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Rednecks November 20, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises.
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Writing prompt (came late in the week from one of my sisters, so I just got to it when I could): Choose one of the following and go for it:  Can you imagine all those red necks? / Who’s the un-named 4th here, I wonder?  / Too easy to gloss over.


“I don’t want to go-o-o-o-o!” the little girl wailed tearfully, as her mother dragged her through the supermarket car park. Every single thing about the child was reluctant, and except for the unmistakable likeness between them, I’d have wondered if the woman was abducting the child.

The back of my car was groaning with groceries, and I lifted the last laden carry-bag out of the trolley and stowed it safely, just as they neared where I was parked.

“I don’t want to g-o-o-o-o-o!” the little girl wailed again, tugging uselessly on her mother’s hand, trying to break free.

By the time I’d stowed my trolley in the return rack and was almost back to my car, a full-scale tantrum was in place, right behind my vehicle. The mother, looking more harried and frazzled by the minute, was trying to lift the child into her arms, but there clearly wasn’t a co-operative bone in the girl’s body, and she was alternating between vigorous kicks of objection and limp, slippery resistance.

“Goodness me!” I exclaimed heartily as I drew near, aiming my tone somewhere between intrusive for the little girl and sympathetic for the poor mother. “What’s going on here? Don’t want to go visit Granny, perhaps?” I suggested to the mother.

When my eyes had first been drawn to the tantrum, the mother had looked young and pretty, in slender jeans and a patterned tank top, with her blonded hair pulled back into a neat ponytail. Now, strands of hair clotted against her sweat-damp skin, and her carefully applied make-up looked like it was melting in the sun.

“Oh, is this your car?” the young woman apologised, seeing my car keys in my hand. “Come on Becky honey, we have to get out  of the lady’s way.” Her tone was weary and defeated, poor thing.

Becky was clearly paying attention to my presence, but she was still making one heck of a racket. I aimed my next words at her.

“Becky, does Mummy even know what the problem is here?” I enquired, using my best former school-marm tone of authority – the one that’s designed to communicate: stop this nonsense and talk to me properly, young lady!

Mummy answered for Becky. “We’re going to the rodeo,” she sighed. “Becky was fine with it until the bloke in the supermarket called them a bunch of rednecks and told her they were cruel to animals. Now she doesn’t want to go.”

“Obviously!” I said, somewhat drily. “Becky, I need you to stop this performance and listen to me,” I said sharply, hoping what I wanted to do was okay with her mother. Mum didn’t object, so I could only assume that it was.

Becky sat around with her legs crossed, after a moment or two, and looked up at me, like a sullen child in a kindergarten class. My guess was that she was a bit older than that, but she clearly recognised the tone of voice.

I opened the tailgate of my station wagon, and patted it, for Becky to sit up on it, closer to eye level, just so that I wasn’t too imposing. Her mum helped her up, and continued to hold her hand while I formulated my words. I ferreted around in box and found some apples, gave one a rub on my shirtfront, and offered it to her. She munched into it happily enough.

“Do you know,” I began, “I’m going out to the rodeo myself!”

“You are?” Becky looked me up and down dubiously. I don’t suppose I fitted the image of the average person attending a rodeo: ironed, good quality slacks, teamed with a light knitted cotton top, with pearls at my neck and good quality leather boots on my feet.

“Yes,” I replied firmly. “My son rides in rodeos, and this is his home show.” I glanced up at the mother. “I help run one of the food stalls out there, just when he’s in town.”

“Oh, Becky’s dad used to ride!” her mother said, a little sadly, I thought.

“But he’s dead,” Becky said flatly, more as a statement of fact than an emotional recollection of truth.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I aimed at the mother, hoping I hadn’t brought up anything awkward.

“It’s okay,” she said softly. “It wasn’t anything to do with rodeos. He got in a fight in a pub and got hit the wrong way. It was back when I was pregnant with Becky, so she doesn’t even remember him.”

“I’m sorry,” I said again, gently this time, and direct to the young woman who suddenly appeared so vulnerable.

To ease the awkwardness of the moment, I turned my attention back to Becky. “Do you know, Becky, that my son tells me that some horses just love to kick? Some horses are really wonderful at jumping, and others are incredible runners, but others are truly just amazing at bucking, and those are the horses that are chosen to be used at rodeos. And when they’re not in the arena, they’re really treated very well indeed. These days there are all sorts of regulations about how animals have to be treated, and they have inspectors who come to every rodeo, just to make sure that the animals are being treated properly.”

Becky was clearly disbelieving, but she chewed on her apple and nodded sagely. “But why do all the men have red necks?” she asked, as if that was the really troublesome question.

Despite myself, I laughed. “Probably because they’re all silly and butch and don’t like to put sunscreen on at all, let alone on their necks!” I exclaimed, thinking of my own tough-nut son and all the lectures I’d given him about sunscreen over the years.

“So is your son a redneck?” Becky wanted to know. I could tell by the change in her tone, and the cessation of her sniffing, that she was wondering about changing her mind about aborting their plans for the day.

Her mum seemed to seize on the idea, and laughed aloud. “Oh Becky! Can you imagine all those red necks? And all because they’re too butch to wear sunscreen!”

Becky eyed her suspiciously, then turned back to me, waiting for the answer to her question.

I was laughing, too. “When Adam forgets his sunscreen, yes!” I told her. “But he’s not a real redneck. He was educated at a private school and played piano and sang in a boys choir until he was a teenager. Then he learned to ride horses and did proper dressage, and at one stage we even thought he’d go to the Olympics.”

On the other side of my car’s tailgate, Becky’s mum gave a disbelieving little chortle. “So how did he get from gymkhanas to riding at rodeos?”

With a shrug and a resigned smile I told her, “We sent him off to my brother-in-law’s property one summer to get a taste of country life, and he helped them break in a bunch of new horses. He did jackerooing for years when he left high school, and somehow ended up riding in rodeos. Not what his father and I would have chosen for him, but he’s very happy, so what more can we ask?”

We chatted a little longer, and finally I realised that I’d be very late helping get everything ready if I didn’t get a move on. Becky seemed happy to attend the rodeo again, and I told her mother where to find our stall if she wanted some healthy food for them during the day.

They did come to visit me to buy some lunch, and Becky seemed to be having a whale of a time. I saw my large, sweaty son soon after that, too – his neck predictably red.

“Do me a favour,” I said, pushing him away from his sweat-sticky bear hug and looking up into his laughing blue eyes. “See that young blonde woman over there with the little girl?”

His eyes followed the direction I pointed in. “Whew! Too right!” he breathed. It hadn’t occurred to me before that jBecky’s mum would be considered pretty hot stuff by the likes of my son.

“Go over and tell them you’re my son,” I suggested, staying focused on my own intentions, “and show your bright red neck to the little girl. Her name’s Becky.”

He didn’t waste any time complying, and I continued to serve hungry, thirsty customers while I kept an eye on my son and his introductions just a little way away. He pointed in my direction soon after his arrival at the table where Becky and her mum were sitting, so I waved when they looked, but then they all seemed so enthralled with each other for the next hour after that, that I doubt they remembered I was there.

When I saw Adam stand to leave, at the call over the tannoy for the next round of riders, Becky’s mum stood too, hastily scribbled on a piece of paper and handed it to my son. Then he bowed with comical panache and proffered his hand to take Becky’s which he promptly turned and kissed. It was that gesture that reminded me, he’d always said he’d have a ready-made family, or none at all.

I felt quietly pleased with how the day had unfolded, I have to say. Having a ‘redneck’ for a son might not turn out to be the void-of-grandchildren wasteland I’d long feared, after all.