He was totally different in teaching his grandchildren to ride horses. He would barrow ponies from a friend so that the kids would have a good riding experience. He would ensure their safety by walking miles with the lead rope in hand and the kids on the horse following behind. Just this summer he took Caleb and Colter for their first real ride. They got to ride at ages 8 and 9 independent of the lead rope up the canyon. He wanted to take them up a mountainside but luckily Cathie was there to remind him that they were beginners. Caleb almost always dressed up as a cowboy to go visit Grandma and Grandpa.
When I was little I wanted to grow up to be a rodeo queen. I’m sure that came from my dad’s influence. We lived in Soda Springs until I was almost 9 and I remember riding all the time with dad before he got stressed out with the work of the dairy when we moved to Preston. We would ride through the Bear River to go and check the cattle. I also liked riding with him on the first day of deer hunting season each year. I hoped that he would not even spot a buck. I didn’t want to deal with any shooting. I just enjoyed the ride.
Dad was always a cowboy. He farmed to try to make a living but horses and cattle are what he loved, not so much farming. He rode bulls until he was 30. I remember his last bull ride and the ambulance coming to get him. I was sitting in the stand with mom and she was not happy with him. It seemed like he was hurt more often than not when I was a kid. Of course there was the nerve damage from riding bulls. I also remember his hand being crushed once from the jack falling on a truck. I remember him being on disability from a terrible phosphate burn he got working. I also remember a broken hand from attempting to punch a cow and hitting a metal bar instead. The most traumatic for me was when I was a senior in High School he had tumors growing in his jaw that required his jaw to be removed and replaced with a portion of his hip. The jaw tumors came as a result of a childhood bus accident where he broke his jaw and femur and spent two months at Primary Children’s Hospital. To say my dad was accident-prone would be a vast understatement. His hands were very shaky in his later life due to all of those accidents.
My favorite game to play as a kid was “bucking bull.” Dad was always the bull. Christie, Cathie and I would take turns being the cowgirl and the other two girls would be the clowns. The job of the clowns would be to protect the cowgirl when she fell off of the bull. Dad taught us to keep our left arm in the air and to say “let em’ out” when we were ready to ride. He would kick and spin and bunt us with his head. It was so fun! With the grandkids he was more like a slow old mare, but it was still fun.
I remember mom and dad organizing a “Ward Rodeo” for a ward party when I was 7 or 8. (I’m sure it was mostly mom that did the organizing.) Dad helped me practice barrel racing and pole racing for what seemed like all summer. We both loved it. I knew I was going to win. Just before the rodeo there was some sickness that my horse got and I had to ride the neighbor’s horse with a little colt. I kicked and kicked but couldn’t get that horse to go. It was disappointing for me, but dad was still proud of his little cowgirl.
Dad loved taking us to the rodeos. I am sure that he was the best cheerer in the stand. I even remember occasionally having him called out by the announcer since he could be heard over the entire crowd. He was so proud when I was in the Days of 47 Royalty. We had box seats for the rodeo at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, and that was one event he wouldn’t miss. I didn’t get to ride into the arena on a horse but I did ride around the arena each night in a convertible, waving and smiling on the jumbotron--it was the next best thing to being a rodeo queen.
One special bond that dad and I had was showing dairy cattle. He went a smarter route with the other kids and raised beef cattle for the fair so they could make some money, but I was the dairy kid. He helped me to show a bucket calf each year, and one year I won a registered heifer named Trix for having the most improved project. Trix had many calves over the years, and I used the money from selling her calves to help pay for college. He was proud of that heifer and even helped me to show her at black and white days in Richmond.
My dad always had a dog or two. My childhood dog was named Duchess. I really loved her, as did dad. I remember Peppy who was appropriately named and got himself in trouble a few too many times chasing cars. Usually dad’s dogs were cattle dogs, but there was a time where his best dog was the poodle, Puffy, pictured on top of his car. Dad wasn’t prejudiced with people or with dogs and took the teasing from his friends as a compliment.
The dad of my childhood was always working. He ran a small dairy from the time I was 8 until after I graduated from high school. He didn’t love the dairy, but he was trying to be a hero to his family by saving his dad’s farm and provide a living for his family. He worked day and night. Unfortunately working is what he was really good at, but money management and business were not his strengths. He did teach us kids how to work though. In high school my chore days were Saturday and Sunday so I woke up every weekend to feed calves and help with the chores. I also learned at a young age how to drive tractor and truck. He would put me in the front of his truck to drive, starting before I could even see over the steering wheel. He would put it in a low gear and I would make a loop around the field while he threw hay off the back of the truck for the cattle.
