Being boy-crazy and looking like I was 16 when I was 12 got me into a lot of trouble. Now I was a good girl , but I was a little wild. I knew most of the rodeo crowd, my dad was always the chute boss. We roped in most of the ropings, we were in Little Buckaroo and then Little Britches rodeos; plus my sister and I showed horses.
Around 13, I was at a rodeo, my events were over so I was out "chasin' cowboys"! This was a hobby of mine. Here comes a tall, lanky, loud cowboy walking my way. He asks, "When the king would be arriving?" When I said, "What?" He says well the beautiful princess is here - meaning me. I just about fell over laughing - told him he needed a "new" line. He puffed out his chest and introduced himself. We sat behind the stands talking for hours that night.
We formed a friendship that grew with each year. Eric, though, was different. He never came to town and hung out. We lived about 100 miles apart, but every now and then we'd go to Twin Falls and all meet there. I would call Eric, but he never came to town because several of the kids would be drinking. I never heard him put them down, he just didn't want to be around it. His older brother and younger brother drank - but not him.
As we got into high school, we were very close. We never dated - it wasn't like that; he was like a brother to me. To his family, I was the "adopted" daughter they never had. They had driving mules and I would go visit and help break in the new ones. What a time we had. Still, I noticed that there was a calmness about Eric, his mom had it too. I wondered why he didn't want to go to the parties.
One time when we were seniors I asked him to go party with me. He said, he could but he just didn't want too. When I asked him why, he said, "I don't need that, I have Jesus and that's all the partying I need." Well, needless to say I did not understand him. Others called him a "momma's boy". He didn't care - he was, he said. He was one of my best friends.
We neither one made it past state to the national high school finals our senior year. That was disappointing for both of us. But, we made plans to go to Texas. Eric's family was raising Texas Longhorns, and he wanted to start his herd. We planned to go after our freshman year in college, it was a fine dream we had.
I was on a partial rodeo scholarship - we practiced 3 nights a week. Not just practice, we exercised like we were on the football team. It was great! After practice we'd all head to a pool hall and shoot pool or play darts. Most drank, thank the Lord though - I hated (still do) the taste of beer. Eric went a couple times, until he saw them getting drunk and that was it for him.
College was tough for me. I worked a full time job feeding and doctoring bottle calves. Anytime we had bad weather, we had scours bad - most nights I didn't get home until 2 or 3. The Lord blessed me with an ability to read my assignments once and be able to remember for the tests. I was taking 2 years in one, I didn't have funds for both years, I think I had around 48-50 credits.
Our school's rodeo was coming up. We were all practicing like crazy, lots of schools came to this one. Our school had one of the top Jr college teams, so we had a target on our back. Eric came by that week. He rode bareback and roped. He drew the horse, "the Grey Lady". He was excited about her, she was a good horse for his sytle of riding. At that time, I would get so nervous I'd be sick for days - so he told me he'd been praying for me. Weird, I thought.
The day came, our first college rodeo. You'd think after all the years I'd been doing this I wouldn't have been so nervous but I was. I'd just gotten my hair cut - she was supposed to trim it and she cut off about 10 inches. I bawled. None of my hats fit, I was carrying a flag for the stock contractor and had no hat. I ran into Eric, he lent me his.
"You nervous?" he asked. He knew I was, because that was how I was. So when I nodded, he looked at my SHORT haircut and he said, "God knows everything that you are feeling, He can help you." I didn't know what to say, I just kissed him on the check and took off.
"But, I'm up in the first go, so hurry and get it back to me, I love ya." he yelled as I was climbing on.
"Love you too, ride hard out there tonite, k?" I said. I was running the stripping chute - taking the halters, riggins, and saddles off of the bucking horses so it would be easy to just run it over to him.
The grand entry was awesome. My horse wanted to fly, he was a bucking horse as well - but he was great to carry the flag on. The stands were completely full. We were on a high lope coming out of the arena when I saw Eric's brother - he was waiting for the hat. I handed it off, went and unsaddled my horse - put him in the rough stock pen and ran to the stripping chute.
They were rolling along when here comes Eric, he was the 4th one out. He rode her, we were on top of the chute, hollering and yelling for him. His score was 69. Then it all went into slow motion - he was jerking his hand out of the riggin and got off balance. He went off backwards and the mare still with her flank on, kicked him in the chest. This was before they wore the flack jackets. But I had seen cowboys down thousands of times, the ambulance would pull out there and lean over him - they'd help him up and everyone would cheer.
Not this time, I was taking the flanks off but wasn't paying much attention because my eyes were on the arena. His mom and dad were out there now, as well as both brothers. I felt terror, why isn't he getting up? WHY ISN'T HE GETTING UP? Another horse comes in, I take off the riggin - it's the Grey Lady. Her sides are heaving because when he went down they left her in the arena - the ambulance scared her and she ran circles until someone finally pushed her out. She was a very pretty gray, I notice - barely because I can't take my eyes off that cowboy lying in the dirt.
Panic sets in when I see them pounding on his chest. I look around and the tears start to fall. I pray, not sure what, but I prayed that he would just get up. He didn't. If I get off the chute, I can't see so I stay up there. Other team members climb up to watch with me. They see the tears, they all knew how close we are. Someone puts their arm around me, I cry harder.
Hope is fading as they bring out more paramedics to do compressions and the others load him into the ambulance. His mom can barely walk, his dad is visibly shaken. I want to run to them, for them to say, "He's fine! They're just checking him out." The entire arena is silent, for 15 minutes or so. I tell myself that it will be like all those other times - the announcer will get a message and he will tell us ".......ladies and gentlemen, I have just heard about Eric - he's gonna be just fine............."