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Rope Burns » Riding Drag

Riding Drag

……..Riding Drag by Debra Coppinger Hill (copyright) *For more about Debra go to the Cowboy Poetry section at AlwaysCowboy.com. ©Debra Coppinger Hill 2012 

Time Honored Tradition

I don’t think it’s wrong to make changes in our lives. As time passes on I believe that we should make changes to certain things that we do. There is always room for improvement. But, then again, there are some things that should never change, no matter what. Here at the 4DH one of those things is the Fall Turnout. For as long as I can remember the women in my family have participated in this family tradition.

For a week we travel from one house to another and help each other “turnout” the house. We literally clean the houses from top to bottom. We clean the light fixtures and ceiling fans, clear the summer’s accumulation of cob-webs, move and clean beneath and behind every stick of furniture, the appliances and wash the windows inside and out. Each house gets a day of our time and each woman provides lunch in return for the work. The work goes quickly as we laugh and talk and scurry about. 

Sadly, we have lost family members over the last several years so our number of willing hands has begun to dwindle. Still we show up to help and expect that help in return. Why? Because it’s what we do. We know that the others will come and help because we are family and it is a tradition. There need not be any other reason. 

In a time when the definition of family has taken on a broader meaning, we sometimes make the mistake of thinking that being an individual is more important that being a part of a family group. But being a part of a family is most beneficial when there is work to be done. Being family is not always easy. We have to learn to over-look some things. We do this for no other reason than we know that our own little idiosyncrasies will also be forgiven. 

We are here to do a job; to help set the house in order for the coming winter. This time together helps us reset relationships and gives us a feeling of belonging. Not all members of my family are blood relatives. My Grandmother taught us that family members are people who may not necessarily share your blood, but are willing to shed their blood for you. Family means we make a commitment to one another; a promise to be there when the days are hard and the work stands deep. Maybe that is what makes Fall Turnout a time that none of us seem to mind. We know those participating are truly our family and that they value tradition and us. 

Well, it’s time to go get things ready, the ladies will be here shortly and I have tea and coffee to make and cinnamon rolls that are done. My family is coming to “turn me out” and I am ready for them. It’s going to be a busy day!

Miscommunication

I sometimes forget that our friends in Japan take us literally. They don’t have quaint phrases that totally mean something other than what is stated. Until about an hour ago I did not realize what we had said and to what extent it had affected Sho and Li. Let’s start at the beginning.

Duffy Moore stopped by as he does on his way into Tulsa. Being in no hurry he sat in the shade with me and shared a glass of tea and a homemade cookie. Our conversations cover a large range of subjects and the things we talked about included the weather, the new Brahma heifer, his preference of all-terrain tires for the coming winter, whether the new weather lady on TV was as accurate as the last and the color he might paint his house as he really liked the green I recently used on the dairy barn trim. We spoke of the time when we were young and he got a dent in the passenger door of his Mom’s car and spent the coming week running over to stand in front of it any time she was getting into the car on that side. We laughed about Frank and the scarecrow he put up in his yard as autumn decoration and how as he stood admiring his handiwork, his red-heeler Blaze came around the corner and began to growl. He must have mistaken it as an intruder because he attacked it and ripped it to shreds right before Frank’s eyes, scattering scarecrow body parts all over the yard. Frank doesn’t blame the dog, but rather has been bragging to anyone who will listen that Rags is the smartest dog he has ever owned. 

We laughed and talked for several hours; sometimes laughing until we had tears running down our faces. He and I have always found humor in the smallest things. It is one of the reasons our friendship has lasted nearly 45 years. As we laughed about the scarecrow (and I gasped for air as the tears flowed) the cell phone rang. I answered and it was Sho and Li. They were calling from Tokyo to check on my grandson and me as they do regularly since my husband’s passing. We had a lovely conversation of several minutes with repetitions of several phrases on both our parts as our Okie English and their Japanese English don’t always mesh. 

Duffy finished his tea and took off for parts unknown and I came in and started lunch. All seemed good until this morning when I received one of those email cards. It was picture of flowers and the words “We send great sympathies for your loss” and was signed Li and Sho. They had sent a card in June for husband’s service so the timing of this one had me curious. I sent a quick email thanking them and asking why they sent it. The message came back “We are grieved that you have suffered the loss of your prized livestock”. I started laughing again and as soon as I call Duffy I know he will laugh too.

This is where the literal part comes in. When I answered the phone the previous day Sho said “We are calling to see how your day is progressing for you.” I recall that I had replied “My friend Duffy Moore is here and we are outside shooting the bull.” Queue the laughter. Bwaaahahaha! Answer the phone, Duffy…answer the phone.

 

Social Media

I finally have something good to say about social media. It is very handy in finding the owners of lost mules! Yesterday morning my daughter woke up to her dogs barking and found three mules in her yard. Rural wisdom dictates that stray livestock be contained so they do not cause an accident on the road so she shut the gate and alerted the rest of us. 

Those who know me well know that I look on social media as an intrusion and use it myself mostly as a way to promote my column and business. Even then I am leery of it and don’t have much good to say about it. Having been the unwilling keeper (and feeder) of various forms of stray livestock over the years I was skeptical when my daughter posted a photo of the mules and a brief note telling the owners where they were and to come get them. Low and behold, within a few hours she was contacted and the animals were picked up by their happy and relieved owners!

No driving around getting in and out of the truck to see if anyone in the area knew who they belonged to. No feeding them that night (or many more nights) while repeating the process of trying to find the owners. No trips to the feed store to put up lost critter ads. Just one post and social media took it from there.

They actually came from across the highway and then south, so it would have taken quite a while to find the owners the usual way. So today I am thankful for computers and social media and the good things that it can make happen in our lives. Next on the list, posting to find out who left the bag of zucchini on my porch; but that is a whole other story.

The Hat Collection

Hanging in the front hall is our family history written in hats. Each one hanging there has a story about the person who wore it. My grandfather’s metal hard hat tells how he wore it for 42 years as a pumper for Gulf Oil. My Father’s cap with a picture of my kids on it tells us that he was a proud grandpa. Recently my late husband’s straw cowboy hat made it from the everyday hats that are currently worn on one side of the hall to the history collection on the opposite wall. It became apparent that perhaps the collection may be outgrowing the hall. They are crowded and we really could use more space for things we are using at present. I decide that I need to just go through them and clear out a few. There are a lot of stories hanging there and I am not sure I can thin them down, but I know I need to just do it, so I got my little step-stool so I could reach them and started going through them one at a time.

 

The black cowboy hat belongs to a friend, Jay, who was a mule-skinner. In a time when few could he drove mule teams. He made it into a few movies and did a lot of parades. The sombrero belonged to the Outlaw Poet of the State of Texas, TR Stephenson. Horseman, educator and author of Sunday Creek, Jeff Streeby gave me the one with the Teddy Roosevelt looking crown. There is a feed-store cap with blood stains where the red cow got the drop on my husband while he was working on her calf during branding one year. I wore the gray one to Ireland where I shared Cowboy Poetry. Our son’s first Cowboy hat and our Daughter’s first Cowgirl hat remind me that they were raised here and are as attached to this place as I am. Each hat tells the story of the person who left it hanging here. Each hat is a biography.

 

There are caps and Cowboy hats, hard hats and welding caps, children’s outgrown hats, newer hats and hats soaked with sweat that have obviously seen many hours of hard work. Free hats, expensive hats, hats that were gifts, all hang along the wall on hooks added over the years. Some even sport an autograph or two. Each hat’s story reminds me of how much their wearer meant to this family across the years. There’s a certain magic associated with each hat. Their hanging here lends a certain amount of good luck to the atmosphere. I remove them from their places, I brush away the dust and find myself hanging them right back where they were. 

 

Someday I will take them down and do something else with them. Someday. For now I find too much comfort in walking beneath them each time I cross the hall. They call to me and remind me that our family is rich in history and good friends. They tell me stories that make me smile and that is more important than more space in the hall

 

The Sulking Stone

This week the Sulking Stone received a new name compliments of grandson #1. On top of the west hill, the Sulking Stone sits beneath an exceptional shade tree with a view that includes not only our place but the small town of Vinita, over 9 miles away. This is unusual for northeast Oklahoma. We mostly have low, rolling hills in this area. We got a gem when we bought this place almost 20 years ago. The realtor brought us to this spot first so we could look down on the green hay fields our small valley and across the miles. We seated ourselves on the stone and without seeing the inside of the house decided then and there to make this our home.

Over the years we have all taken turns coming to the top of the hill to sit on the stone. Most of the time we came because we were upset or disgusted hoping to work things out while protecting the rest of the family from our bad mood; thus the name, “The Sulking Stone”. Every member of this family (and several dear friends) have spent time here. I am a little ashamed to admit how much time I have spent sitting on this hunk of sandstone being mad about one thing or another. But this weekend something changed.

Hoss and I went for a drive in the gator and ended up at the big pond on the hill. The only way up to the stone is to trudge up the ridge at the south end of the pond. We stood awhile and threw a few small rocks onto the pond, watching the fish jump and make circles in the water. When we reached the top we picked a few stray blackberries and sat down on the Sulking Stone. 

Conversation is easy there and we talked of cows and horses, the gator we drove, his current favorite movie and blackberry pie. We also talked about fishing and how he misses coming up to fish in this pond with his grandpa. I have done well with my grief since my husband passed away in June. I had thought my grandson had done well too. But the tears that fell from his eyes let me know in no uncertain terms that he is missing his PawPaw in ways that I can never truly understand. I hadn’t considered how much of a world they had built together. As he cried he told me in his seven year old way how much this place had come to mean to him. I sobbed along with him as he spoke of sitting on this very stone and ate the snack they had fixed and brought while he listened to his grandpa tell him stories about when he too was small. “This,” he said “is our happy place. I miss PawPaw. When will he come home?”

What could I say? How could I make it better? I hugged him to me and I started a story. I told him how I met his PawPaw nearly 35 years ago and how we built this place for our family. I told him about Heaven and how PawPaw was there, building a new place for us where we could all be together forever. We sat on the stone for hours; until the sun was gone behind us. We made our way down the hill and back across the pasture to the barn. As we put things away I watched him climb up onto the pipe fence and look towards the west hill. “Maybe…” he said as he looked back at me “Maybe next time we go to our Happy Rock we should take our fishing poles and a snack.” 

I nodded my head “Yes” and realized that things really have changed. We will survive the changes, one at a time, together. And I think that his idea is the best idea anyone has ever come up with while sitting on the stone…I mean, the Happy Rock.

Weather Predicting

Each night, as the day comes to a close, I watch the weather. I can’t help but smile when I think about what a creature of habit I have become. Just like my Grandfather I depend on the weather. I watch television and he watched the sky. He could tell from the shape of the clouds, the scent of the breeze and the feel of humid air just exactly what the weather was going to do. It is amazing how accurate he was in his predictions. “There will be rain come morning”, he would say, and we would wake up to the patter of drops against the window.

