We should all be so fortunate as to live this life to the fullest—with family and friends at the center of it all—then leave without lingering in pain. That’s what Jan Yates just pulled off after her 79 glorious years here on earth. It’s also what we all gathered to celebrate last Saturday evening at the Pueblo Convention Center—a life well lived, that left a very memorable mark on us all.
Yes, the tears flowed freely. But it was a party Jan would have been proud to be a part of, and after a beautiful prime rib feast in that packed Fortino Grand Hall, we left laughing and smiling about all the good times we shared with Momma Jan.
“She was the heart of the operation.”
“If it was your birthday and you were on the road passing through, Jan had a cake for you.”
“Jan had a heart of gold.”
Her love of playing pinochle and bridge surprised none of us, but did you know Jan was an accomplished figure skater in her younger years? Jan loved watching the Olympics and old Westerns, and always generously stocked a dish of chocolates on the counter. Dick, Kelly, J.D. and Trey had Jan-style dishes of chocolates on every table at her fitting funfest of a farewell celebration, which was above and beyond, because there was no skimping on dessert.
My steer wrestler date, Ote Berry, used half of the dessert in front of me—strawberry cheesecake—and half of the sweet treat in front of him—red velvet cake—to cut the burn from his salad dressing of choice, which he also dabbed generously onto my first course. What appeared to be a lovely, fresh ranch dressing was actually horseradish. It took two bites to clear my sinuses and send my salad plate to the kitchen, but the brawny bulldogger beside me decided he quite liked the accidental tasty twist to the very last bite. That sad little scene led to the first J.D. cackle of what started as such a somber occasion, and it tickled Dick, too.
We laughed at the recollection of a neighbor calling the landline at the barn when Jan was home alone holding down the fort, back before cell phones. He called to watch Jan drop the hay she was tossing or the wheelbarrow she was pushing to run for the phone, because she just knew it would be a rodeo road report from her beloved family or friends. Even after all the razzing, Jan cooked meals for men like him when they grew old. She could take a joke, and her heart of gold was for real.
I learned for the first time that Dick used to call Jan his CIO, which stood for Colorado Improved Okie. If ever I knew Jan came from Oklahoma, I’d long forgotten it.
“Mom said she had a wonderful and fulfilled life, and she did,” Kelly said.
“Grandma’s impact will go on for generations,” Trey noted, and that’s also true.
My sons Lane and Taylor (who just made the trek from Texas to Florida with Trey for the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Kissimmee) and I used to like to watch a football show called “Friday Night Lights” when they were kids, and loved a line in it that Trey used in his remembrance of Momma Jan.
“There’s a saying—Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose,” Trey said. “My Grandma Jan lived it. She was a fierce competitor, and she helped everyone around her succeed. And she always kept a smile on her face. My grandmother was full of positivity, and she was there when anyone around her needed a pep talk or wisdom. She raised a family of champions, and we have to continue to make her proud.”
The last thing I said to Dick, Kelly, J.D. and Trey before we left that night was that I’ve never seen a closer family. There are a lot of tight-knit families in this world, including my own, but it’d be pretty tough for any team to trump the Yateses. That bond will not break in Jan’s absence, and nothing would make her more proud. There could be no greater legacy for any rodeo mom. So Jan…big congrats, you did it!
It was still dark outside when I boarded my first Westbound plane for home on Monday morning. I was just taking my seat when my phone rang. The caller ID said Trey Yates, so I picked it up with a, “Hey, Trey!” It was actually Dick calling via Trey’s phone with a straight face to see if Ote and I might be interested in partnering with him on the launch of a new salad dressing line. “It’s got a pretty good bite to it, but the bulldoggers seem to really like it,” Dick said. I could hear his grin, and it made me so happy.
Then J.D. grabbed the phone to deliver my all-time favorite cowboy cackle. Laughter really is the best medicine, and the Yates family show will go on, just as Jan would have wanted and demanded. From all of us to all you Yateses—thanks for sharing her with the rest of us. And most of all, to the matriarch who lifted us up when we needed it and knocked us down a peg when we needed that, too…Thanks, Momma Jan.