I love traveling to different countries because I thoroughly enjoy experiencing different cultures...the food, the language, the music, the architecture, the clothing, the people...the whole atmosphere.
But sometimes you don't have to go very far to experience a culture change...sometimes driving just 10 miles from home can take you to a whole new world.
Last night Jeff and I and all four kids (which was culture shock in itself---that all four kids would actually be home and want to go somewhere with us!!) celebrated the 4th of July in a whole new way...at a rodeo.
We live just a few miles away from the bustling town of St. Paul, Oregon, population 425. But this tiny town is host to one of the largest rodeos in America, which takes place every 4th of July. And even though it's practically in my backyard, I've never attended.
This year we thought we'd do something different to celebrate the holiday...we'd try out the rodeo! What I didn't realize is that the rodeo wouldn't be just a change of activity but a change in culture. There was a whole new world just down the road that I never knew existed!
We all wore some form of red, white or blue. The boys were very subtle...they never want to stand out. We girls were a little more unabashed...Anna wore a t-shirt that was the American flag, Kate wore a white top, blue jeans, and a big red bow in her hair, and I wore a red sweater with the American flag knitted on the front and my stars and stripes flip-flops and painted my toenails red, white and blue.
Okay, so we stuck out a little.
We had been wearing shorts earlier in the day when we barbequed at my mom's place, but we changed into jeans before leaving, anticipating a change to cooler temperatures by the time the fireworks started later that night. I didn't realize until about halfway there that Anna had also changed her shirt and shoes...to a denim shirt and cowboy boots. Out of our whole family, she was the only one who had ever attended the rodeo, and obviously she was "in the know."
I knew there would be cowboy boots, cowboy hats, bandanas, plaid shirts and Wrangler jeans, I just didn't think they'd be on everybody. Even the teenage girls, who were definitely out to lassoo themselves a cowboy, had "westernized" their skimpy attire from short-shorts, spaghetti-strap tops and flip-flops to denim cut-off shorts, plaid spaghetti strap tops and cowboy boots. Toddlers wore pint-sized cowboy hats, and all the men had big belt buckles to hold up their jeans under their beer bellies. Jeff's plaid bermuda shorts and sandals looked a little odd (but at least he wasn't as bright as me in my fireworks-red sweater!).
We arrived just in time for the singing of the American anthem, complete with horse and rider carrying the American flag, running around the corral. We paid our respects and then climbed the bleachers to our seats.
Then a very enthusiastic announcer started chattering, the music started blasting, and "BANG" the gate opened and a bronco burst into the arena. Wow! That was more exciting than we thought! We looked at each other in pleasant surprise, picking up the excitement of those around us. BANG! Another gate swung open and dust flew as the next horse and rider kicked their way into view. But after about three riders, we started to notice there was a lull in the action. It took quite awhile for each rider to mount the wild-eyed bronco squeezed between the walls of the stall, get situated in the special saddle, get the reins wrapped around his hand just so, and then give the signal to go. In between each ride, the announcer would cheerily make random comments and natter to the crowd or the silly clown running around the arena. The music played and the people seemed entranced, but our interest was quickly waning. Jeff leaned over and told me he was having trouble breathing. I asked Tyler how he was doing and he said he too was tightening up. Both of them have allergies, and this arena was the mother of all allergens! Hay, dust, animals, clover, old covered wooden bandstand built in the early 1900s, cigarette smoke...all swirling around us like an invisible tornado. But we held our seats and our tongues and kept watching.
The announcer became more enthusiastic the longer the delays in between riders and events. He made all kinds of red-neck jokes...not about red-necks, for red-necks! In other words, he was making fun of people like us...city slickers, democrats (even though I'm not one, I sure felt like one!), and people who don't know how to ride a horse or wear a hat. Then he moved on to jokes about the president, Indians and gays...and everyone cheered. I have never been to a public event that large where someone openly and publically bashed politically-protected groups in a very non politically-correct manner. We looked at each other uneasily, feeling like we must have "Portland People" stamped across our foreheads. That was when I realized I had entered a totally foreign culture. Some of the things the announcer said I might have even agreed with, but not in that openly mocking manner. I wished I had a cowboy hat to pull down over my city-girl hair and red lipstick.
I do have to confess that I laughed at one point...it was a spoof, a little skit to divert everyone while they prepared for the next event. When the punch line of the 10-minute skit was delivered, I was surprised at how a seemingly silly and meaningless little play came together with a 1-2 punch that left everyone over the age of 40 bustin' a gut. Now my kids looked at me like I had been looking at everyone else: "Are you kidding, Mom? You actually think this is funny? Where are you from?" I tried three times to explain it to them, but they just didn't get it. All I could say in my defense was, "That was really funny."
When the show was almost over, we left to beat the crowd to the fireworks. We walked into the fresh night air and the guys tried to breathe deep enough to clear away the dust and dander tickling their throats and tormenting their lungs. We hit the midway. The smell was intoxicating...I stopped between three booths, which happened to be all my fair favorites---curly fries, kettle corn and elephant ears---and just sniffed. If it wasn't so late at night and I hadn't pigged out on a big 4th of July barbeque earlier that evening, I would have splurged. But then Kate, the only one in the family with money, bought a huge sugar-cinnamon elephant ear, and we all tore that thing apart with our greedy little hands and devoured it just standing there in the middle of the lane. When we were done, we licked our sticky fingers and wiped them on our jeans, cowboy style! Then we waded into the stream of people flowing towards the fireworks and headed back to the clover field where we had parked the car. We would have just watched the show from there, but we had to get the boys out of the dirt and weeds and onto some city pavement, so we drove across the street to the high school parking lot and parked there. We huddled together in the cooling night air, which felt cooler than it should have because we had started out so hot and sticky in the trapped heat of the bandstand on a warm July day. Then the fireworks started and it finally felt like the 4th of July...sort of. They only shot one firework at a time, and then not even very big ones. We stood there longer than we should have, waiting for it to get better, but it didn't. Finally, the boys managed to pull us into the car and we hit the highway and headed home, under a very full and brilliant yellow moon...more stunning than any of the fireworks. We laughed, talked and reminisced all the way back to the big city of Newberg, population 25,000, which for the first time ever, felt quite civilized and modern!
So we ate the food, spoke the language, listened to the music, laughed at the inside jokes, and tried for a night to assimilate into another culture. We may have rolled our eyes a few times (and had a few eyes rolled at us!), but I think when we look back on various 4th of Julys through the years, we will always remember this one!