Ponoka’s Shaun Johnston writes a letter home

I could have been a lot of things, I guess. I could have been a pipefitter or a heavy duty mechanic, that's for sure, like my dad and his dad. They taught me their trades when I was young.

Dear Editor:

I could have been a lot of things, I guess. I could have been a pipefitter or a heavy duty mechanic, that’s for sure, like my dad and his dad. They taught me their trades when I was young.

But I truly thought, even believed, that I would farm, marry and settle down with the most beautiful girl in town; beg, borrow and steal to buy our dream property and run a few cattle with a couple good horses. How do we end up where we end up? I’m still trying to figure that one out. They say it’s the journey and not the destination that makes the man.

However, some stops along the way can be pretty swell sometimes. One stop I speak of was in Ponoka on Saturday, June 27, 2009. That was my “Rock Star” day. The day that a hometown made a son feel ‘all growed up.”

Being invited to come home and live a day as the honorary marshal of the Ponoka Stampede parade made me blush. Now almost a year later and, shame on me, not yet having thanked the people that made that happen, I am still blushing.

This is my attempt to say thank you to a town; to say thank you to a group of men who, year after year, continue to define “the same” as “new” and “tradition” as “the way it is” and “Stampede” as “the way it should be.” And thank you to friends that, over the years, I wondered if I still had.

I was treated like a king on that day. What started out as a very flattering invitation to ride in the parade as the honorary marshal turned into the ride of a lifetime. A humbling 24-carat day that made me a better man. I met good people for the first time. I hugged and shook hands with people I shared my childhood and school days with. And I was touched by thousands of smiles and hellos from faces and names that I knew as “home.” It’d take forever to speak of the enduring emotions and the people that inspired them on that day.

But let me say this to Yvonne (née) Ferguson: You silly girl, I was the one who was afraid that you wouldn’t remember me. And to Donna Kinley, Johnny Cash himself couldn’t have been more moved and inspired by the visit I had with your dear friend and neighbor, Debra Baumgartner. Godspeed.

As I was climbing on board Jerry Dodds’ sorrel, Cisco, before the parade got into gear I realized that nearly every one of the men who sit on the Stampede board was one of those cool teenage guys I was afraid of yet wanted to be like when I was 12. And I thought about their own life’s journeys.

To quote the one and only Al Bundy: “Behind every great man stands a woman that’s not you Peg!” I’d like to tip my hat to a couple of the not Pegs of the Ponoka Stampede. Bless Sheryl Vold for the hospitality she ensured for my family, and for filling me full of Stampede refreshment. Bless Barb Olsen even more for babysitting Dale and I after that. And bless Debbie Jones for being the queen of the ticket office and for marrying Terry. Somebody had to! And bless all the other board members’ wives for making sure they wore the right colored shirt everyday.

Coming home can mean a lot of things, I guess. For me, maybe this song lyric says it best:

Small towns can’t hold onto dreamers. But the world ain’t as big as it seems. You can live in a castle, you can walk in the sand. But you can’t take the home out of dreams.

I never did farm. I didn’t marry and settle with that beautiful hometown girl. I didn’t strap on the trade tools either. But I landed on my feet. And how dare I say I landed on my own. I’ve been guided by friends, family, and a few ghosts from the past.

I’m still unsure of what the duties of an honorary parade marshal are, but as far as I can tell, my duty was simply to feel honored. And to learn just a little bit more about myself and the world I share with you.

Thank you, Ponoka. See you in the movies.

Shaun Johnston