Free Ice Water

When I was about 8, I think, we drove on our first family vacation out west. I remember the Corn Palace. Wall Drug. Deadwood. Mount Rushmore. Black Hills.. the trip went on.

Black Hills sign

I didn’t like it at the time. I didn’t like the wide open spaces. I thought it was hokey we stopped in a town just because they were advertising ‘Free Ice Water’. Why would someone do that, I thought. Everyone serves free ice water. I had no intention on ever coming back. To Wall Drug. Or “out west”. Not on purpose anyway. Looking as far as the eye could see on much of that trip with no one in sight, meant to me, we would most likely get a flat tire somewhere or attacked by prairie dogs. Cell phones didn’t exist. We’d shrivel up and die and no one would ever find us. I wanted to get back home to Wisconsin. Where there were people around. People that would see if anything were ever to happen to us. And they would be there to help.

………..

We were in Wall again last weekend. Chances are, you probably don’t even know the town is called Wall. Not Wall Drug. Because the town’s done such a great job marketing itself and the free ice water.

Anyway, I had a minor freak out moment the first night we got there, to myself, as I soaked up the scene around me. Sitting that night on the back patio of what is now a family member’s home just a block away from the Drug Store, I remembered the scene described above and thought to myself, am I really here? Living like a local? WTH? How did this happen? I could hear and see people talking and laughing and having a beer around me but everything was muffled and distant. My mind started racing through major life events between my childhood and now.

I snapped quickly back into how awesome this new reality is.

………..

While we live in eastern South Dakota, a big part of the Cowboy’s family is from the Wall area.

The Cowboy and one of his brothers pointing out to kids, a family photo in one of Wall Drug Store's back hallways..

The Cowboy and one of his brothers showing kids a family photo in one of Wall Drug Store’s back hallways..

There is incredible history to both his family here and to the area that I feel people miss, unfortunately due to all the trinket shops that line the main street through town. Wall wouldn’t be what it is without this couple block stretch so don’t get me wrong. It’s a ton of fun, tourists coming through each year sustain this little community of incredible, hard-working people and we’ve enjoyed all Wall has to offer each time we’ve gone now to visit.

But here’s the deal: I walked over early last Friday to the Drug Store. I wanted a cup of coffee and a quiet spot to get some work done. I ended up ‘out back’, where I was told I could find both.

Despite how many times I’ve been back to Wall as an adult, as a single mom bringing her daughter back for the same childhood experience I had myself and in the times I’ve been here with the Cowboy, I’ve never seen what I did that morning.

Through the Alley ...

Through the Alley …

All was quiet. The walls weren’t yet masked with throngs of families working their way through the buildings. And it was there, for the first time, I sincerely saw it. History. So much history of that area. Photos of families. Of pioneers. Of ranchers. Of the Native American culture that is still so very genuinely present. A culture there people are proud of. That often gets lost, understandably, in all the shopping, stretching of legs on perhaps an otherwise long road trip, of needing to feed the kids that are screaming and not feeling up for a history lesson.

But what a part of Wall you are missing ..

Speaking of something else you may be missing on a rushed trip through the area, the locals. Met two this past weekend, writing about tomorrow. So much for getting a whole lot of work done that morning.

Can’t wait to go back.

Foothills Rodeo ..

His old roping partner called him up about three weeks ago ..

Foothills Rodeo.

He was going to be back in town and thought it would be fun to enter.

The Cowboy didn’t want to do it.  Doesn’t like the thought of ‘doing something half-assed,’ he always tells me.  Or putting money up to rope when he hasn’t been working at it.

The Cowboy hasn’t been doing much rodeoing for a couple years now.. since the divorce and especially this past year.  Many weekends are spent on the road between South Dakota and Wisconsin.  To which I am grateful for, but I know they have put a serious dent in what used to be his lifestyle.

He told me about the call.

“C’mon,” I said.  “It’ll be fun .. plus, I’ve seen you teach others how to do it, I’d love to go watch you actually rope.  And I’ll be at the ranch that weekend.”

Reluctantly, I believe, he agreed to go.

…………………

We all piled into one of the Cowboy’s best buddies trucks just before noon Sunday, me, the Cowboy, Scuba Steve and his pregnant wife, and Little Brother Trucker ( .. his partner.  They’re going to kill me for the names.) yesterday, horses in tow and headed for the Foothills Rodeo.

“You’re on the hot and dusty now,” said the Cowboy.  Laughing.

It wasn’t long .. stories started flying about their history together.  Their travels.  Their friendships.  And all the things they would do to one another while on the road.  The Cowboy says these are among the best friends he has in the whole world.  He’s spent a lot of time with them over the years and he laughs as he tells me, you really get to know someone after spending 48 hours together in the same vehicle, sleeping in same bed, living in 5×5 quarters.  You have to learn a lot of coping skills on how to get along.

For them, and I would assume many others in their shoes, it’s meant a lot of pranks and joking around.

And it literally didn’t take long for the sh*t to start flying yesterday.  We no more than parked on rodeo grounds.  They get the horses out and the Cowboy goes back into the horse part of the trailer to take .. um, use the facilities.  Just number one for the record.  (If the horses can do it, why can’t they?  Had never thought of that.)  The trucker locks him in.  Apparently this is a regular thing they do, or did in the past .. to each other.

The Cowboy says, “Remember what I did to your brother the last time he did that to me?”

“N …” says the Trucker.

But before he could even finish that one small word, a wad of horse sh*t schmucked his shoulder and face.  We all bust out laughing and immediately starting wondering, worrying a bit actually what the Trucker would do now, to get him back.

Thankfully he had brought another shirt.

The rodeo came and went.  None of them did as well as they had hoped.  But where they may have taken it hard in the past, life has them all in some very different places now.  And it seemed …

.. they were just happy to be back together.

Win or lose.

Even locked in with the horses again.

You would have thought the bathroom at the restaurant where we stopped for dinner on the way home would have been as easy to use as the back of the trailer .. but Scuba Steve’s pregnant wife, who was about fed up with the teasing, decided it was too easy two of them were standing in there bonding with the horses, again.  She locked em in.  Said to the rest of us, get in the truck.  And away we drove ….

Looking forward to the next rodeo.