Family Matters (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Last week, I was in Houston attending my grandfather-in-law’s 90th birthday party. The party was held at the very nice retirement home where he lives, in a room full of friends and family who had gathered together from all over the United States. Two men came up and introduced themselves to me as his fishing buddies. Every year, the three of them would go to Mexico and fish for a week, but they hadn’t been in several years. Both men were in their sixties, one from Carlsbad, NM and the other from Phoenix, AZ, and they had traveled all that way for a two-hour birthday party. When I told them that they didn’t have to do that, they both assured me they would not have missed it for the world.

That started me thinking about my family and how close we are. This year, I will compete against three of my nephews at the NFR, which is a truly unique situation. I will go into the heat of battle with some of the people I love most in the world, but will compete against them. Today I watched my seven-year-old back his pony into the box and chase some calves across the arena. I can remember when my nephews were young and were doing that very same thing, and now we’re all roping together at the biggest rodeo in the world! The only thing that could have made it any better, is if my other nephew, Stetson, had made it too. I can envision us all being there together next year.

As a family, we are very close and support each other 100 percent, but we do not get in the practice pen together to compare notes. As close as we are, we are very different individuals and rope differently. You have to put in your time and figure it out for yourself. These boys have learned, as I did before them, that there is no short cut to success; it’s a lot of hard work. I guess that’s the one common denominator we all share: knowing it takes hard work and not being afraid of it.

Though I’m always proud of their accomplishments, I’m more proud of the way they carry themselves in and out of the arena. I’m more proud of the men they’ve become than I am of them for qualifying for the National Finals. That’s why I root for them, because I know their heart is pure and good. That’s what makes me such a big fan.

Don’t be mistaken; we’re all going to Las Vegas with gold buckle dreams and everything that goes along with that. No matter what happens, at the end of the year we will all meet op again to share Christmas dinner and then have our annual family ping-pong tournament.