Dad was an early riser and felt that everyone else should be too. Of course when I was growing up he would get up at 4:30 to milk cows and would stand on the porch at about 6:00 and yell our names to get us out of bed. On my chore days he would come to my room and make me sit up before he would leave. I would sometimes just fold over and I learned to comfortably sleep with my head in my own lap. When he stopped milking cows he still liked to wake everyone up early. He would sometimes try to let us sleep but his allergies would force him into the bathroom snorting and sneezing. He also wanted everyone to eat breakfast while it was hot and by golly he wanted it early.
Dad always wanted nice things for his kids. Now that I think about it, I drove a very nice car in high school and he drove a junker. He was willing to sacrifice his own comfort for the comfort of his family. I’ll never forget sitting in the front yard one afternoon when a truck with a four-wheeler in the back slowed down. Dad started teasing the young man before the boy could speak saying “you can just drop the four-wheeler off here.” The boy said, “I’m looking for the home of Neil Owen.” Keith and Cathie had bought that very four-wheeler for my dad. We were all touched. I loved witnessing dad receive a nice gift from his children, as he had sacrificed all that he might have had for us.
For about ten years my parents organized the Idaho State Dutch Oven Cook Off. (My mom did the organizing and my dad did the manual labor that day.) He wasn’t a gourmet cook like the contestants, but he could make a mean pot of Dutch oven potatoes. We girls always fought with him about putting too much bacon grease, butter, and cheese in them, but they sure did taste good. He would sneak in the fats knowing what made them taste good or prepare a pan for his girls and a pan for everyone else.
I don’t remember dad going on vacation with us while I was growing up except a couple of times to Disneyland. Vacations stressed him out. He didn’t have the money to travel, and he thought home was the greatest place on earth. When I was in college we did go to Hawaii. He was very upset about going over Christmas. He didn’t want to miss out on his responsibilities with Santa so he filled his carry-on with candy canes and passed them out as we traveled. It took him until about the last day to relax and start “hanging loose.” He did catch on to the joy of traveling a little more in his 50s. He had fun playing with the grandkids on vacation.
There was one form of play that my dad was really good at and that was snowmobiling. He never owned a decent snowmobile, but he was so good at running those sleds. My mom tells me that as a child I would ride on the snowmobile with him yelling “slow down Neil” the whole time. I can believe it because I felt the same way and yelled very similar things when I rode with him as an adult.
My favorite family tradition was our annual ski night. Dad spent 364 days a year hating that ski party, but the day of the party he was on cloud nine. He loved hanging out in the lodge with all of his friends. He loved catcalling people from the ski lift. We teased him about not being a very good skier. His poles were always flying in every direction, but he supported us in learning to ski. He provided food that mom spent weeks preparing for hundreds of our friends over the years at the ski party. That party just won’t be the same without him greeting every person with his loud voice and some joke that endeared people to him.
My dad was Santa’s best helper. He loved helping Santa and spreading Christmas joy! Dad didn’t like that Caleb figured out that he was Santa’s helper at a young age, but it was the most awesome thing to Caleb. Instead of sending letters to the North Pole all we needed to do was give them to Grandpa because he was a close personal friend with the big man up north. In fact Caleb is hoping that he will be able to take over dad’s position with Santa some day. Dad liked to drop in on families and with names and details about their lives convince them of the reality of Santa. I will always believe in Santa because there is no way my parents could have afforded the nice Christmases we were given.
My dad began working at the USU Central Heating Plant about 15 years ago when I was a junior at USU. He worked nights so I would take my dates to go and visit him, and I would walk the half block from my apartment to his work in the evenings just to visit. It was during that time that I became close to my dad and even started calling him Papa. I will treasure the times that we spent visiting in the old boiler plant on Old Main Hill. The grandkids liked to visit dad at work and go for walks down the tunnels or better yet go for rides on the “golf cart” in the tunnels. He had a list of blogs he would check every day at work and he often left comments. He also enjoyed being on Facebook for the past year and always had a comment.
Dad was known for always being happy and easy going. He had a reputation for being able to B.S. with anyone. He could talk for hours. When Josh asked dad for my hand in marriage dad was leery to answer. He spent three hours stalling and beating around the bush. Finally he said “so long as you make her happy.” Josh jumped up and said, “I’ll take that as a yes.” Dad didn’t ever want to part with his girls.
Dad was gruff with the grandkids, but he really loved them. He liked to snort and “bah” at them and make other animal noises. He was so loud they didn’t know how to take it. The last time I talked to him he called to tell me how cute Cara was. She had gone over to our new neighbor’s house, who is also a friend of dad’s, and introduced herself. He was proud of her for being so friendly.
I will miss having my dad participate in Priesthood ordinances. He isn’t what I would consider a really religious man, but he had a very strong testimony of the divinity of God and of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He almost always bore his testimony when his family was gathered for baby blessings. He wanted us to all know that he knew the Church was true.
Oh dad, you died 30 years too early! You were just getting the hang of spending quality time with your family rather than working all of the time. We had many memories yet to make. I will always treasure the good times we had. Thank you!