Last week my mother and I took a trip to Denver. The route across central Montana and eastern Wyoming isn’t one of the more exciting drives in the world. Lots of farm fields. Lots of shadowy blue-gray mountains off in the distance. Lots of rocky bluffs that scream ‘rattlesnake crossing’. But just when things would start to get really dull, my mother would remember a story about a ranch we were passing by, or whatever little town we were passing through.
Lavina, MT is just north of Billings. One of those towns where any Copenhagen cowboy worth his salt can spit a wad of tobacco from one side of the city limits to the other. As we rolled past the bar/café/post office/gas station, Mom said, “That’s where the dog trapped your sister in the phone booth.”
Now this I had to hear.
The year was 1986. Our oldest sister had packed up one horse trailer and horses and moved to Augusta to teach grade school. I had nabbed the Circle J two horse trailer to drag my steed to college at Montana State. Which left Gina with the old single axle.
We still own the single axle. Considering my parents got it five years before they got me and every member of the family has rodeoed with it at some point in time, no one has the heart to sell it. But it’s not pretty.
The axle runs above the floor, meaning the horse has to step over it with his front feet when loading and unloading. After years of being spoiled by our newer trailers, I’m not sure any of the prima donnas we own now would even get in the thing. The white paint is scratched and faded, and the cloudy plastic window in the front has a crack down the middle. The tack room door sags and has warped to the point that there’s always a gap at the top, even when it’s shut. If it rains, water pools around your saddle blankets. Our gravel roads have scoured and dented the fenders, leaving them free to rust. And in order to protect the front of the trailer from the same fate, my dad wrapped it in all weather carpet.
Brown and black and white striped carpet.
Not that she was too cool for the single axle or anything, but Gina decided to take matters into her own hands. She happened to notice that the state high school rodeo queen got use of a brand new horse trailer for the duration of her reign, and the option to buy it cheap afterward. How cool was that? She decided to run for queen.
The plan worked perfectly. She won the district queen contest, and then the state title. And they presented her with a really nice…saddle.
But she did get to go on to Rapid City, South Dakota to represent the great state of Montana at the national high school finals. We even let her take the newest horse trailer, figuring it was only right for royalty and all. She also arranged to call in rodeo results to the local radio station all through the week.
Which was how she ended up in a phone booth in Lavina. They were on their way home from Rapid City on the morning after the national finals ended, and she had to stop and call the radio station. Spotting a phone booth, they pulled into the dusty parking lot next to the bar/café/post office/gas station. She grabbed her notes and proceeded to make her call.
As she rattled off the placings for all twelve events, a dog hoisted itself up out of the shade of a nearby tree, wandered across the parking lot and ambled toward her. Which was when she realized that the phone booth had no door. But no worries. The dog seemed friendly. It strolled up, wagging its tail. Just checking to see who was passing through town.
Maybe it didn’t like the way she smelled. Maybe it had something against the monarchy. Whatever the reason, it curled its lip. And growled. She smashed up against the back corner of the phone booth. The dog slunk closer. And growled some more. She rushed through the last of the rodeo results and slammed down the receiver.
The dog attacked.
Its teeth grazed her shin through her jeans. She vaulted out of the phone booth, hurdled the dog, and outsprinted it to the motorhome.
Pretty slick moves for a queen.