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Irons in the fire: You did good

Paul Marchant for Progressive Cattle Published on 25 August 2020

The first week in August can be hot in Mud Lake, Idaho. It’s not Arizona or Mississippi hot, but it’s a hot that can wear you down, especially if you’re 9 years old and showing your first hog at the county fair.

He was just a little kid, even for a 9-year-old. He looked sharp in his light blue, pearl-snap shirt with the top button done up and his short-cropped hair as perfectly coiffed as his nervous mother could make it. We were getting close to the end of the junior swine showmanship class – and I, as the judge, could see this young cowboy was hanging on as tightly as he could to the knot at the end of his rope. Hot weather and cantankerous pigs don’t mix all that well, and the poor kid was fighting back tears with everything he had. He wanted to win, but he knew it wasn’t going to happen on this day.

As I dismissed the class from the ring, I could hear and feel the positive words of encouragement drift into the show ring from his anxious and proud young mother. Before he slipped through the gate, I put my hand on his shoulder and said to him, “You did good.”

Now, I know “good” is an adjective, and the proper word for me to use should have been the adverb “well.” But I also felt like I knew what that tow-headed little kid needed to hear at that moment, and he needed to be reassured he’d done well, spoken in the vernacular that would resonate with him. So, I told him he did good.

After the champions had been crowned, I hopped in my pickup and began the three-plus-hour drive home. I’d planned to take the old highway back down through the rough desert country around Arco so I could avoid the freeway construction over by Pocatello. But my frugal nature overruled my disdain for freeway traffic, and I headed back east toward Idaho Falls because I figured diesel would be at least five cents cheaper somewhere along the freeway than it would be in the cow towns along the old highway.

I’d missed a call or two during the show so, as I hit the road, I hit the redial button as well. I made a call to Todd who, like me, has been on our own county fair board for several years longer than good sense would dictate. Amid the corona-induced chaos of the past several months, our efforts to actually pull everything together and produce a county fair were met with stiff resistance and unforeseen cheap shots and uppercuts at every turn.

Todd, though, had some rare pleasant news. He’d been to the courthouse to visit with the county attorney in an attempt to get some clarification and hopefully find some resolution to a few nasty little minor squabbles we’d been wading through. To everyone’s surprise, some hardline opinions had miraculously altered and converged onto the same path. Battles we’d been fighting for weeks had now suddenly vanished, and perceived foes were now friends again.

The attorney, himself a local farm boy and sorry team roper prior to his esquire days, offered some off-the-record wisdom. He suggested that perhaps, after we’ve done all we think we can do, if we’re quiet and we listen, just maybe a wiser, higher power may intervene and give us a reprieve and, more importantly, some hope that can carry us on to the next battle.

As I approached the freeway, it struck me that maybe I should swing on over to Ammon and stop in at my son and daughter-in-law’s place. It would cost me several dozen extra miles and a couple of hours I really didn’t have to spare, but I’d get to see some grandkids, if only for a minute. I knew my son would be at work, and not everyone appreciates an unannounced pop-in. Nevertheless, I made my way through downtown Idaho Falls and slipped on over into Ammon without calling my daughter-in-law.

I knocked on the door and waited for an eternally long minute before I could hear some movement inside the house. When the door finally opened, my tender-hearted daughter-in-law burst into tears as she threw her arms around me and wrapped me in a 10-second hug.

“I’m so glad to see you,” she uttered through muffled sobs. “Life sucks, and I just needed a dad today.”

Under most circumstances, I’m about as affectionate as a cedar post. It’s just not in my wheelhouse, and it’s a good 10 yards from my comfort zone. But this hug was OK, and I was happy to reciprocate, as I gave her a kiss on the forehead. We spent an hour discussing overpriced plumbers and how much trouble a 14-month-old toddler can get into before I loaded up and hit the road again.

I clicked on some old Don Williams and George Strait tunes from my playlist and headed for home. I just drove and listened. And, as I listened, I’m pretty sure I heard a soft, yet strong and reassuring voice whisper to me, “You did good.”  end mark

Paul Marchant is a cowboy and part-time freelance writer based in southern Idaho. Follow him on Twitter, or email Paul Marchant.

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