Thanks to weather radar and other modern equipment television weather personalities are now able to make predictions that are very accurate. But I still catch myself watching the weather and then going outside to look up and watch the motion of the clouds. Am I as good at predicting as my Grandfather? Not really. But I can tell from the motion in the clouds that a storm will miss us by a mile or that it is headed more south then east. Feeling the air is a time-honored tradition in my family and I think I go outside more the carry on tradition than to predict the weather.

Standing out in the yard gives me time alone with my oldest Grandson. I tell him about my Grand-father and how he could tell what the weather was going to do by looking at the sky. He has a pretty good knack at making predictions himself. He reminds me of a miniature of my Grand-father as he stands there, thumbs hooked in his pockets, cap pushed back, eyes scanning the horizon.

Maybe it’s the connection of generations that is more important than actually predicting the weather. Important moments when we can stand together and agree that there will be rain by morning, no matter what the weatherman says. Precious minutes where I get to share stories about my Parents and Grand-parents and what I learned from them. Maybe it’s not about the weather at all. Maybe I am just trying to develop the habit of retelling the stories of who our family members are and were and what they did and said. It is this connection that makes us who we are and who he (Grandson) will become.

My Grand-father could use his pocket-knife to painlessly pick a sticker from a little finger. He could recite the Gettysburg Address and the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States. He could build and garden and laugh louder than anyone I have ever known. And he could predict the weather. 

My grandson wanders through the room, glances at the television and asks me if it going to rain. I smile. It’s time to turn off the TV and head outside for a little weather predicting.

Rusted Wire Lives Again

About a quarter of a mile south of this 107 year old house is a pile of miscellaneous stuff. A piece or two of old farm machinery, broken well parts, wheel-less wheel barrels and roll after roll of barbed and baling wire. Husband called it ‘our rust collection’. No one knows what is at the bottom of the pile. A neighbor says it has been there since he was a kid and he is eighty-eight years old. He alleges it has been there since this place was a trading post over one hundred years ago. That the first owner allowed people to park their wagons back there. The tales lend an air of mystery to the pile. Alas, we will never know what is under the tons of rust that towers over my head. Or will we?

Recently I was in need of a wedding gift. The couple in question greatly admires a frame I made that has barbed wire on it. I have frames and thanks to the pile I knew I had wire. I cruised back in the gator and acquired a roll of rusty wire. Back at the house I decided that none of the frames in my possession looked right with the antique wire. I had bent several feet around different frames and I started gathering it up in order to dispose of it. I wish I could say I came up with the shape on my own, but I earlier in the day I had said a prayer for God to guide me into new things. When I got done crumpling the wire I accepted the sign I had been given. A couple of more twists and a coating of sealer and I had a barbed wire cross. Jan and Tony thanked me, said they would hang it over their front door and asked for another to place in their tack room.

Making the crosses has turned into an inspiring activity. People come to pick up their cross and while they are here they share scriptures, their testimony, their appreciation for Jesus Christ. What do they see in this old rusted wire? Is it because it has survived the elements and time? Is it that their faith has also survived and though rusty, has withstood all tests and trials? I feel blessed by each story, by each person who shares with me their own personal connection to the Lord.

Since my husband’s death I had felt somewhat lost. Things have changed drastically and I wasn’t sure what the future would hold. I prayed to be lead into new things. My prayer was answered. It will take a long time to reach the bottom of the pile. The rusted wire takes on a new life and with each creation from the rust collection I am able to bless and be blessed. Who could ask for more?

Rich People Pay

Getting the place winter-ready is a chore and a half this year. Life got in the way the last couple of years and things were done on a margin. Getting back on track has been a challenge. The heat has not helped. I have spent many hours soaked to the bone with gallons of perspiration. My mantra this week has been “Rich people pay to sweat like this”. They pay big fees to join gyms and to hire personal trainers. They spend hours working out in various ways in an effort to lose weight and get their muscles in shape. Spending hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars as they suffer through hours indoor calisthenics. It makes me sad for them. They don’t get to see the outdoors or breathe in fresh air. 

Always the entrepreneur I propose a farm and ranch exercise program! Bring me your dollars and in exchange I will put you on a program that will not only get you in shape, but will teach you skills and resourcefulness. Need to lose weight quickly? I will put you on the hay crew for a 14-16 hour day. You will sweat off 25 to 50 pounds depending on the heat index. Need to build muscle? My feeding program will put you to lifting 50 lb. bags of pellets and mineral blocks. Just need to do something light and feel more centered? There is a horse brush right here with your name on it. In addition we will be adding our housecleaning and laundry programs for those who prefer indoor workouts.

You will be given three square meals a day, all the water you can drink and a bed to fall into at night. I guarantee you will lose weight, trim up and come away with a totally different outlook on life. I may even add a class or two of meditation. I plan on calling them “Day-dreaming While the Water Tank Fills” and “Hiding in the Barn, Sitting on a Bale of Hay”. Both classes are pretty much self-explanatory. There will of course be an extra fee involved, especially for the hiding in the barn one.

It’s just this simple, sweat is involved, healthy food is involved and someone taking your money is involved. It’s just like at the gym, but we won’t make you sign any contracts. Discounts are available for groups, families and willing attitudes. Now, repeat after me “Rich people pay to sweat like this…Rich people pay to sweat like this…Rich people pay to sweat like this…”

Cow Country Code

Deanna Dickinson McCall was born and raised in a ranching family originally from Texas. She, her husband and children ranched in Northeastern Nevada for 25 years. It was a remote ranch that involved living with no electricity, or other common services. Raising a family there was a learning experience.

She has sold livestock supplies, received cattle for auction yards and ridden for wages besides working their own ranch. They bought their ranch in the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico in 2006 where they currently run 2 herds of cattle, Corriente and Brangus.

The old stories, poem and songs were a big part of her life growing up. Today she writes from the view point of a ranch daughter, wife, mother, and a hired hand.

She has performed at Elko, NV, Prescott, AZ, Cedar City, UT, Las Vegas, NV, Alpine, TX, The Autry Museum and other gatherings and venues for numerous years. Her work has been included in several anthologies, such as Ridin’ & Ropin, The Reunion, Thanks for The Poems, and CD version anthologies. Her book of poetry and short stories, Mustang Springs was published by The Frontier Project and nominated for several awards. Her CD RIDING won the AWA Cowboy Poetry Album of the Year for 2012.

With this thought by Deanna, I give you the Cowboy Poetry of Deanna Dickinson McCall. “There’s always been a code of honor among cow people, helping neighbors, doing the right thing, even if it done begrudgingly.”

COW COUNTRY CODE

I listened carefully, listened to directions

All based on recollections

Of cattle last seen, water and grass green.

 

His face was lined, lined from a lifetime

Of counting every nickel and dime

Worries and cares, hopes and prayers.

 

He’d outlived his child, outlived his wife

Seemed to have tired of life

After the stroke, spirit and body broke.

 

Drought had fallen, fallen heavy on the land

Grass replaced by piles of sand

Tanks lay long dry, under a blazing sky.

 

We prowled around, prowled for his cows

Swore to ourselves renewed vows

Of helping neighbors, and our free labor.

 

But, we faced mortality, faced our own years

And sought to appease our fears

Of growing old, and outfits sold.

 

Cattle were gathered, gathered and sorted

Numbers tallied and reported

We figured the amount, he was given the count.

 

It would be enough, would buy a place in town

To watch the sun go down

On a quiet street, with memories bittersweet.

 

His old hand shook, shook as the paper curled

That gave a dollar amount to his world

He took our word, couldn’t really see the herd.

 

 

That tally he held, held with quiet pride

Was one time we all lied

We’d padded the count, added to the amount.

 

His cattle were thin, were rough and open

Hadn’t calved like we were hopin’

We added a few, ours, and he never knew.

 

It was our raising, raised to do right

In the old days of black and white

No question of gray, only one right way.

 

We rode hard, hard and long all day

For something more valued than pay

A time honored code, for this we rode.

Pete Cash

Raised on the family ranch near Bryan, Texas, Gary Prescott grew up helping with the cow/calf operation and working in the family hay fields in the summertime.  He writes and sings with the heart and soul of a South Texas cowboy and his songs reflect close family ties and values. As an adult Gary worked cattle in the deep South Texas brush giving him even more hands-on experience from which to write.

“Pete Cash” makes me laugh because I have owned my fair share of horses just like him. Gary tells me that pieces like this just write themselves. Yes, Gary, the good stuff always does.

“PETE CASH”

Early one mornin’ at the ranch, with my snuff can out and havin’ a pinch,

Found myself with a brand new horse to ride.

A lineback dun was standin’ there, legs hipshot, with shaggy hair,

And a big T-Heart brand on his left side.

        So I grabbed my saddle off the rack, swung it up there upon his back,

Then pulled the cinches tight without adieau.

Then I stepped up on him without a word, gigged him with my Crocket spurs,

And with a snort and a squeal, that outlaw broke in two!

        Oh, Lordy! How that horse could buck! He chinned the moon and went belly up,

I was pullin’ leather and I danged near lost my hat.

Then he planted his feet and sucked back hard, and launched me out the front end, pard,

‘Ol Pete Cash was as quick as any cat!

Pete Cash, Pete Cash, never look a gift horse in the mouth,

Not even when you’re flying by his face!

       When I came to, I was holdin’ the reins, I figured I’d better try ‘im again,

So I dusted myself off and climbed aboard.

He humped his back up a little bit, gettin’ set to throw another wall-eyed fit,

But he untracked nice and easy thank the Lord.

        Now Ol’ Pete knew his cattle I’m here to say, and he stuck with the rank ones all that day,

As we choused ‘em from that thick East Texas brush.

And with the herd penned up at the home corral, I figured we was best of pals,

Till the ground came up to meet me with a rush.

         Pete Cash, Pete Cash, never look a gift horse in the mouth,

Not even when you’re flying by his face!

I said, Pete Cash, Pete Cash, never look a gift horse in the mouth,

Not even when you’re flying by his face!

 

Bless All the Cowboys

I have so much to say about the author of the following featured piece of Cowboy Poetry that I am leaving it all for another day. I will share that Gwen Petersen is an author, poet, columnist, play-write, producer, gathering founder, performer and shameless satirist. See what I mean about leaving it for another day? For now, please enjoy the work of one of my favorite poets.

Bless All the Cowboys by Gwen Petersen

Bless ‘em all, bless ‘em all

The thin and the fat and the tall

Oh, bless every cowboy that I’ve ever met

Some I remember and some I forget

For I’ve given my heart to them all

To waddies that I can’t recall

I’ve flirted and teased ‘em

And tried hard to please ‘em

But never the less, bless ‘em all.

Bless ‘em all, bless ‘em all

Those cowboys with guts and with gall

Oh bless every puncher who ever rode by

Tall in the saddle, a wink in his eye

For I stare at each cowpoke amazed

They leave me a-smiling for days

Those handsome bronc busters,

They get me all flustered

But never the less bless ’em all

Bless ‘em all, bless ‘em all

The wide and the skinny and small

Oh, bless every mustache and every tall hat

Watch as they toss out a big lariat

Oh, them cowpokes will always enthrall

Especially the ones I recall;

Who speak cowboy verses

For better or worse-es,

But nevertheless bless ‘em all!

