, I’ve found a glitch. I went to the National Western Rodeo and Stock Show at the Denver Coliseum this year for the first time in thirty years, and I’m here to tell you it is exactly the same. The same denim and fringe sights, the same animal husbandry smells, even the time-consuming banter between the rodeo clown down on the dirt and the MC up in the stands was just as awkward as I remember.
When I was a kid my dad took us to the Stock Show every year, and we sat in my grandparents’ seats right down in front where you really felt like a part of the action. So, wanting to replicate my childhood memories, I bought tickets in the second row. Seeing this timeless event through adult eyes did offer a bit of a different perspective— like when a clomp of dirt/poop went flying into my plastic cup of beer with a decisive drink-ending plop, but the overall experience was like travelling through time.
Growing up, my sisters and I would come to Carbondale to visit our grandparents on their cattle ranch. As you entered their house through the dutch door, there was a metal grate in the floor for scraping the mud (and other stuff) off your boots. Meanwhile, high above on the wall, elk and deer heads watched you with apprehensive disdain. At the top of the stairs was a wood-framed glass door and through that a mud room with a wood stove and a bench along the wall. The mudroom was always full of coats, hats and boots; you need a lot of different kinds of boots when you live on a ranch.
Once through the door at the other end of the entryway, you were in the kitchen. The pantry was the first door on your left, but there wasn’t anything worthwhile in there, trust me. My sisters and I spent hours planning elaborate schemes to get our hands on cookies or potato chips— any snack we weren’t supposed to have between meals. Plans complete with double lookouts and an escape route through the laundry room, only to get away with a handful of red hots, or maybe some semi-sweet chocolate chips if we were lucky. As a last resort, we could go downstairs and probably find a cousin or two hiding in the cool basement eating Jello packages by licking their fingers and sticking them into the sugary powder (like homemade Fun Dip Lik-a-Stix.™)
My grandmother had seven children and dozens of grandchildren, so she had resolved long ago to only get involved when it was a matter of ‘life and death.’ Plus, it was the 70s, and adult supervision wasn’t nearly as prevalent as it is today. I don’t know if the adults just had more to do, or what, but kids had more privacy back then. The Ranch had a million great hiding places, inside and out. Thinking back on those days, I instantly conjure up the surfaces: green slate kitchen countertops, shag carpeting on the scary dark staircase, flagstone patio, and all the different sizes and shades of blue circular tile in the outdoor pool behind the house, where we spent countless hours underwater.
It’s funny how a place in our memory can connect us long after we’ve moved on. I can definitely relate to the symbol of a family tree with strong roots and many branches (many, many branches!) But it is a tapestry I think of when I think of my father’s family, each member a unique part woven together into the larger picture. My grandmother passed away last week, and I feel like I have lost my last thread to a time and place. But if I close my eyes I can still see the large diving rock above me, shifting back and forth through the lapping light blue water.