As a lifelong Texan and frequent visitor of the state fair, I was saddened by the loss of its iconic figure, Big Tex. He was a mere 52 feet of cowpoke shaped fiberglass, steel, and fabric, but as a child he seemed much bigger. I can’t look at photos of him without a flood of childhood memories gushing forth. There were times like when my dad took me on my first roller coaster, a rickety wooden ride that thrilled me and inspired the words from my dad’s mouth, “my stomach just dropped.” I remember trips to the fair with my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins and wonder why other family gatherings weren’t always so congenial. Then there were the “smells” that drew you in before you even made it through the front gate. The State Fair of Texas is likely the reason I order “Corny Dogs” from Sonic when in reality, they’re just corn dogs. Indeed, Big Tex embodied all of those memories, and while I’m a proponent of a bigger and more modern version, I am hesitant that his reincarnation will equally stoke the fires of my childhood experiences (no pun intended). Perhaps it will for my grandchildren.
The incineration of Big Tex marked the end of an era for many of us, but earlier in the week another era came to close for me and my family. While Big Tex was a larger than life figure, our little Jack Russell Terrier, Dillon, was larger than every other dog, at least in his own mind. We adopted him 9 years ago and it was apparent from the get-go that he thought he ruled the roost. Walks in the park were difficult because Dillon never thought he was outmatched. “Little Man Syndrome” was how he was described to us from the SPCA worker when we picked him up from a pet store in Lewisville, Texas. Ironically, he wasn’t my first choice for adoption, but my wife Tina saw something in him that I missed. She thought he was cute. Cute got him in the door, but loyalty earned him a permanent spot in the family. That’s the way it usually works. Momma wants the cute little dog, and daddy ends being his best pal. The Jack Russell breed, as I found out later, are a hyper bunch, but in some ways low maintenance. Dillon was a lone wolf most of the time he was with us but he never needed much more than a couple squares a day, a good hunt, and neck rub every once in a while. In short, he was a man’s dog. While Big Tex watched over the fairgrounds, Marshall Dillon canvassed our modest backyard for every kind of nocturnal creature imaginable. The dog we adopted because my wife thought he was cute, gave us more than we ever bargained for with dozens of late night hunts. He delivered moles, possums, lizards, snakes, frogs, and ferrets to our back porch many times although the squirrels eluded him. (At some point, a book will be written to chronicle those adventures.) He was our son’s boyhood dog and he was iconic to the life and times of the Wren family. He roamed in the background of birthdays, church functions, holidays, and graduations. He brought laughs, frustrations, and in the end, tears. His life served up useful markers for the many miles of a priceless journey and as to be expected, the decision to let him go was difficult. Like Big Tex, he was irreplaceably unique. Oh, there will be another Big Tex, and there will be other dogs. After all, as George Carlin put it, “life is a series of dogs”. But there will never be another Dillon, and that’s just fine and dandy.