 

Looking Forward

This last year has been filled with challenges of all types; health issues, financial woes, unpopular farm and ranch decisions and a variety of other problems that would have over-whelmed us if it were not for our faith. With God’s love and help and the love, prayers and support of our friends and family we have not only faced those challenges, but overcome challenges that would have devastated the weak of heart.  

As we go into this New Year we look forward with hope for times filled with happiness. However, we are prepared to withstand anything that comes our way. My Great-uncle used to say that ranching was not easy, that if you were not in tune with your animals, nature and God that you would pay dearly. I take his words to heart. We plan and we pray; it is our way. It has worked out well for us these past 30-odd years.  

Even as we plan, things are not always going to go the way we want them to go. It is God’s plans that will unfold, not ours, and we must bow to His great wisdom. He gave us the creatures of our fields and made us stewards. It is our duty to manage them, to manage ourselves, according to His word.  

Ranchers and farmers base their lives on the weather, the behavior of animals and prayer. I do not know anyone who is successful at ranching or farming who does not have a deep spiritual bond with the earth. They recognize that earth as a gift from God. They are a strong crew who work hard to sustain what they are giving. Challenge is only that; we thrive on it and are thankful when we succeed.

This last year was tough, but it was filled with great lessons. We learned and we shared and we have immerged successful and unafraid. Now we move forward and hope that you too will find great promise in this New Year. God bless each and every one!

Dear Santa,
I know you are just trying  to do your job, but do you think you could see your way clear to not land on the  barn roof this Christmas? Last year the clattering of your reindeer and sleigh  caused quite an expensive mess. My chickens must have thought that the barn was  going to collapse on them and in their fright fourteen of them died from the  over-exertion of trying to escape. (This cost us in loss of eggs and meat for  our Sunday dinners.) The commotion caused the horses to blow up and kick holes  in the walls of their stalls and the barn door thus injuring them to the tune of  a $700 veterinary bill. (By the way, the Vet really hates coming out to do her  job on a holiday!) The goat was so upset by all the other confusion that she  jumped up on the feed barrels and knocked them over. The old cow, who was the  most calm in the midst of all this, proceeded to eat grain to the point of  bloat. (Please note this added another $250 to the Vet bill.
Startled by  the noise, my husband and I leapt from our bed and ran for the door. We collided  in the process and I received a black eye from his elbow. Husband dashed across  the yard to the barn and in an effort to yank open the horse-damaged door,  herniated himself. (Did I mention that emergency rooms are very crowded and  expensive on a holiday? Also, did I tell you none of this is covered by  insurance as there is no provision in our policy that covers our property or  livestock in the event of damages caused by a mythical being?)
Each year  we ask simply for peace on earth, healthy animals and good crop weather. Each  year you bring us Chia-pets and fruitcake. We don’t want to sound unfriendly,  but this has got to stop.
We recommend that you get a one ton diesel truck and a  stock trailer. These do not frighten our livestock. We also recommend honking  before you get out of the sleigh as our cow-dog is getting old and has become  very aggressive with strangers in furry red suits. (Nothing personal, he’s just  doing his job.) As for all previous damages, we are willing to absorb the costs  and chock it all up as part of what it takes to live our rural lifestyle.  However, you need to be made aware that there are laws against trespassing and  we have discussed our options with the District Attorney. (He’s just doing his  job too.)
We hope you have a wonderful holiday season.
The 4DH  Ranch Family

Snakes in My Décolletage

 

When it’s cold I dress in the height of rural western fashion Carhartt® insulated overalls and coat. Though my insulated underwear beneath might not match, I am totally coordinated in tan canvas as I make my way to the barn through mud and ice. As I go about the morning feeding of horses, cattle, goat, cats and dogs I consider myself fortunate to be living my life as a ranch woman.

I try to do my chores efficiently, using as few steps as possible and wasting little time. To save trips back to the barn I leave the shoulder straps of my overalls loose, forming a chest pocket into which I stick supplements, tools, etc. as I go about feeding the mares nearest the barn.

This morning I walked into the feed room, reached up and pulled down a square bale of hay. Stretching higher up for a second bale I pulled it towards me, tilting it against my chest for balance. It was early morning and it was dark…but not so dark that I couldn’t see the bull snake on the other end of the bale. I started to step back to allow the bale to just fall when my legs encountered the previously dumped bale. I sat down with the second bale square against my chest. As the snake slid forward, I swear to you, not since Eve in the Garden had a snake smiled in such a mischievous way. 

I am not afraid of snakes. I have a healthy respect for them; especially when I have a hoe or shovel in my hands. As I pushed the bale away the snake slid tail first into the “pocket” of my overalls. At this point I would like to tell you that I was calm and used lady-like language; however, that would be a bold-faced lie. Falling off the first bale onto my back I had a sudden flash of what it must be like to be a turtle. Thick, insulated clothes make it very hard for short, round women to get back up once they are in a prone position. Grabbing the wire of the bale, I managed to turn myself over and get to my feet. Once standing I began “the zipper dance”. You know the steps…pull, tug, pull, stomp, pull, pull, pull! 

I made my way out of the feed room and into the corral. Gathering my wits, I grasped the top of the zipper and the tongue and moved the zipper on the front of my overalls about halfway down. Unfortunately, this also loosened them at the waist and instead of falling out as I had hoped; Mr. Snake proceeded down into the left leg of the overalls, which fit me just snug enough that I could feel his every movement. Hope springs eternal when you are in a desperate situation; I figured he would go on down and would simply fall out the bottom of the leg of his insulated prison. That, was entirely too optimistic on my part. It was wet and muddy and I had pulled on my big rubber boots, with the bottoms of my overalls securely tucked inside. 

As I danced about, my daughter came around the corner of the barn. Throwing myself onto my back in the muck of the corral I shouted, “Quick, peel me out of these overalls! Snake! Snake! Snake!Kicking and struggling with the side zipper on the leg, I awaited her help; but she was nowhere to be seen! The mental image of a turtle on its back once again invaded my mind. As I screamed her name I saw her coming from the barn with a hoe and looking at the ground. “Where, Mom? Where?!” she kept asking. 

“IN MY OVERALLS! GET ME OUT OF THESE!”

Grasping my boots she tossed them aside and began to tug at my overalls, which were still secured by their straps over my shoulders…inside my coat. I was grappling with the coat while my daughter dragged me around the muddy corral. I had the sudden realization that I was a turtle on its back and had the irrational thought “What would a turtle do?” (However, pulling my head in and ignoring the situation was not an option at this point.)

“COAT!” I screamed, “OFF!” Fortunately my daughter speaks fluent screech and was able to translate my cries into directions. Sitting me up, she jerked my coat off and returned to tugging at the legs of my overalls. With one industrious yank they came off and as they flew into the air, so did the snake. 

I love old Roadrunner and Coyote cartoons, especially when impending disaster is played out in slow motion. This is the first time in my life that real time took on all the qualities of that poor Coyote having a boulder fall off a cliff onto him. The snake flew up, went into a stall, hung momentarily (still smiling, I assure you), curled into position, straightened out like an Olympic diver and propelled himself straight onto my stomach! My daughter, also in slow motion, watched the snake go up and down and made one comment, “Duh-ang!”

Rolling to one side I dumped the snake into the mud, grasped a panel, scrambled to my feet and grabbed the hoe. I would like to tell you again that I was very lady-like and magnanimous and that I allowed Mr. Snake to make his escape unscathed. This also, would be a lie. I do believe however, that when Mr. Snake got to reptile heaven he told the gatekeeper that he was dispatched from earth by a United States Marine Corp drill instructor wearing muddy long johns and socks wielding a sharp hoe like a machete. I will admit I may have over-reacted a teeny bit, as Mr. Snake vaguely resembled stir-fry when I was done.

My husband made it in from his latest job in the Gulf and went out to do the evening feeding. I had not related the day’s events to him as I was in the shower for the second time that day. (More mud, a skittish bottle calf, you get the picture.) Fortunately for me, my daughter was with a friend and had not regaled her father with her version. (Which differs slightly from mine…I did not pummel the snake with my fists nor did I shout, “This is for women everywhere!” Not that I recall anyway.) 

As my husband came back into the house I heard him ask, “Who killed my snake?” 

“What do you mean by my snake, Cowboy?” I asked in that unnerving controlled “mommy” voice that children and husbands fear.

Silence from the hall.

“You knew, it was there?” I asked. “And you didn’t kill it?”

“Well, it eats mice and it never causes any trouble.”

Wrong answer.

“It slid off a bale and into my overalls.”

More silence.

“I think I’ll go back out and spend a little time in the barn before supper” he said as he retreated outdoors. Smart man.

There were lessons learned from this incident. I learned that children do listen to what we say. My daughter made me put seven dollars in the swear word fine jar for what she heard and told the whole county that her mother can kill a snake with lightning speed once it is outside her clothes. I learned that it doesn’t matter if your long-john tops and bottoms match as mud co-ordinates everything into barnyard brown. I learned that my husband is pretty savvy when it comes to knowing when to make a quiet exit. I also learned not to repeat this story to friends or Jon will write a song about it.  

The snake learned a valuable lesson too…Turtles, are tougher than they look.

My Father’s Daughter

UDODA (Father) 

 My Father wears a coat of many colors for all the world to see, that deep inside his soul beats the heart of a Cherokee.
What have I learned from his spirit, his laughing, loving ways? I learned the past belongs to the present, Not to waste my younger days.
The stories of my ancestors are his legacy to me; That honoring them and who they were determines who I shall be.
I am my Father’s daughter and I can only hope, that one day I will be worthy to wear my father’s coat.
*U-do-da = the Cherokee word for Father

Coming Home

Darlene called and asked if we might be interested in taking Shadow back. She had been injured several years back in an accident where another horse slammed into her. Darlene said it was breaking her heart to have to give her up but after much thought and prayer she had come to think retiring on the 4DH might be best for her.

We watched Shadow grow and perform through photos Darlene generously sent across the years. The thought of having her back brought us happiness. We made adjustments to have her back in our lives and we waited for her return. 

I understand Darlene’s heartbreak. The day Shadow was born I fell deeply in love with the little grullo and white filly. I don’t often keep the paint babies. Horses are our business and they are usually sold the minute they hit the ground. But she had ‘the look’ that I had waited for; she was perfect in every way and I could see myself riding her. But cancer changed all of that and I found myself making the decision to sell her to help pay the medical bills. I know how it feels to load her up in a trailer and watch her go out of my life. 

This week Shadow came home after thirteen years. Our good friends the Streebys hauled her to Durango from southern California. She stepped out of their trailer and we breathed each other in. It was one of those moments in life that freeze in time. I said a prayer of thanks for Darlene’s great sacrifice to give us this gift.

I used to say there were only two foals I ever regretted selling. Now I do not feel any regret for having let Shadow go. She reached her potential as a winner and brought joy to Darlene and now to us. 

Since I am close to retirement myself it is fitting that I now own horses that are in various stages of their own retirement. Cutters, ranch horses and brood mares that have given us a good living over this lifetime. We are thankful to them. God made us Stewards of Land and Livestock and we have been blessed to have given the opportunity to work at doing what we love. Together we will share our retirement here on the 4DH. Thank you Darlene for sending Shadow home and thank you God for this life filled with good people and good horses.

