Until his death in 1980, Cy Taillon was known to the initiated as the "World's Greatest Rodeo Announcer." Around the circuit, which could extend from Puyallup, Wash., to Baton Rouge, La., and into Madison Square Garden itself, no exhibition of bronco riding or calf roping seemed quite complete without Taillon's booming, animated commentary. He became something more than legendary to those who followed the sport. Said one admirer: "I don't know what God looks like, but I know what He sounds like." In 1977 his daughter, Cyra McFadden, created a literary stir with her first novel. The Serial, a wry look at some laid-back suburban lives in California's Marin County. There was not much in this book, frankly, to attract die-hard rodeo fans. On the other hand, it seems fair to assume that most of those who bought and enjoyed The Serial had never heard of Cy Taillon.
Rain or Shine should change all that. This funny, affecting memoir achieves a series of satisfying reconciliations. Author McFadden, 48, not only portrays and then patches up the quarrels and estrangements that raged between her and her father, she captures the tawdry colors of the Old West and mourns their fading. She looks back on her parents' tempestuous marriage and divorce, both of which baffled them and her as a child, with tolerance and wisdom. And her storytelling skills give Cy Taillon the posthumous gift that he would have most appreciated: the chance to appear in front of a new audience.
By the time Cyra was born in 1937, her parents had been knocking about the rodeo trail for six years. Her father was handsome (he later doubled for Robert Taylor in horse-riding scenes for the movie Billy the Kid). Her mother Pat was beautiful, a Southern belle who had left her hometown in Arkansas because she had "tired of grits" and had gone on to succeed as a chorus girl in St. Louis.
All the ingredients were here for a B-Western version of the saga of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Cyra's first home was the midnight blue 1937 Packard that carried her parents from one raucous engagement to the next: "By my third birthday, I had logged 150,000 miles, occasion for an AP wirephoto captioned: 'She Sees America.' " She also witnessed an endless string of saloons and her parents' behavior in them: "Pat was a two-fisted drinker. Cy was a drunk, charming and good-humored when sober, combative and cold-eyed when drunk." Liquor fueled fights between them, as did their constant lack of money. They also, Cyra recognized later, baited each other with flagrant infidelities: "Pat and Cy competed in sexual conquest as they competed in everything else."