Looking back now, she can’t remember if she wanted to be a cowgirl because she loved to go for rides out in the desert with her daddy on his bike, a little-girl-friendly Honda Trail 90, or because she and her daddy watched a Clint Eastwood movie together. All she knows is, when she was a very little girl, that’s what she wanted to be.
Of course, this changed time and time again, and today she is most definitely not at all, even a little bit of a cowgirl - at least not on the outside.
Her earliest memories, though, include many adventures with her daddy (and her mom, and her dog) out in the desert and the mountains of Arizona.
There was the time they left their house while it was still dark to cook breakfast out in the desert at sunrise, and they saw a gila monster for the first time in the wild. There was the time they went camping with friends who covered the little girl with horned lizards (possibly at her request, or at least with her approval) and thought it was the funniest and best thing. There was another time they went camping and she grabbed a hot lantern and burned her hands, and had to sit with them down in a cooler full of ice. There were wonderful summers in Greer, going on horseback rides through the woods, and hiking Mount Baldy, and watching afternoon thunderstorms. And there was the time she went fishing with her daddy, and another boy and his dad, and she thought her line had become hung up on a rock, but when her daddy came to check, it turned out to be a fish so big he had to land it for her, and the boy was so mad that a girl had caught the biggest fish that day.
She always thought it was amazing that they would take off on the bike for a ride (she sat behind her daddy with her arms around his waist), head out into the desert until she was sure they were lost and would never be able to find their way back, and would then pop out at the Pinnacle Peak General Store (where he would buy her an Ol’ Bob Miller’s Sasparilla) before heading home. So many times in the desert, in the woods, up on the rim (the Mogollon Rim, a favorite place of his) she would be absolutely sure they were lost, but her daddy always, always knew exactly how to get home.
When she was just nine, she and her daddy and her uncle hiked the Grand Canyon - down the Kaibab trail, camping at Phantom Ranch, and ascending the Bright Angel. She felt like such an accomplished outdoorswoman, but, much later, she realized that her daddy must have carried the bulk of her gear, and the food, and the water.
When she got older, and “Daddy” became “Dad”, and she wanted to have adventures of her own, he encouraged her every time. His favorite photos of her would be the ones she took in Mexico with a goat, and in Kenya, and even later, with her own children when they traveled the world together. He told her once that he was proud of the way she and her husband took their children all over, because traveling is “how you really get to know the world, and people, and yourself.”
Like her daddy, she loved the adventure of books. She thinks now that it must have amazed and slightly confused her more social mother that she and her dad could sit in quiet companionship, happily reading their own books, for quite a while.
And, like her daddy, she loved riding through the countryside, looking out the window at all of creation for hours, quietly imagining the events that might have occurred there, or what it would be like to live in that place. Driving the back roads became a favorite way to relax and have fun.
Before he walked her down the aisle on her wedding day (she would realize later that she had chosen to marry a man who was a lot like her dad, with his love of the outdoors, of fly fishing, of backpacking, of old cars, and of doing things right), the cowgirl’s daddy leaned down and kissed her on the cheek and said, “You chose well, kiddo.”
When she turned 40, her parents came to her house to help her celebrate, and her dad wanted to get her a special present, so they headed to the Boot Barn to purchase a pair of genuine cowboy boots. After trying on a few different styles, she found a pair of Ariats that looked they had already been nicely worn in, but also had a pink lining that appealed to the girl in her. When she showed her dad the ones she had chosen, he said, in his humorous way, “Those will help you to keep kicking ass in life.” She came to wear those boots when she had to do something scary, like give a talk in front of a crowd for the first time, and needed the extra courage the boots gave her. Every time she wore them, she was reminded of her dad, and how much he loved her, and how proud he was of her, and it made her a little less afraid.
Five days before the cowgirl’s daddy died, he called her on the phone to ask for her okay to print copies of a little article she had written so he and her mom could show it to their friends. He told her how much he liked it and what a good job she had done, and then, just before saying goodbye, he said, “Love ya, girl.” She remembered this later and considered it a huge gift, because although she had never, ever doubted that he loved her, he wasn’t one to say it out loud very often. And that, it turned out, was the very last thing the cowgirl’s daddy said to her.
So, when it came time to say goodbye to him on this earth, for this time, the cowgirl pulled up her boots, gave her daddy an eskimo kiss on the nose, and thanked him for making her who she is, grateful every single day that the cowgirl’s daddy was hers. She will always consider herself the most blessed daughter in the entire world.