Old Songs and Stories

I was my Grandfather’s shadow and privileged to go everywhere with him. We spent hours at the firehouse, my grandfather playing dominoes with the off duty firemen and talking while I sat on top of the fire truck with the station’s mixed breed dog. We spent Wednesdays at the sale barn watching the cattle and the occasional horse go in and out the gates; the auctioneer’s voice trilling along as we ate the best hamburgers on the face of the earth. I sat in the big chair at the back barber-shop while Mr. Thomas cut hair and the men talked Ag prices and politics. I learned early keeping my mouth shut would get me into places that other 6 year olds were not allowed. So I sat quietly everywhere we went and I absorbed lessons about life.

My favorite place we would go was my great-uncle Larn’s place outside of Borger, Texas. A trip there was an adventure. The drive took all day with evening starting to fall as we pulled in. A quick meal and everyone moved out to the front porch where I would sit on the end of the swing by my Grandfather. Larn would get out his guitar and his best friend Dub would get out his fiddle. They would play a few tunes and tell a few stories and laugh. Larn would eventually say “Dub, when are you going to get some new strangs fer that dern fiddle?” Dub would draw the bow across the strings with a sound like a cat being stepped on and say “Hell Larn, they was new when I bought this fiddle 40 years ago. They got some life in ‘em yet.” Then everyone would laugh and they would go back to picking and talking. I would sit and absorb, unsure how each evening like this ended because I would drift off to the sounds of old songs and old stories, finding myself the next morning on the couch covered in a patchwork quilt.

How fortunate I am to have had the opportunity to grow up listening to old men tell their stories. How fortunate I am now to have many older men counted among my friends. I cannot tell them how much I appreciate the time they spend telling old stories and singing old songs in front of my six year old grandson. Nothing means more to me than hearing him start his own conversation with “MawMaw, do you remember when…?” 

In this day and age with so many kids going astray I believe one of the reasons is because they have no stories or songs. Oh, I know they watch movies and listen to what passes as music; but they have no one telling them the old stories about Cowboys and War Heroes and families who struggled and won against nature. They don’t hear songs about working hard or being a pioneer or loving the land and the flag. 

This is my new mission, sharing the old stories and the old songs and telling the youngsters of today about the men and women of yesterday who set a standard of hard work and patriotism. There are many people already on my list but I am open to any suggestions. Please feel free to send them to ridingdrag@gmail.com. In the meantime may I suggest you share a story or two with the six year old in your life. Borrow one if you have to. Sharing information about the real people who built this country one story at a time is a part of our country’s salvation. Join me, please, right here on the swing on the front porch.

 

The Changing Mountain

We finally made it back to Durango after 5 months of medical procedures and chemo treatments. Husband was blessed with a short bout with cancer that turned out quite well. When he was finally released to go back to work we packed up and made a bee-line for Durango. 

Coming in late at night we did not get to enjoy the scenery on the last leg of the drive. But it made for the best morning in a long time. I woke up and made my way through the house to the kitchen and what I saw through the glass doors took my breath away! The aspens and cottonwoods had taken on a golden glow of various shades of yellow brilliant against the San Juan Mountains whose tops were covered with a dusting of snow. Throughout the day the sunlight and clouds changed the colors of the mountains. The shadows moved and painted them with a completely different look from one minute to the next.

I finally found the tears of relief I have been holding back for so many months. From the moment we found out he had kidney cancer to the moment we were told that part was clear I had held my breath. We believed then and now that God is going to use this situation for something great. But somewhere in the background I felt a little fear. I came to understand that I feared change. I like our life that is spread between Oklahoma and Colorado. I am a creature of habit and I do not like making changes in any shape or form. But I was being shown that I did not have control of the situation.

Standing at the window watching the clouds move over the mountains the second set of peaks disappeared. Slowly the closer set was covered and could no longer be seen. I walked away from the glass and did some unpacking and cleaning. An hour later, as I wandered into the kitchen with a hand full of clean towels I glanced out and saw both sets of peaks, the sun shimmering on the snow. There they were, clear as could be, the mountains! There they were in all their glory. I could not help but smile.

Everything (not just the mountains) was clear to me! Just as the mountains are always there though covered by the clouds, our life the way we love it is always there. Sometimes things get covered up and we cannot see our way; but that too is subject to change. The changes are the beautiful part and God is in control of it all. 

Deep breath, let it out…it’s all going to be beautiful.

 

I Want To Be A Cowboy

In my life, more times than I can count I have heard someone say “I want to be a Cowboy.”  I’ve heard it from kids when I was a kid and I hear it from kids now. I hear it from adults expressing their desire to be a Cowboy in these, their later years. The answers I get when I ask them ‘Why?’ are also too varied to count.

Duffy tells me he always wanted to be a Cowboy because his father and grand-fathers were all Cowboys. Tom tells me he wanted to be a Cowboy because they are an honorable culture of men (and women) both past and present. Teresa wanted to be a Cowgirl as a way to be closer to horses. Brady’s reason when asked why was to answer “Why not?”

Robert Beene says “I cannot explain why anyone would want to be a Cowboy; but I do not understand anyone who wouldn’t.”

I must say that pretty much sums it up for me. I cannot understand why anyone would not want to be a part of a culture of people who are honorable and hard-working. Who put their country, animals, family and neighbors before themselves and who keep to a Code of doing what is right in the eyes of God.

With all that is going on in our country it would serve us all well to live by that Cowboy Code.

As a child I wanted to be a Cowgirl because of my grand-parents. Fortunately for me, I grew up and was blessed to realize that dream. I also married a man who embodies that Code and all that is good about being a Cowboy. In these times there are so many folks out there who have no direction. It is my prayer for them to find that little bit of Cowboy that lies deep inside us all. It’s there, you just have to look and believe.

Say it with me… “I want to be a Cowboy”. That’ll do.

It Finally Feels Like Fall

 

We woke up to find it raining that slow, steady kind of rain that whispers the word “Fall”. The wet, cool air has crept into the house as we slept and sends us in search of house slippers and a warm over-shirt. We are tempted to turn on the heat, but talk ourselves out of it. Sleeping was comfortable last night snuggled beneath warm covers while breathing in cool air.

 

The smell of hot tea and a pan of cinnamon rolls in the oven fills the house with a scent you cannot get from any candle. It hangs on the cool air and draws us all into the kitchen where we talk and laugh. There are chores to do outside, but for this hour we eat and hold on to these moments that will come back as memories for our grand-kids some far away day in the future.

 

After feeding I seclude myself in my office and pretend to write. In reality I am staring out the window watching Husband and the oldest Grandson as they lead in the mares in from the west pasture. The weather looks to grow colder and they will need the shelter of the big barn. I once again convince myself that we do not need the heat on yet. I pull my red shawl around my shoulders and settle back in my office chair.

 

It has been a long arduous summer; but fall has finally come and with it many changes, not only to the weather but to our lives. Things we have prayed for have been granted and we are truly grateful.
I put off writing for just a few more minutes to enjoy the sight of Husband and Grandson being joined in the rain by our Son. Three yellow slickers slipping in and out of the horse herd brings a smile to my face. This moment of joy is a gift from God and I intent to savor every second. Fall…I’m so thankful it is finally here.

 

Still Riding Drag

My Pappaw called me his little Drag Rider because I was always bringing up the rear with my herd of littler cousins. As the oldest (and the only girl) it was often my responsibility to look out for everyone else. If I complained Pappaw explained the Drag Rider had the important job of making sure every stray was looked after. He assured me that one day I would appreciate being responsible.

This early training has proved useful throughout my life. I learned how to think for myself,  how to anticipate problems, how to defuse and settle a situation and to pick up on all the stray details others missed. This past summer has put my experience to the test.

My Husband’s cancer was a surprise. We’ve spent the summer in a whirlwind of Doctors, surgeries, chemo and radiation treatments. As the Drag Rider I took care of medical scheduling, dealing with the bills and doling out medication. Together we have fought this while keeping up with the management of the cattle and horses and a myriad of other family related things. We are now at a crossroads;  his follow-up CT scan showed that while treatment has taken care of the kidney cancer we now face a spot that has shown up in his lung.

So here we are again, headed down the road on that three hour trip to the OU Cancer Center. We still truly believe God is going to bless us with something great from this situation.

Something else I learned from my Pappaw; while not a very glamorous position, bringing up the rear enables you to see the bigger picture. Maybe that’s why we are looking at this as just another piece of the Big Adventure God has blessed us with. Still Riding Drag…

Wasted Day

Finally, a cool day with a wonderful light breeze. I’d like to say I accomplished a great deal but it would be a lie. I wasted every minute of it and I do not regret it one bit!
       I slept in and then had breakfast on the porch. There was a chill in the air and I wrapped my shawl around me. I got it in Ireland and I sat there remembering my two summers there teaching. I fired up the computer for my grandson so he could do his reading program and sat with him as he read out loud. We laughed at a silly story and talked about how loud the weanlings were outside.
         Time slipped by as I wandered through the house deciding what chores I should do. I gave myself permission to do none of them and took a stroll outside. I sat on the bench by the weaning pen and talked to the three fillies as they fussed for their mothers. They poked their heads between the pipes and accepted being touched.
         My Son and Husband were building new doors for the dairy barn so I moved myself over to the bench by the pecan tree where I could watch. It did my heart good to watch my Son as he did the lion’s share of the work, looking out for his dad who is recovering from cancer treatment. They stopped to watch a red tailed hawk work the ridge, calling out as he hunted. I moved over by the gate and heard our lone dove cooing in the pecan tree. I said a quick prayer that the two birds never meet.
        Grandson had his Dad remove the training wheels from his bike and minutes later he was peddling around the yard and coming to a sliding stop before me. I had just been thinking that perhaps I should go in and do some laundry or something. Instead I sat and applauded him as he showed-off his new skill. All the while, more time slipped by.
       In the course of the day I sat outside and talked to neighbors who dropped by, listened to my Son and Husband talk about this and that, threw crickets into the spider web by the tack building and napped in the lawn chair. I strolled out to the big tank and filled it to the brim while listening to the mares nickering for their babies and felt a pang of sympathy. I spent some time in the swing east of the house and shared the company of the dogs and one very fat tom cat. I enjoyed every minute as the day grew short and the sun began to set over the west ridge.
      After his bath Grandson came and sat next me for our nightly story. Before I could begin to read he told me “Today was the best day ever!” I had to agree. Time is never wasted that is spent with family and friends. So did I waste my day? Yes, in the best way possible.

 

Dear Grandpa

Dear Grandpa,  Just a quick note to let you know that your teachings have not gone un-used. Those things I picked up from you as a child have come in handy here and there throughout my lifetime. Those garden tips have brought in bumper crops even in the drought years. I still think of you each time I turn the compost heap or bury a milk jug to help water a new tree. I can make the best jelly out of any fruit and canning vegetables does not strike fear in my heart.

