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Annual convention gives fans like Lora Wimsatt the chance to connect to their favorite Western.
Photo: Provided by Lora Wimsatt
On September 10-14, South Lake Tahoe’s Bonanza Friendship Convention celebrates the 50th anniversary of the beloved show. The following was written after Wimsatt attended the 2002 Bonanza Friendship Convention, held in Crystal Bay…
It was the trip of a lifetime.
One of these days, I’d promised myself, I would do it. I would go. Goofy, silly little dream that it was, I held it dear. It was a lifeline, a precious, private lifeline, and I treasured it. I considered my dream in my private heart of hearts, knowing that I was searching for something that I could never explain to anyone else.
Then, last September, I determined that this was a dream that I wanted very much to come true. My husband was a tower of encouragement. “Go,” he said. He didn’t tell me to come back, but I believe that part was understood. So I bought a plane ticket, and my vague hope became a very real anticipation. It was an X on the calendar.
I didn’t tell very many people. What could I say? “I’m going to the Ponderosa.” Hooo, boy. That raised some eyebrows. “The Ponderosa? You’re going to a steakhouse?”
Uh, no…the ranch on “Bonanza.” Not only that, but my visit would be part of a real, live, “Bonanza” convention. There would be a square dance. A hay wagon ride. A flapjack contest. Everyone would wear cowboy hats and boots and we’d all say things like, “Yoo-hoo, Pa sent me to bring you home for sup-pah,” and we would laugh because we would know why that is funny.
And so I went, my cowboy hat and I, contemplating the remarkable fact that the distance between Owensboro, Kentucky and Crystal Bay is 1,776 miles, and because this was very much a declaration of freedom for me.
Well, how can I say that it was the time of my life? I square danced, I rode the hay wagon, I ate flapjack, I attended a lecture on the history of the Comstock, I begged my way into a no-seats-left writers’ seminar, and I strolled the wooden plank sidewalks of Virginia City. I met people from all over the United States, as well as at least eight other countries, and our accents harmonized perfectly in a language all its own.
The Ponderosa ranch threw open its doors to our group for a private evening. I was among the crowd of people who shuffled in to gape at the big stone fireplace, the desk, the map—not burning, however—and the stairs to nowhere. I reached out to reverently stroke the Teflon settee, looked up at the mounted rack of longhorns, and admired the blue velvet and the red leather chairs.
After a little while, however, everyone drifted outside to make his or her way over to the hoedown. I lingered behind, unwilling to leave the place I’d traveled so far to see.
It was just me and my dreams at the Ponderosa. I thought of the things that old western TV show had meant to me, things it still represents. Values, real values. Courage, honesty, faith, family, friendships and hard work; doing the right thing even when it is not the easy thing.
And then I noticed the rack by the door…
Two hats, one beige, one big and white. One brown vest, one green jacket. I looked at them for a long time. How long had they hung there, undisturbed, empty, waiting?
Waiting for me.
I don’t know how long I stood there. I do know that by the time I turned and walked away, I knew I had found something, and I would never have to look for it again.
Bonanza Friendship Convention
South Lake Tahoe
Sept. 10-14, 2009