By Ingrid Sapona
My sister and I went to the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth
last week – also known as the Calgary Stampede – and so I can’t resist the equine
reference in the title. But the truth is, our trip out west brought back into
focus some ways of being that were noteworthy to me and that are the exact type
of thing I’d write a column about, so the title is apt.
First, a bit of background about the trip: it was to
celebrate a milestone birthday of my eldest sister. She and I flew from Toronto
to Calgary and spent a few days there – including a day at the Stampede. My
other sister had been to the Stampede before but she joined us afterward for
three heavenly days of sightseeing, spa-ing, and celebrating in beautiful Banff.
I had been to the Stampede years ago and loved it. My
impression of Calgary during Stampede Week was of a city-wide celebration where
everyone – from bank teller, to bartender, to cab driver – is wearing jeans, a plaid
shirt, and a cowboy hat. I thought my eldest sister would enjoy it since she likes
country western things.
I was in charge of making the key reservations for the trip.
I booked the hotels, the plane tickets, the car rental, and the rodeo tickets.
I had also gotten some recommendations from friends of places to eat and other
things to do. As the time for the trip approached, I started getting a sense of
eldest sister’s excitement as she e-mailed me with regular updates about the
terrible flooding Calgary suffered just two weeks before the Stampede and her
relief that the show would go on – Come Hell or High Water, as Stampede officials
My sister, who lives in the States, drove up here because we
were flying out together. On the bus to the Toronto airport, a young woman was
seated between me and my sister. When the woman realized we were together, she offered
to switch seats with me. I joked that that wasn’t necessary because my sister
and I would have the whole week together, which was more than enough.
After that, the young woman, who had already broken the ice,
chatted with me the rest of the bus ride. After we got off the bus, I filled my
sister in about my conversation. I also mentioned to my sister that I wasn’t
surprised that the woman was American because Canadians are pretty reserved and
they don’t tend to engage strangers in conversation like that. My sister seemed
mildly surprised by my comment.
Our first night in Calgary we had a drink with some friends
of mine. We had a nice time and I could tell my sister’s excitement was
building. I could see she was making mental notes of all the things my friends
mentioned regarding what to see and do at the Stampede. Later that evening she
poured over the Stampede schedule, anxious to plan the next day so we wouldn’t
Our first event at the Stampede was the international horse
shoeing competition. The farriers had one hour to make two custom shoes for their
horse. The whole thing was fascinating with an MC explaining what was going on
at each step. While we were waiting for the judge’s results, the 40-piece Band
of Outriders marched into the arena. They were a rag-tag looking bunch in Blues
Brothers-type sunglasses and matching plaid shirts that played and danced as the
results were tabulated. They were very entertaining and certainly kept the waiting
Later that afternoon, as we were walking around, a young man
from the band was walking alone past us. To my surprise, my sister stopped him
and said we had seen them play after the horse shoeing and she told him how
much she enjoyed the band. He politely thanked her and hurried off. A few
minutes later she spotted another band member about 10 feet away and the next
thing I know, she had made a beeline toward him. Before I could catch her, she
had stopped him to thank him for the band’s great playing.
I have to say, I was a bit embarrassed. In my mind, I
justified the embarrassment based on the fact that it’s just not the Canadian
thing to do and – in my mind – the fact that both band members seemed really
surprised by the encounter further supported my sense of embarrassment. But, I
didn’t know how to tell my sister that I was embarrassed. So, in the
time-honoured Sapona tradition of indirect speech patterns, I said, “You’re not
going to stop all 40 band members, are you?” She didn’t pick up on the subtext
of my comment. Instead, she enthusiastically replied, “Why not? They were
The sincerity and immediacy of her reply hit me like a ton
of bricks. She was absolutely right. We had enjoyed the band’s playing and
entertaining and there was nothing wrong with letting them know. If her praise catches
people (myself included) off guard, so what!
After that, every time she chatted up a stranger or mentioned
we were celebrating her birthday, I basked in the reflected glow of her excitement.
And you know what? It made a great trip even better!
And so, with this column, I want to thank my sister for reminding
me of how much sweeter life is when you take things in with a smile and an open
heart and when you aren’t afraid to share your unbridled enthusiasm.
© 2013 Ingrid Sapona