 

I wanted to mention that your legacy has found it’s way on down the family line. Your great-grandson is a ‘scrapper’ just as you were. Just this week I watched him scrap the copper wire out of an old pool pump that a friend was throwing out. As he sorted out the different metals I remembered sitting on the tall stool in your shop helping you peel the plastic insulation off the wire. I still have the square one gallon Gulf Oil can that we filled with the scrapped copper. I told him what you told me, that everything has value and if you aren’t afraid of a little work you can always make money.

 

Your great-great-grandson is following in your footsteps also. He refuses to throw out his big toy truck just because the wheels broke off. He insisted we could make new wheels from wood, and so we did. I still have the skills you taught me and am quite handy with tools. Funny how that was one of the things that attracted my husband, my ability to fix it myself.

 

I guess the point of this letter is simply this: Grandpa, I have always loved you and appreciated all you taught me. I know I said those things while you were alive, but I want to say now that I would give anything to have you here teaching my son and grandsons. I promise to do my best and I only hope that my efforts are worthy of your teaching. Thanks for everything. I miss you.
Ladybug

 

Lucky Are We

We have been thanking God for the wonderful family and friends He has blessed us with. Through all of the surgeries, chemo and radiation treatments and countless lab and doctor appointments it has been these family and friends who have kept our world from falling apart.

 

Our daughter Dara and son-in-law Ryan have kept the critters fed and the water tanks full. Our son Dalan has kept lawns mowed, tanks filled and our trucks serviced and running. My dear friend of 44 years Keith and his lovely wife Diana have provided us a place to stay in OK City during these long months and have given us much needed daily cheer-leading. Our dear sister-in-law Jimi has kept the cupboards stocked for our return home and has kept the house in tip-top shape.I could spend hours on the help my Mother has been. She has taken over the homeschooling if our Grandson Hoss and makes sure he is safe and cared for each day.

 

Friends have made sure our hay is done and put away, that there is a watchful eye on the place each time they go by and that we can rest assured that they are there for errands and favors. Each time we get a message saying “Anything you need, just ask”, we know it is not an empty gesture.

 

We are thankful for cell-phone technology that keeps us in daily touch. Texts and emails from family and friends cheer us up with prayers and comments. Though scattered across the United States and abroad, we are blessed with those who send their well-wishes and cheerful tidings.
There is no way we can ever repay those of you who have been there with love and support. We cannot imagine our lives without all of you. To every one of you we say “Thank you!”. Lucky are we for a God who has blessed us with all of you.

The Value of Words

I admit it; when surrounded by them I cannot resist. I find myself reaching out, holding their solid substance in my hands and suddenly I am overcome with the desire to drink them in; absorbing every bit of them until I am absolutely tipsy with their essence. Yes, I am an addict and I cannot resist the power…of a good book.

I have had the opportunity to read a great deal lately. While my husband is in radiation or with a doctor or spending hour upon hour in chemo treatment, I read. I have read magazines and the story of Duck Dynasty, Cowboy books by Ramon Adams, a translation of songs from English to Lakota and a book on home-improvement. I have devoured sermons by Joyce Meyers, found solace in the words of my Bible and laughed at the cartoons of JP Rankin that I printed from the internet. I consumed Cowboy poetry by Teresa Burleson, admired the unique style of Jeff Streeby’s ‘Sunday Creek’ and wondered at the skillful beauty of the use of the written word by Buck Ramsey and Walt Whitman. I do not leave the house without a book (or two) in hand.

In high school I had two exceptional teachers, Mrs. Billie Ross and Mrs. Beth Young. Both read aloud to the class and both taught us the value of each and every word. I learned word-crafting from these wonderful ladies who encouraged my efforts and gave me a true sense of structure and emotion. Mrs. Young told me to “keep writing from the heart”, while Mrs. Ross told me to “edit, edit, edit and then edit some more”. Both insisted one must read good writing and bad writing so as to know the difference. Both told me to “write what you know”. I have tried to stay true to their advice. I often feel that I fall short, but I keep at it in honor of them and their teachings.

Today’s book is ‘Somewhere in the West’ by Texan, Linda Kirkpatrick. She too, writes what she knows, Cowboys and local history bring us close to Leakey Texas and Western characters. Yes, I am powerless over many things; I cannot control my husband’s cancer, I cannot stop war or stupid politicians. But I can control what I read and what I write and no one can take either away from me. I encourage everyone to read Western Literature, History and the Bible. Read words and write words that are valuable, that encourage and uplift. I guarantee it will be worth your time.

Cowboy Chemo

Cowboy boots, snap front shirts, starched creased jeans, western belts with ranch logo buckles; there is instant recognition of like-spirits. They are Cowboys and they do what they do best, they talk about Cowboy things.

They talk…and find that they know many of the same folks. Stories about the late Clem McSpadden, Ben Johnson and other great Western characters roll one after another.

They talk…about great cutting horses, livestock, good ropers and bad ropers, the best horse they ever owned, their favorite rodeo and the best range Cowboys they each have ever known.

They talk…while the chemo drugs drip into their bodies. Never mind the hanging bags of liquid designed to stop cancer in its tracks.

They talk…about the oil fields they have both known so well; Midland, Odessa and places with names long forgotten.

They talk…about Hobbs, New Mexico where both spent time as younger men.

They talk… while the minutes slip by as nurses come and go checking machines and replacing bags.

They talk…about their daughters and their sons; of grandkids and ranching and passing it all on down.

They talk…and agree that what they are going through is worth it if for no other reason than they love their families and want to be there for them.

They do not talk… about themselves or about the cancer.

They are just two Cowboys doing what they have to do to get back to the point where they can do whatever it is that God intends for them to do, since in His grace He has seen fit to give them this second chance.

Cowboys…giving credit, where credit is due while they talk…

FAMILY TRADITION
The bucket fills with blackberries quickly; I retrieve a second bucket from the truck and begin to pick more. It is quiet on the hill though the rest of the family picks too. Spread across several acres, each lost to their own thoughts, we pull the ripe berries from the bushes that grown wild. There are enough clouds to keep the sun shaded making picking a pleasant experience.
I miss my Dad on picking days. He and I spent many hours picking blackberries. We would fill our buckets, chat about many things and enjoy one another’s company. Though we spoke we also knew how to enjoy the quiet. It is the quiet that is reminding me of him. I think of him making blackberry dumplings for the family once we were home and I resolve the do the same for my family.
I stop to look farther up the hill to check on my oldest grandson. He is picking along side my son, his father; the resemblance is uncanny and pulls at my heart. My nephew is further on and working in an area next to the pond is my husband. I realize how fortunate I am that they love me enough to be here with me, helping to fill the six buckets. I will freeze enough berries to be able to enjoy the sweet taste all winter.
Hoss comes running off the hill. He shows me his bucket and tells me “I caught a lot of blackberries!” The stains around his mouth and across his cheeks tells me he has eaten more than he put in the bucket. We compare our purple fingers and wonder at the juice dripping from a small hole in his bucket that has splashed onto the legs of his pants.
Everyone gathers at the truck and we ride down the hill towards home. Tired and thankful we carry buckets into the house and wash and bag the berries. Somewhere in the middle of it all my son tells my nephew that blackberry picking time is a family tradition. He goes on to tell about picking with his grandfather and his Mom and how he looks forwards to it each year. I had not thought of it as a tradition; I am glad that my son does.
Tucking my grandson in we laugh once again (despite baths) at our purple fingers. He tells me he had a good day and wants to know if we can go ‘catch’ some more berries tomorrow. I tell him don’t know why not, after all, berry picking time is a family tradition around here. I listen to his prayers and kiss him goodnight, thankful for moments like this and for blackberry memories. Before I lay me down I flip through my recipe box and pull out the card written in my Dad’s fine hand; tomorrow another tradition, blackberry dumplings and homemade ice-cream.
SURPRISE!
Ronnie and Jeanie are our neighbors. We have bought hay from them for years. A visit with them is always delightful as they are of like mind.
      Saturday their daughters Lori and Lisa honored their 40 years together with a wonderful dinner at the civic center here in our small town. Family and friends attended, coming together to enjoy good food and good company and to pay tribute to two folks who are always there for their neighbors and friends.
      We watched a video presentation put together by their daughters. Old photos of Ronnie and Jeanie as kids, their wedding, kids and grandkids as well as a portion about lifestyles of the not so rich and famous featuring humorous moments throughout their lives together. In the middle of the video it was put on pause and Ronnie got on one knee and much to her surprise, proposed to Jeannie again. They stood before Rev. Wilson and rededicated their lives to one another.
       As they stood in front of their family and friends I couldn’t help but notice that they were looking at one another the same way they were looking at each other in the photos of their original wedding 40 years ago. Smiling at one another, wiping away tears and promising to stay together from this day forward. There was not a dry eye in the house.
      I tell you this because it is rare in this day and age for people to stay married 40 years. Promises of forever are not taken seriously and vows are broken at the first hint of trouble. I found this ceremony inspiring to say the least and felt honored to be included in this glorious moment.
      Jeanie would tell us that just before they were married the first time they found a ring in a Cracker Jack box. It became a joke between them that they would use it in their wedding ceremony and they did. She still has it and has instructed her daughters to have it on her hand when she is buried. It occurred to me this is the true key to their marital success…their sense of humor. You have to be able to laugh together to be able to survive the serious things in life. They have perfected their life together starting with a Cracker Jack ring and coming forward, smiling all the way.
       Congratulations Ronnie and Jeanie. You are an inspiration in more ways than one.

 

Haying Time

The rains this spring and summer have made for good grass this year. We find ourselves gathering bales and putting them in storage instead of scrambling for hay as we have the last few years. The pastures are full of round bales scattered across the land like buffalo grazing in the evening light.

Buffalo Grass

The round bales stand, heavy and grand,

it’s been a good year for hay.

Up the hill I walk, to sit on my rock,

as master of all I survey.

It occurs to me, this used to be,

part of the open plain;

Before you and me, before cattle was king,

the royal Buffalo reigned.

Clouds edged with light, day eases to night,

dusk plays tricks with my eyes;

Into visions I drift, shapes start to shift,

Night-hawks sing a lullaby.

The moon rises low, shadows come and go,

I see shaggy beasts in the haze.

They come as I sleep, give me knowledge to keep,

I watch them content as they graze.

They ramble on in, I call them kin,

I awake to find them not there;

But it’s not been a dream; I still feel the steam,

of their sacred breath in the air.

The water still flows. The wind still blows.

The bluestem waves tall and green.

And I see them each night, when the moon is just right,

the Buffalo of my dreams.

I breathe a prayer, while I’m standing there

and hope it’s not too late;

To save the earth, for what it’s worth,

or we’ll suffer the very same fate.

I’ll heed their call…Pray for us all,

ask God “Where do we go?”

When the moon is pale, I’ll stand near the bales,

and pretend…they’re Buffalo.

 

Escape

I knew it wouldn’t take long; I went to the laundry room on the back porch and when I came back to the living room he was gone. Home only three days from the hospital where he had his kidney removed and he had escaped! I went to the open front door where I saw him, followed by our six year old grandson. He was headed to the west corral.

When I asked him where he thought he was going he simply said “I need to see CiCi. I need my horse.” My grandson (very wise for his age) said “I’m here MawMaw.”

I cannot argue with either one. I have been there. I know the healing power of horses. I watch them, but I let them go. God speed.

