I can’t carry a tune in a lard bucket, but on this day I could almost hum, same song, second verse in perfect voice. A group of ladies from Jackson, Ann Barksdale, Margaret Vise, Carole Kirkland, cruisemate Edrie Royals and I were on a Danube River cruise. Our ship, the Viking Jarl had docked in Kalosca, we would be there until late evening. Husband Willard and I had taken a Danube cruise 15 years ago with Ed and Jane Draper, and although we made some of the same stops I remembered very little about the trip. I did recall Kalosca though; it had been our first stop on that cruise. The first tour we passengers had taken was billed as the famous Kalosca Paprika factory.
But that was then and this was today, 2018. Edrie and I had something different in mind.
My cruisemate and I had done a little research for our day’s tour. We read that the Hungarian cowboys on a ranch near Kalocsa, are one of the highlights of a Danube River cruise in eastern Europe. These 19th-century horsemen have been romanticized through novels, paintings, poems, and folk songs; they have continued to hone their skills as an investment in preserving the long, proud heritage of this part of Hungary.
Edrie and I boarded our bus, one of many headed for the famous horse show. I was looking forward to the day; I was a horseback rider from way back so I was interested in the cowboys. After I flunked the first grade at Duling School, my sweet daddy bribed me with a pony if I could pass the second time around.
I did (in spite of spending a lot of time in the cloakroom) and Daddy gave me a Shetland, Jerry. But Jerry didn’t last too long; he kicked, bit and threw almost every kid on Eagle Avenue, a street running off Council Circle.
I kept riding though, and had several other horses after Jerry. When I was in junior high, Mr. Gus, Dale Evans’ uncle, taught me to ride the Tennessee walking horse. But once I was in high school I got more interested in chasing boys than slow cantering on a walking horse.
On this day our bus drove through a vast flat land, whose spirit mirrored the images I had of the American West, most of them seen in old John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Alan Ladd, Gabby Hayes, Gary Cooper, and Hopalong Cassidy movies at the Pix Theater.
When Edrie and I unloaded from our tour bus, for no apparent reason the short hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Then another time, another horse show came to mind. Same place. Same field.
I had been here before, 2003, on the trip with my husband and the Drapers. At the end of the cowboy performance, a call had been put out for a volunteer to ride a donkey, an animal that had been part of the show’s comedy routine. No one volunteered. The cowboys looked disappointed.
For some reason, southern females seem to be inflicted with a universal guilt. When a Mississippi lady saw the crestfallen showmen she knew she might be in trouble, but the cowboys needed help. Hoping against hope she wouldn’t be noticed, she timidly crooked two fingers and held them not up, but down close to her waist, she would at least unburden her conscience.
An eagle-eyed male spotted the hand, darted into the crowd, slammed his sweat-soaked sombrero on her head, and slipped her yellow straw bonnet onto his. Before she could say ‘no’ the cowboy had escorted the Mississippi lady onto the field, and with a flourish, he boosted her onto the braying donkey. The animal’s hair and hide, as crimpy and stiff as a pad of rusting steel wool, were covered with flies and sores. A Hungarian flag flying from the donkey’s bridle, the vacquero and the lady circled the field while a hidden microphone played ‘Bonaparte’s Retreat.’
Ride over and back on the bus, the lady began scratching; a mottled red rash and large whelps had broken out on her legs, her head burned like fire ants were building a nest in it. But proud of herself for being a good sport, she attempted to pass around to the other passengers photos of the Hungarian cowboy, the ass and herself. For some reason, no one would touch them. Including her husband.
“They smell like Ferti-Loam,” was all he would say. Moving across the aisle from her he excused himself. “The afternoon sun’s in my eyes.”