The American Brahman Breeders Association held the National Brahman Show in Hattiesburg, MS this year, and the wonderful folks at the ABBA dedicated the show to Chris Dickens and the Dickens family. We were all truly honored and moved by this amazing gesture. However, displaying a somewhat questionable taste in authors, they asked me if I’d write a piece to be read at the show, and I thought I’d share with you what I wrote. Here it is.
A Tribute to Uncle Chris
When we think about our childhood heroes it’s easy to picture them through the eyes of a child. We build them up. They tower in our hearts and minds like giants. Even to this day I still can’t help but see my grandfather as larger than life figure. But then again, Bobby Dickens is a force of nature. That man has never done anything by half measures. He’s looked every problem of his life straight in the eye, and you better believe those problems have always blinked first.
In contrast when I think of my father, he’s more reserved but just as unbreakably solid. He radiates with a quiet, comforting strength of one who’ll forever stand by your side. To say he’s a rock for his family falls entirely short of the mark. Jeff Dickens is the kind of man you could bend a rock around.
However, when I think about my Uncle Chris I get a strange sense of double vision in my mind, almost as if I’m seeing pictures of two different men. The first is the one seen through a child’s eyes: a slim, young man sporting a handlebar mustache and wearing a wry, crazy smile. He’s dressed in jeans and boots, and rose colored glasses hide a pair of intense, hungry eyes. He’s the very image of a rough and tough cowboy that a young boy idolized.
Uncle Chris loved cattle from a young age, showing calves throughout his childhood. As a teenager he took up bull riding, a passion that drew him out west with a rodeo scholarship to the Oklahoma Panhandle University. From there, he worked as a ranch hand and continued riding bulls, competing in the PRCA and Tri-State Rodeo Association before eventually moving back home to Mississippi to manage his own family’s cattle operation.
That’s when the first picture of Uncle Chris was formed. During my summer breaks I’d help him on the farm. It was something special watching him handle cattle. The man had a rare gift. He could sort and work a group like no one I’ve ever seen. So much of what I know was learned from him during those first few summers. He taught me to love cattle and find the simple joys of tending a farm.
That’s not to say that everything was always sunny between Uncle Chris and me. The two of us were similar in so many ways. We shared a mouthy, irreverent sense of humor and could both be more than a little stubborn and hot tempered. Naturally, we often drove each other insane. Once, during a particularly heated argument, I retaliated to what I felt was an unfair insult by chucking a heavy lead pipe at his head. Luckily, it missed. Nevertheless, I still took off sprinting my short rear-end across the pasture towards home, because he was fuming with anger and I’d just hurled my only weapon. You could say we had a special relationship.
After I graduated high school we fell out of touch and for a few years saw little of each other. I was away at college trying to work through the stress of becoming an adult, while Chris was struggling with troubles and problems of his own. However, I was lucky enough to reconnect with him during the last few years of his life. I got to see him become a father. It was one of the greatest pleasures of my life to see Uncle Chris’s face light with joy as he held his little boy, Hayes.
That’s the second picture that comes to mind when I think of Uncle Chris. He’s a stockier built man, his hair now touched with gray. Those eyes still hold that wild intensity, and he still has that same crazy smile, but it’s softer somehow. In his later years so many of his rougher edges that I remembered from my youth had been smoothed away, and he often displayed a gentleness that I’ve rarely seen in people. We had a closer relationship towards the end, and Chris became something so much more than a childhood hero. He became my friend.
Uncle Chris taught me a lot in life. He taught me how to handle cattle and how to be tough. He taught me how to escape an angry cow and how to laugh at your nephew when he fails in his escapes. He taught me that even heroes are still human, and he taught me what it means to miss a friend.
I’d like to extend the warmest of thanks to all of you for honoring Chris today. You have no idea just how much it means to me and my family. I miss my uncle dearly, but I feel like I still see him every day. I see him in my brothers, in Corey’s kind nature and in BJ’s toughness and innate gift with cattle. I see him in Hayes, as he laughs and jokes with an energy so similar to his Dad’s, and I see him in the smile of every person that mentions his name.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to share.