Getting Even

Back in 2000-2004 I had cancer. Fortunately for me I was blessed with a team of Doctors and Nurses, many of whom I had known most of my life and who I called friend. My best friend gave up his time, his hobbies and sleep to care for me. He is my husband and I cannot tell you all what all he did for me during that time. It was his love and care that saved me. It was he who carried me out to a lawn-chair among my horses. This one thing helped me with my healing more than any other thing done on my behalf.

This week we were hit with the news that he did not have back pain from a spill he took several months ago but pain that was brought on by a cancerous tumor in his right kidney. We are presently putting together a plan of action with his doctors for his surgery next week. Do we know where this is going? No. We simply pray for healing and prepare to accept it. We beg the patience of our friends and co-workers as we go down this path.

I write this column each week and I talk about what goes on with the critters, the members of the 4DH Crew and our friends and neighbors. I have tried over the years to always stay true to the goings-on of ranch/farm life. At this moment I am at a loss for words. I can only tell you this; God in his wisdom allowed me to go through cancer so I would know who loved me as much as He does. Now he is affording my husband the same chance.

I am finally going to get the opportunity to get even with my husband for all he did for me. I already know where I am going to place that lawn chair for his ‘equine therapy’.

One Potato, Two Potato  

With the way grocery prices are climbing I am becoming increasing glad that I plant a garden. I have talked about how much I enjoy getting seed catalogues. They come when spring is far away and set us to dreaming of fresh vegetables and beautiful flowers. It is my favorite time of year when the first catalogue arrives in the mail.

The last couple of years have been a disappointment in gardening. Spring started out well with the garden going in and for the first month things grew. Then the heat would set in and no amount of watering would keep the plants growing. It was very disheartening. But this year is worth every minute of hard work! Spring was filled with rain and not only the garden but the hay fields have flourished. Green is everywhere for the first summer in several years.

We are so hopeful that we are already planning a bigger garden for next year.  Why do we allow a little success to inspire us to expand? It’s just the rural way! Farmers and Ranchers like to see things grow. We love every minute of what we do and knowing that crops and livestock grow in direct relation to how much hard work we put into it is satisfying beyond words.

Long ago when I was a kid my grandfather grew potatoes in a tower of used tires. As they grew he would add a tire and more dirt. Before he was done the potato bed would be five or six tires high. To harvest he would take off a tire and brush away the soil revealing the potatoes. This is my plan for next year, gathering up used tires and planting the way my grandfather planted. That and praying for more rain between now and then. For the present I plan on having some tomatoes and squash for dinner. How does your garden grow?

Rural CSI

We never heard a thing; not a scream or a squeal, not a bump or a bang, not a shuffle or a scuffle, no not a single noise of any kind. But the evidence of the murder was there; blood everywhere. Big, half-dollar size puddles of blood, from one end of the deck to the other. Globs of it in the hand rail and on down the steps.

It was a gruesome scene indeed.

Our first concern was for the cats and dogs themselves. All of them passed inspection, not a cut or scratch anywhere. This led us to believe that they could possibly be the culprit. Who/what then was murdered? This was a job for CSI…Critter Scene Investigation!

I admit it, I am a closet investigator, and I am pretty good at it. Back home if there are feathers scattered across the yard I know all the evidence points to the murder of a bird. No matter how innocent the cats look laying there on the porch I know they are guilty. How? They didn’t rush to the door for food when I came outside, which means only one thing, they had full tummies. You can figure it out from there.

But there were no feathers. There was no squirrel or bunny hair. There was nothing except large drops of blood; more blood than any squirrel of bunny could have inside their small body.  It makes me nervous because apparently there was a critter on our deck that was pretty large in size to have lost that much blood. More nerve-racking is the thought of the size of the animal that did said critter in.

I have deduced this much, that whatever it was that was murdered it was too large to have been killed by any one of the three cats or either of the two wiener dogs. (Who have the air-tight alibi of being asleep in the house with us at the time of the murder.) The killer was bigger and meaner and sneaky enough to pull off the crime without being heard or seen and without leaving any evidence at all. Despite the large amount of blood there was not a single foot/paw print to be found.

I have become cautious about standing out on the deck at night. I have also confined all my Critter Scene Investigation activities to daylight hours. But it hasn’t stopped me from spending a great deal of time looking out the large back windows and doors wondering about this incident. I prefer to not think of these measures as cowardice on my part but rather stealthy surveillance. Yeah, surveillance…that’s it. CSI continues to work on this case with Agent Mom leading the investigation. Details of the case will be released as they become available. (I think I need a theme song.) 

Zella

When I think of her, I see two pictures,

side by side in Grandma’s book…

A hopeful young nurse, in a starched white dress,

and a red-head, in a wheat field, with a grinnin’, onery look.

She was a nurse, when it was a job,

that only a woman would do,

She nursed in town odd hours,

then planted wheat and bottle-fed calves too.

Because she married a handsome farmer,

and together they would homestead,

And in the course of fifty-some years,

kept each other’s spirits warm and fed.

 

She learned how to drive most any tractor,

and she knew how to plow,

And she knew about delivering babies,

be they human, or be they cow.

This dual life she lived,

sometimes took everything she had,

But if you asked her about it,

she’d say, “Aw, it’s not so bad…

You see, life is an Adventure,

if you play the cards you’re dealt,

Good times you let the seams out on your britches,

bad times, you hold ‘em up with a belt.”

 

She loved to share ideas,

and she had an open and inquisitive mind,

She said you should look for miracles,

because they’re not that hard to find.

Like babies and calves in the spring,

crocus and crystal in the snow,

And seeing your friends and loved ones,

everywhere you go.

 

She would have been pleased to see all the people,

who came to the service that day,

She never would have believed so many would come,

just to honor an Old Farm Girl that way.

And every one had a story,

about how she touched their life,

Like the one told by a man

and his forever grateful wife.

The man was smashed by a tractor,

they fetched her to their farm,

She bagged his lungs and breathed for him,

for two and a half hours, with her work-strong arms.

 

The stories would have embarrassed her,

it was her job, as a nurse, you see,

I must have heard a thousand such tales,

and in each one, her humbleness was the key.

So, we stood around the funeral home,

and we laughed, as we told her favorite jokes,

She would have enjoyed the laughter,

she would have gotten in her pokes.

 

Then her Husband asked me what I wanted of hers,

I said, just her nurses hat…

But, true to form, she’d given it to a younger nurse,

so, I figured, that was that.

Then he brought me her old straw hat,

the one she farmed and gardened in,

And a rhinestone brooch she always wore,

and her little gold nurses pin.

 

Then came the time we dreaded,

we had to say Good-bye,

And we’re just not the kind of people,

who stand around and cry,

You see, Death is a CELEBRATION,

and if you do it right,

Your whole Life is a Ministry,

until your soul takes flight.

 

And if you’re really lucky,

people miss you when you’re gone,

And maybe write a line or two,

that keeps your memory strong.

So, I wrote down these words,

that would have made her shy,

So, you would know, we loved her,

and who she was, and why.

For in her UNSELFISH lifetime,

she had truly done it all…

Everything, from those starched white dresses,

to the evening cattle call.

Doing the Right Thing 

From the laundry room I heard my daughter say “Mom…Mom…I need to talk to you.” I hollered that I was doing the wash. She peaked her head in the door and I immediately knew I was about to be conned. “I had to bring a dog home Mom and I swear to you if you don’t like her I will take her back to the shelter and put her down myself. But I want you to hear her story and I want you to give her one week…just one week.”

Her job with the Vet had already garnered us a 7 toed tom cat and two Manx female cats. They went to the shelter once a month to do the put-downs. It is not a fun job, but a sometimes necessary one. Dara handled it well though you could always tell by her sad face what day they had gone. “Tell me the story first and it had better be a good one” I said.

“Fiona belonged to an 86 year old lady who had a heart attack. When the paramedics got there they locked her in the kitchen and took her owner away. No one found her for five days. Her owner passed away and her family came and that is when they found her. They all live out of state and no one wanted her so they surrendered her to the shelter. They have had her for four months and kept putting off having her put-down because she is so sweet. Mom, I had to take her. She looked at me like she knew me and she wouldn’t leave my side. So please, please, please let me keep her. I will take care of all of her expenses. Please.” The look on my daughter’s face told me that she had found that animal we all find sooner or later in our life; that one creature that belongs to us heart and soul.

“Ok…” deep breath “let’s see her.” I said. She opened the door and into the laundry room walked the biggest dog I had ever seen in my life! Fiona, all 135 pounds of her, came directly at me, sat down and put her head beneath my hand and looked at me with her large, expressive eyes. “She’s a Mastiff Mom.” I shook my head and sighed. I was beaten and I knew it; but I reserved my right to say when and if she had to go. That was five years ago.

Fiona lived with us, let my grandson #1, Derrick, grow up hugging her and napping on her and spent hours laying at my feet while I wrote. She moved with Dara when she got married and became the guardian of grandson #2, Nathanial, when he was born. She gave nothing but love and was loved in return. She only had one problem and that was they no one truly knew how old she was. Tell-tale signs started show and it was decided by our Vet that she had major bone degeneration.

For the last year Dara did what she could to care for Fiona. Medications worked for awhile but it became evident that they were no longer holding pain at bay. She could no longer raise her large frame from her bed without great effort and pain. And we, those who loved her could no longer make her suffer just because we were selfish and wanted her to stay in our lives.

My daughter is the strongest person I know. She waited until we were gone and took Fiona to the Vet for one last visit to make sure there was nothing to be done to stop her pain. When she was told that Fiona would only get worse she did the thing we all knew would have to be done and let go. She stayed by her kindred spirit’s side. She petted her and hugged her and whispered to her as her beloved friend slipped away. She did this alone. She did it though a part of her was slipping away too. She did it because it was the right thing to do.

I like to think I have raised good, strong, responsible kids who have become compassionate, loving, responsible adults. It is at moments like this that I know I have only been their keeper. That God blessed us with these incredible beings who love so deeply that they would rather tear out their own hearts than to see a creature or a family member, suffer. We will miss you Fiona; but we will miss that young girl who talked us into keeping you more.

 First Robin of Spring

My grandmother always said seeing the first Robin of spring was good luck as their song summons spring. I shared this with my friend Ruth Anne who had never heard this little piece of superstitious lore. Being an open-minded individual, she took this to heart and throughout the dreary gray months of January and February, March and April she looked forward to the first robin and his song. I too looked for the first robin and so was taken a little aback when Ruth Anne called the second week of May with a question.

“If the first robin of spring that you see is lying on your front porch and the cat is ripping his throat out, is that a bad sign?” she asked.

“Well,” I said, “it doesn’t look good.”

I had intended to write a parody of the old song “When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob Bobbin’ Along”; but I’ve reconsidered; mostly because I couldn’t come up with one that wasn’t totally gruesome.

However, I will share this with you. Winter has been harsh across the nation. We have survived it rather well out here on the plains. I attribute it to our self-reliant culture as Ranchers and Farmers. It has been a long winter and everyone is looking for signs that spring is truly headed our way. Jimi told me that she was very tired of winter weather and asked if one robin means spring is coming, would over a hundred of them at once mean that it is coming very soon?

