Border Days in Grangeville have been held annually since 1911. Three days—July 2, 3, 4—of parades, cowboy breakfasts, pretty girls on horseback, and the oldest professional rodeo in Idaho. Pioneer Park at one end of town is given over to bluegrass pickers, jewelry makers, landscape painters, another church stepping up (a different one every year, it seems) to push the best strawberry shortcake anywhere. Heritage Square downtown offers opportunities to show off your softball throw, put your tots on kiddie rides, watch crazy teens go wall climbing, or to brave eats not normally tried in these parts, plus your usual burgers and dogs. Over at the rodeo grounds a country baritone behind the mike brings out the next bulldogging, bronc-riding, calf-roping event: “Let’s getter done!” Now and then a participant is whisked away by an ambulance, applause for him chasing after the siren; but only once has anybody been killed—a cowboy from White Bird down the road was thrown and kicked in the chest by a bronc a few years back.
Where the Border Days notion came from depends on who’s talking. It might could be, as some put it, a celebration of settling a border dispute with Oregon or Montana, or with the Nez Perce, or some combination of these neighbors. Possibly Border Days celebrates Idaho entering the Union on July 3, 1890, and folks up here in the panhandle needed a couple of decades to get excited about the idea. Some longtime locals still can’t get excited and during the hoopla go off in the woods with their tents.
In any case, a good many people born here who moved away come back for Border Days; they stroll Main Street and check out all the old photographs put up over nearly every inch of storefront glass and squeal at seeing themselves so skinny, finding a teacher they liked, picking out that dopey first boyfriend, the girl who married the rancher and had six damn fine-looking kids. School reunions are organized around Border Days. The Chamber of Commerce reckons this single week clears the goods off many a shelf and fixes tons of potholes. On the last night, after the dust at the rodeo grounds has settled, folks and kids not worn out yet spread their blankets on the grassy slope below the school track and oooh and aaah at the fireworks show. The whole thing (except for a rare black cloud like the death of the White Bird cowboy) makes people feel part of something fine—exactly what, it’s hard for them to say. “But what the hey, look at who finally turned up!”
After a hot day working in the garden or slapping fresh cedar stain on the house, I clean up, then open a bottle of India Pale Ale. I said to Michele once, “I prize this ale. I will miss it when I am dead.”
“Nora Ephron says she will miss pie,” Michele said.
“The one about a circle and its distance?”
“I believe the one you eat with a fork.”
“I will miss all kinds of measurements, mysteries, and tastes,” I said.
Continued in Confrontation 119, Spring 2016.