Opinion: Finding Meaning

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Cowgirl’s Passing Invites Memories

Here’s a story for all you horse lovers and western fans. One of my childhood joys was visiting the cattle ranches my Uncle Fred managed. Fred loved the cowboy life, so it was natural he would have a few sons to cowboy with him. The good Lord must like a joke for he sent Fred four daughters instead. The older two were around the age of my two older sisters and I. On our family visits, we developed a cousin bond that matured with the passing years. The other day one, cousin Carolyn, died unexpectedly and we wondered how to honor her passing in the time of the coronavirus. It turned out that in the cowboy world, there’s always a way.

Uncle Fred’s daughters grew up riding and ranching; horses were part of most family events. The only real difference between these girls and sons was that beside winning rodeo events, they might be the rodeo queen too. When my uncle left ranching to start a livestock trucking company, his daughters learned to drive his 18-wheeler cattle trucks. It seems that western life raises strong women.

As they got older they competed in team penning, a rodeo speed event that requires three riders to separate three yearling calves from a herd and move them into a pen at the other end of the arena. My cousins were good at this, often winning, which leads to a story. After winning one event a losing team of men turned into sore losers, starting an argument and threatening my cousins. They apparently hadn’t reckoned that the girls had husbands and a punch sent the loudest loser sprawling. The resulting melee became a favorite family story.

After Carolyn mastered team penning, she turned to cutting and was a founder of the Gold Country Cutting Horse Association. She also loved fishing and was willing to get up early to catch the first fish, and stay late to be sure she had the biggest fish. Despite her competitive spirit, Carolyn was most remembered for her belief in family, kindness to others, and loyalty to friends.

In order to show their respects for Carolyn’s passing, cowboy creativity was applied to social distancing at the graveside service and memorial assembly that followed. I thought her family and friends made a handsome showing in their cowboy boots, Wranglers, big belt buckles, and cowboy hats. Before the service began, a horse trailer pulled up with what I presumed to be her cutting horse. A eulogy and prayer was offered. A friend from her high school class showed up to add a bagpipe closing as the coffin was lowered into the ground.

Our cousin Carolyn has moved on. I imagine her riding into the sunset on her favorite horse, pausing on the horizon to look back at all that was sweet and wonderful in her life, tipping her hat in the cowboy salute, then turning and loping towards the new gate opening before her. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email:  [email protected]

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