My answer (with apologies to F.P. Church)…Yes Jimi there is a spring. It exists as surely as Ranchers and Farmers. It exists through our belief that the coming spring will make for better crops and livestock. It exists because we will it to. It springs eternal in every cabin-fever infected soul.  And it lives in the heart of every robin, as long as we control our cats.

For more information on Debra Coppinger Hill go to AlwaysCowboy.com.

Keeping It Sharp

We sat out on the porch after supper and while he sharpened his pocket knife we watched and listened. Over the years we saw him sharpen so many knives that he wore the whet-stone in two. Still he sharpened, using each half down to a sliver. When he turned 80 I bought him a new stone. He used it for four years and when he left on his journey to Heaven, I picked it up from beside his chair and brought it home. I use it often, making sure I follow his advice to keep my knife sharp and at the ready.

Every woman in my family carries a pocket knife. We were brought up to keep it where we could use it. I have used mine for chores around then farm, for opening CD packages, picking stickers from fingers and getting a colt out of a tangle of honeysuckle vine. Each time I pull it out and open the blade I think of my Grandfather and the day he gave me my first knife. Each time I sharpen the one I own now I think of my Father; it was his and Mother gave it to me.

I look around my house and see many things my family has passed down to me I feel a connection to each piece and am happy they cared enough to place it in my care. The connection is family history for the most part. Everything comes with a story. Years ago I was given an old notebook with little stories in it that my grandmother had written telling where certain family heirlooms came from and what they meant to her. She encouraged me to keep it up and to pass it along when the time came to share my own history with the next generation. I agreed and think I have done a pretty good job. It long ago out-grew the notebook and I added one of my own.

While flipping through the pages it became obvious that I have kept up the history of old books, antique furniture and photographs, but the history of the knives was lacking. Perhaps we never kept track because it is such a personal object. You either understand or you don’t. Pocket knives connect us to those who give them to us. They remind us of places we have been, jobs we have done and people who have taught us. Tonight I will get out the notebook and paste in a picture of my knife and tell the story about how it belonged to my Dad and how I learned to keep it sharp and ready to use from my Grandpa. There is more, but I will have to go get another notebook for all those stories.

Spring Cleaning

Rainy days force us inside after chores and give us a dose of cabin fever. Being trapped inside also forces us to take a good look at our surroundings and take stock of our collected clutter. Accumulated across the winter months when we voluntarily spend more time inside this collection suddenly begins to surround us. We feel penned in and stare longingly outside; but the rain is falling steadily and there is still a chill on the air. We turn back to the mess and make the monumental decision to clean house. I am not talking about the usual cleaning that goes on where we dust a little, run the vacuum and wipe down the bathroom. I am talking about the kind of house cleaning that includes clearing shelves, washing them down and getting rid of half of what we pulled out in the first place.

I love junk. I am, without shame, a junkaholic. I love trinkets and knick-knacks, photos and glassware, Cowboy and Native American bits and pieces. If the article has family history attached, all the better. I won’t even go into books and other printed word pieces and how they fill up space around here. (I vaguely remember a table beneath the pile of books beside my chair.)

My good intentions are side-tracked by the sheer volume of it all. I find myself in the spare room sitting on the floor slowly going through a box of articles, school papers, photos and programs from my kids’ formative years. I know why I saved them; because my mother and grandmother saved things like this for me. They kept scrapbooks for each of us and though I thought them silly at the time they are treasure now. At times in my life when I thought myself an utter failure I could go through them and see what I had accomplished. Notes written here and there among the articles, etc. served to remind me that I was loved, that they were proud of me and that I was special.

No, I did not get the house truly clean. The stack of books still towers next to my chair, there are still vet supplies in my kitchen cabinets and half consumed boxes of crackers in the pantry. But I do have four scrapbooks fairly underway and more than half of the things in the box now pasted to pages. Hopefully they will find these books about them as valuable as I found mine. Memories versus a clutter-free environment…priorities people, priorities.

Let It Rain

The first foal of the year hit the ground yesterday evening with the dramatic background sound of thunder. Chief’s first night in this world was accompanied by lightning, heavy rain and a little hail. Though we hate to see a new baby out in this kind of weather his mother is not fond of being in the barn, much preferring to tough it out in the open.  So he was welcomed to the 4DH in the midst of an Oklahoma thunderstorm.

I suppose we should have been praying for clear weather but instead we were cheering for as much rain as would come down. The last few years of dry weather have left our pastures suffering. Hay comes at a premium and we find ourselves hauling it from Colorado to supplement the ever increasing lack of locally grown hay. We are thankful for a little rain and even more thankful for the kind of rain we got last night.

We are a long way from being at normal moisture levels here in Oklahoma. Every drop that we can get we need all the way across the state. Today, while working on the tack building roof my son said “Dad, the pasture sure looks green this year.” Everyone paused to look and appreciate.

I know rain can become a problem when it comes down in torrents and floods the land. What we have needed for a very long time is a good soaking rain and we have been receiving exactly that. The thunder and lightning are just a show added to the rain for our enjoyment. We do not control the weather; not the drought or the rain. Having suffered the first, we are glad for the second as it spills down from the sky and fills our terraces, ponds and creek. Things are looking up here in North East Oklahoma.

And what about the new-baby Chief?  He spent this day splashing circles around his mother in a joyous dance that cried out “Let it rain!”

Gifts

Ranching and farming present the participants with great gifts.  We receive knowledge because every day is a learning experience. Treating our animals prepares us in many ways for dealing with childhood illness and accident by teaching us to remain calm so the patient (two or four legged) will remain calm. We receive the gift of a sense of humor and the ability to deal with any situation in an upbeat manner. We have been given the ability to survive regardless of the circumstances and the gift of forgiveness, both by us and towards us. Livestock babies are our gift each spring, assuring us that life goes on no matter what. The list is endless.

The greatest gifts I ever received were my family and several life-long friends. God put them in my life and blessed me with ranching and writing. I thank Him every day for all he has given me. But none of it is as important as His one gift that He gave to all mankind…the life of His Son for our sins. The list for why this is important is endless too. We will celebrate this week the glory of Christ rising from the dead.  He is there for each person who will simply believe and follow.

I came back and edited this column after sending it to one publication that sent it back and asked that I write something a little less “controversial”.  I guess I could that, but I don’t want to. Instead I will ask them to rerun a column of their choice at no charge and when their contract is up at the end of April, I will not renew it. I will not compromise my personal belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of man for a check and the sake of political correctness. I would rather be wrong in the eyes of an editor than in the eyes of my Savior.

I would like to mention one more thing. I have never met a Rancher or Farmer who did not have a deep abiding Faith in God. And I believe with my whole heart that stewards of land and livestock are also one of those gifts God gives the world. Spring will come and someone somewhere will shout that the wheat is up or that there is a new baby on the ground and I know who they will thank. I know who I will be thanking. He is Risen!

False Spring

I have lived long enough to understand that a warm day in March doesn’t necessarily mean that spring is here. Sometimes it pretends to be the perfect weather for gardening to lure you outside and get you started cleaning up your garden with visions of fresh veggies dancing in your head. You will work the warm day away and go to bed thinking of all the things you will accomplish tomorrow. Tomorrow arrives with temperatures 45 degrees lower, a misty cold rain and a view through the window of your garden tools leaning against the fence mocking you for leaving them out because you were sure you would be using them early the next day.

I used to fall for the temptations of the first warm days. I would work myself silly getting my first of spring chores started only to be stalled by the following cold. I would have to start over several times throughout the end of winter months of February and March. Several years ago I recalled something my Grandfather told me when I helped plant his garden; ‘Never plant anything before April Fool’s Day.’ I now take his words to heart and follow them to the letter.

Yesterday it was 79 degrees and I spent the day outside. But instead of working in the yard I spent it sitting at the picnic table while my grandsons ran circles around me. We ate a snack, drew on the porch steps with chalk and watched the horses run and carry on in the south pasture. We filled the water tanks, laughed at the cat chasing a leaf blowing by and discussed why we don’t put grass in our mouths that comes from the part of the yard where the dogs go to do their business.

Today it’s 36 degrees and yes, there is misty cold rain falling. We are trapped inside, but instead of staring out the window at yard tools demanding we come out and put them away before they rust, we are drinking hot chocolate and talking about what fun we had yesterday. You see, the secret to a good garden is to not get into a hurry. My Grandfather told me that too.  I am sure he also knew this was the secret to growing a good relationship with our kids and grand-kids. Mother Nature likes to play games with us by teasing us into believing spring is here. The key to enjoying spring when it really gets here is to enjoy the final days of winter. Now, if you will excuse me, my grandsons and I have some corn to pop and a rousing game of Hungry, Hungry Hippo to play; it’s the perfect weather for it.

Let’s All Sing

I am reminded of the old song “Let’s All Sing Like The Birdies Sing”. The Mockingbirds are back and have set up a morning concert on the fence outside my bedroom window. Each day as the sky begins to gray they start warbling and chirping and whistling their little hearts out. (Tweet, Tweet-Tweet, Tweet-Tweet!) It doesn’t disturb me as I have been awake long before the sun began to climb. I do wonder however if the time for their concert will change with the coming of daylight savings time? Do they know what time it is or will they simply react to the sun and nothing more? They seem a little out of sorts and I can only guess that my schedule of chores and movement past their perch throws them off.

Each year I look forward to springing forward an hour and gaining sunlight at the end of my day. I do not mind getting up in the dark and starting my daily chores because the sun appears and lights my way. I do not like doing my evening chores in the increasing darkness. It is a joy to have that extra light, to be able to finish feeding and watering then having a nice sit on the porch to watch the sun disappear. I wish there were some way we could just spring forward and not spring back.

Porch time is my favorite time of the day. I sit and listen to the sounds of the ranch and watch the sun as it sets the stray clouds on fire with brilliant color. Life is good and I am happy and appreciative. I don’t know who came up with daylight savings time. Oh, I am sure I could look it up on the internet and know all there is to know about it; but do I really need that information stuffed into my brain? No. All I need is a big glass of tea and some time spent in what was my grandfather’s lawn chair to help me put things into perspective. So, whoever you are that came up with the concept, the Mockingbirds may not thank you, but I certainly do and I don’t mind singing about it one bit.

It’s Always Something

“Do you have a headache? Are you dizzy? Are you having chest pains?” they asked. “No. No. No.” I answered. I felt fine; as a matter of fact I felt better than I had in months. All I needed was a quick going over and my papers for the adoption signed. My trip to the clinic turned into an affair of the heart and I don’t mean that in the romantic way! “You are currently experiencing a mild cardiac incident; you came in just in time.”

I was still sitting there grinning and waiting for the punch line. Surely this was a joke; I felt perfectly healthy. Sure I was a little stressed (who isn’t?), and sure I was stretched a little thin with family and work and horses and…really I was having an ‘incident’? My whole world is made up of nothing but ‘incidents’. ‘Incidents’ are my norm. I am good at handling ‘incidents’.

