Kevin Merrill: Graduating into a different future

Kevin Merrill

I am writing today's column on 9/11, the 20th anniversary of the attack on our nation and way of life. I recall sitting at this same desk when my wife called and said we were being attacked.

I jumped in my truck and drove down to our house and watched, liked millions of Americans on television, the horrific site of the two airliners crashing into the World Trade Center's twin towers in New York City. Later we would learn about the other two planes and their fate, used in the coordinated attack.

We prayed and wondered if other big cities like Los Angeles would be targets as well, thankfully they were not that day. Grape harvest, like today, was just getting going and like many things in our lives didn’t seem as important, but we kept moving forward, determined that the terrorist would not be allowed to affect our daily lives.

Patriotism was alive and well last weekend as the Santa Maria Elks hosted their 78th rodeo. After taking a year off due to COVID-19 and rescheduling to the Labor Day weekend, this year’s event drew crowds anxious to get out and celebrate our western way of life and true family values.

The event always starts out with prorodeo veteran announcer Bob Tallman asking the crowd to look up and watch Kent Lane parachute from high above the arena with a huge American flag in tow, headed for the middle of the arena, while a rendition of "God Bless the USA" by Lee Greenwood is being played. It is truly a stirring sight.

This year our daughter Kathleen, who has carried a sponsor flag in the rodeo for five years, along with my sister Elisa who came all the way from New Mexico to participate, were both honored to carry one of the 13 American flags honoring the fallen service men and women who lost their lives at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan while protecting American lives. A sobering moment as all 13 flags made their way around the arena.

My wife Karen and I attended both the Friday night and Sunday afternoon performances. I thought the crowds were generally more friendly and the Elk volunteers went out of their way to make the event special. I have to share a case in point, where on Friday night we parked my pickup in front of the snack shop for the contestants — since Kathleen carries a flag I have always been able to get a contestant pass, left over from the days when I had to drive her along with her horse to the event.

We pulled right up to the snack bar and for a moment thought, what if somebody parks right behind me, blocking my exit. Well, I thought no one would be that inconsiderate or stupid, especially since there were plenty of places to find a parking spot.

We decided to leave a little early on Friday night and as we walked back to my truck I could see a small SUV parked right behind me. There was no way I could get out. I went into the snack bar and asked if the owner of the small SUV was there, they were not.

A nice lady working behind the counter asked if she could help and after looking outside realized her car was right next to mine and her husband's was behind her. She called her husband so they could move their cars for us, and while we waited for him, insisted that we get something to eat, or at least take some food home.

They ended up moving their cars and helped me get around the SUV parked directly behind me, they truly went out of their way to help us. I dropped off a couple of bottles of wine for them on Sunday.

That is the feeling of community we have all been longing for during the COVID-19 outbreak. Congratulations to the Santa Maria Elks on another great event and for reminding us why Santa Maria is still a special place to live.

Kevin Merrill of Mesa Vineyard Management is a board member of the Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau and a director on the Santa Barbara County Fair Board. He can be reached at