Rodeo Time Stirs Memories

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Lesli NolenBy Lesli Nolen
February 2010

If you haven’t noticed, it’s Stock Show and Rodeo time here in San Angelo, Texas. And this has to be one of my favorite events of the year.

Growing up in Ralls, America (a small town east of Lubbock), the annual rodeo was the social event of the year. Our rodeo was in August so it was the last big event before going back to school. It was a time to hang out, watch the cowboys and cowgirls and eat chili dogs, popcorn and cotton candy. But for me and my family the rodeo and its preparation began long before opening night.

My dad was a Lions Club member for 20-plus years. For 14 of those years he was rodeo boss and was rodeo chairman the six years before that. So we got to see all the ins and outs of what it actually took to make the event a successful one. Dad was in charge of  hiring the announcer, secretary, clowns, the stock, etc. He also had to make sure all the jobs necessary for putting on the rodeo were filled, including his job which was pulling the gates for the broncs and bulls. There were times I can remember when as soon as one rodeo was over he was already working on next year’s. And he also had the job of making sure his girls and our horses were ready for the rodeo, too.

My sister and I washed and combed our horses to a shine. Dad would shoe our horses and get them ready for the parade and rodeo. Mom would take care of the other important details, making sure we looked just as good as our horses. She starched our clothes to a crisp, curled our hair and made sure our hats were creased just right. Growing up in the country and being around horses all our lives wasn’t anything new to us, but the rodeo was always special to us for a number  of reasons.

Lesli Nunley Nolen reigned as Rodeo Queen of the 1993 Ralls, America, rodeo.For many years, during the rodeo my sister performed a choreographed  routine to the music of Johnny Cash. With the lights out and the spotlight on and the old ragged flag in hand she circled the arena in perfect sync to the music. I still get the chills every time I think about it. I was so proud of her. My sister also reigned as Rodeo Queen in 1991. I never did the spotlight presentation, but I did get to be queen. I was Rodeo Queen in 1993 and was Lions Club Queen the year before.

There were also times during the rodeo when we got to join in the acts with the clowns. We got to drive a old beat up car or hide in a barrel. We even got to dress up and sit in the stands and be the butt-end of the joke. Actually, I think that one was my husband. He dressed up as a woman. He wore a nice wig, big boobs and a rear end that was as big as the back of an old Chevy! It was hilarious.

Throughout the years we met a lot of people in the rodeo circuit. Many of them came and went but the two of the most precious people I’ve ever met were our rodeo announcer and secretary. They worked our annual rodeo for many years. They were not only the best in the business, they were family.  

My favorite tradition of the rodeo was on Friday night. After the rodeo and slack, mom and dad invited everyone to our house for breakfast. I’m talking sausage, bacon, eggs, homemade biscuits and gravy. It was not out of the ordinary to have 50 to 60 people at our house on Friday night. But that’s just what my parents did—they opened their home and their hearts to everyone. It was their way of saying thank you to the volunteers and participants for all the hard work they do at the rodeo. And thank goodness, Saturday’s rodeo performance didn’t start until 8 p.m., because many times we were just going to bed as the sun was coming up on Saturday morning. But I wouldn’t change a thing. Those were some of the best days of my life.

No matter where or when a rodeo takes place, it will always be special to me. I love to sit in the stands and watch the performances and thank God for the mile marker in my life, for I know all the hard work that has gone into the event. I watch the clowns and wonder where they’ve been and who all they’ve met. I watch the Ambassadors and know they have worked for many months trying to perfect their routine. The announcer, the secretary, the cowboys—they all have a story and I only hope theirs will stay with them forever as mine has.

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