I have been released to get back to normal; someone else’s idea of normal, not mine. Better cooking/eating habits, not catch as catch can when I am busy. Better sleeping habits, not staying up all night when the muse calls my name. Better ways of handling stress, not taking on just one more little project because it’s easier for me than them. I have to admit I am not finding any of these things easy to do. I love to cook and I love old family recipes. Writing has always been a ‘when inspiration hits me’ affair for me. I love my family and friends and I hate to say “No” to anyone. But I have promised to do better and get my blood pressure under control and keep a vigilant eye on other problems we found while the Doctor was reading me the riot act.

So, for those of you have noticed I was missing in action, there it is in a nutshell. I am back and ready to write and share. I am also prepared to make critical changes that will benefit me. But first there are errands waiting, a kid to get off the bus, three loads of muddy laundry, a dog to deliver and a bucket of Cowboy goodies to put together for a charity auction. Hey, I said no to volunteering yummy goodies for a bake sale and to hauling a show calf to Kansas. But after all, I swore to behave better, not to quit living my life! Yup, it’s always something, but I promise to be more discerning!

Still My Father’s Daughter

I admit it, growing up I was a ‘Daddy’s Girl”. I was the oldest, the only daughter (and only Grand-daughter) and my Father was the greatest Daddy ever to grace the face of this earth. From him I learned compassion, duty, honor, love and fortitude. I also inherited his sense of humor, his dedication to family and his love and reverence of tradition. He taught me to love all of my ancestral makeup. We were not ‘part’ anything. We embraced not only our Cherokee ancestors but our Irish ones as well and we mixed the traditions into whom and what we are.

Four years ago this week my Father started his journey into the blue towards the Heaven the taught us to believe in. He left behind a hole in our lives that he fully expected us to fill with love for one another. We have been pretty successful at the task, stopping now and then to speak of him and the good things he left behind. My cousin Paul (one of 4 ministers in our family) spoke at Daddy’s funeral and said that everyone deserves a standing ovation at least once in their lives and called and called for the congregation to stand and join him in a round of applause for a life well lived. Each year, as we celebrate the day of his entrance into the Kingdom of God, we stand and give my Dad the same ovation that he received that day when we sent him off to fulfill the destiny in Heaven that God had prepared for him.

Bravo, Daddy, Bravo indeed!

UDODA (Father)

      My Father wears a coat of many colors

for all the world to see,

that deep inside his soul

beats the heart of a Cherokee.

      What have I learned from his spirit,

his laughing, loving ways?

I learned the past belongs to the present,

Not to waste my younger days.

      The stories of my ancestors

are his legacy to me;

That honoring them and who they were

determines who I shall be.

      I am my Father’s daughter

and I can only hope,

that one day I will  be worthy

to wear my father’s coat.

 

End of the Garden

Granny made something she called “End of the Garden”. It included bits and pieces of the last things left growing in the garden at the end of the season. There was no one thing that had enough left on the vine, plant or bush to can a full batch; so she put them all together and pickled it all together in jars of various sizes. Each jar might include green-beans, some cauliflower, small onions, carrots and a variety of other garden goodies. Nothing went to waste and we ate every jar before spring came around again.

I remember working in the garden

when I was a small a child,

Granny took me with her,

though I’d rather have been running wild.

She handed me the basket,

as she asked me to follow along,

Behind her I walked all sulled up

while she was humming a song.

We weeded and we watered

while the summer sun shined down,

And wondered at the colorful bounty

that grew from the rich dark ground.

When all the plants were cared for

she’d say a soft little prayer,

And thank the Lord for our garden

and the good things growing there.

Then to the brim we’d fill that basket

and carry it between us to the kitchen,

Shuck corn, peel squash, slice tomatoes,

for a dinner with all the fresh fixin’s.

Sometimes my mind travels back

to those quiet days in the sun,

Strange how time changes things,

I now remember it all as fun.

Maybe that’s why I keep a family garden

and tend it much the very same way,

And bring my grand-kids along with me

to spend the better part of the day.

I watch them go from sulky to smiling,

as they tote that old basket along;

But now it’s me that’s whispering “Thank you Lord”

And humming my Granny’s song.

 

Persimmons

The knock at door startled me; it would be a stranger I knew because our family and friends do not knock, they simply let themselves in with a “Hello the house!” as they open the door. I opened it to find an elderly man in a blue suit standing at the bottom of the step. I said hello and asked if I could help him. “Ma’am, could I talk to you about that persimmon tree in the pasture there?” he said as he pointed past the dairy barn to where Sadie and Pearl stood contentedly munching on the fallen fruit. He went on to tell me his name and that he was from Nowata and he was on his way home from a funeral.

Earlier in the day he had passed tree which hangs heavy with the dusky orange fruit, the ground covered beneath with over-ripe globes the side of small eggs. They buried a life-long friend today and the tree made him think of their childhood and playing around such a tree on the farm where he was raised. “In the spring when the fruit is new we challenged one another to take a bite of a hard green persimmon and laugh at the faces we each made as the taste drew our faces into a pucker. Then we would throw them at one another in a sort of game of tag. We sat in the shade of that tree when we were out playing and talked and laughed. Later in the fall when the fruit ripened we would pick them up and taste them again to find them soft and gooey and sweet. We would eat our fill and then throw them at one another again, only this time we would end up with patches of sticky fruit on our clothes.” He paused here and laughed until he had to pull a handkerchief from his suit pocket and wipe his eyes.

“Sometimes when we got home Mother would fuss at us for ruining our clothes and she would give us a lard bucket and send us to bring persimmons home. She would make persimmon butter, sort of like apple butter. Sometimes she would mix apples and persimmons. She put in cinnamon and cloves and cooked it for hours until it was thick. If there was enough she canned it for later use. We always got some hot and fresh from the stove and put it on biscuits she made just for that purpose. While we sat and ate she cut open one of the pits and show us the inside. She insisted if the inside had a marking like a small spoon that it was a sure sign that we were in for a long, cold winter. In my life, nothing else has ever tasted better than her persimmon butter and the things we talked about while sitting at the kitchen table have stayed with me my whole life. I just thought I might pick up a couple and cut them open to show my great-grand-kids the inside when I get back home.”

I got the keys to the gate and we strolled out to the tree. He picked up half a dozen persimmons; one for each great- grand-child then six more to eat. I offered him more, but he declined saying he didn’t have anyone who could cook them into persimmon butter. I went into the house and brought him back a sandwich bag for his treasure. He thanked me and drove away.

After he left I came into the kitchen and searched through my Granny’s old recipe box. There on a yellowed piece of paper, written in her round penmanship is her recipe for persimmon pudding. I retrieved my garden basket and I am headed back to the tree to gather some of the fruit that as kids we too dared one another to bite in the spring and filled our tummies with in the fall. I may even throw a few just for old time’s sake as I remember the laughter and childhood games in the pasture behind the red house just outside Bristow. Then I will share it with my son, who just last week texted me a picture of  persimmon seeds that he cut open with his pocket knife, all three showing a spoon-shaped marking inside.

Funny isn’t it how rural people have lives that no matter the generation run parallel? Yes indeed, some things never change and for that we can be truly thankful.

FURAA Rides Again

The country is in a stir as the presidential election looms on the horizon and I have finally lost my sense of humor with those who yammer on and on about politics without the slightest idea what they are talking about. I have been repeatedly asked who I am going to support and though I believe it is a personal choice and no one’s business but mine, I will share my decision making process. Today readers I am going to give you my personal political opinion minus names, political affiliations and fad status.

I am not going to vote for anyone because “it would be politically correct”. I am not voting only because of party affiliation. I am not voting for anyone based on how often their ads run on TV or radio. And I am not voting for anyone who does not display deep abiding patriotism. If they want this American’s vote, they better uphold the Constitution of the United States of America and all those things America was founded on. They must be unafraid of special interest groups. They better have common sense and know how to use a shovel, hammer, screw-driver and broom. It is imperative they have a good work record and be willing to listen to all those who work in the real world each day; who live paycheck to paycheck, crop to crop and sunrise to sunrise.

I intend to keep researching the candidates’ backgrounds, opinions, lifestyles and records right up to the day I vote. I could not care less what they eat, but I do want to know if they support and respect the people of agriculture who made that food possible. I also don’t care what kind of vehicle they drive, but I do want to know what they are going to do about the cost of the fuel they and we use. I want specifics, not all-encompassing generalities. I want to know that they are particular in their choice of friends, employees and running mates. I want them to look me straight in the eye and give me a to-the-point answer with out referring to notes written by someone else. And I want to feel that they are not wasting my time.

For those who have been questioning me about my choices, I also have something to say directly to you. If you intend to ask my opinion, if you intend to criticize my choices, if you intend to try to shove your chosen candidate down my throat, you had better be able to show me your voter’s registration card. In our family, those who don’t register and vote on a regular basis are not allowed to join in the discussion. So get registered or stop contributing to the background noise. Get registered and make a real difference. Get registered or stop wasting my time. Maybe I do have a political affiliation after-all. I am a member of the prominent but not well publicized “Fed-up Rural Agricultural Americans”, better known as FURAA (Pronounced Foo-rah!) ; and that, dear readers, is my political party. Happy voting!

 

More Than Skill 

Yesterday our Farrier came to trim horses. Around here it is no small task; twenty-two was the count yesterday and quite often it is more. As Husband brought up each horse Robert took the time to pet them and talk to them before he set to work. Any apprehension they have seems to melt away beneath his hands. He has worked with some for so long that they nicker and chortle as soon as they see him.

I write about this because we have dealt with other ‘horse-shoers’ who not only lacked the knowledge to keep our horses’ hooves in good condition; but who had no horse-skills. Horses are honest and they give back exactly what they get. I have seen the most gentle of a horse explode at the hands of a so called ‘horse-shoer’ who rushed and pushed and tried to bully. It doesn’t take long to figure out that person has no business working with animals.

Robert has been our Farrier and friend for over ten years now. We value his knowledge and advice. Two of our brood mares would have had to be put down if it had not been for his dedication to healing a split hoof. Under his care they healed and went on to produce five babies each. They are both ‘retired’ from the breeding program and spend their time in the Granny Pasture. They are always glad to see Robert and he in turn calls them by name and spends extra time making them comfortable.

We are fortunate to have Robert in our lives; not only as a skilled Farrier, but as our friend and shirt-tail family member. Yes, after many years as friends, while chatting as he worked on the horses, he and I figured out that his great-grand relatives where half-kin to my Grandfather on my Dad’s side. Interesting how small this world really is after all. It makes me happy to be able to claim him as a relative in any capacity, because his skill with horses translates to people and having folks in our lives who value a good horse and who value friends is important in this world.

Yes, being an expert Farrier is a great skill and having one in our lives is valuable. But finding a tried and true friend is like finding treasure. Being lucky enough to have both in our lives makes us rich beyond measure. And being both is more than a skill it is a blessing to others who love horses too. Thanks Robert.

Thunder

As the rain came down outside my Dad would sit by the kitchen window, drink hot coffee and tell us stories. Cherokee and Irish he shared the ancient tales of both sides of our family. He was a poet in his own right and would recite long passages of the classics and pieces of his own. It is raining as hard as it can go this morning and it makes me think of him. As the thunder pounds and the rain falls I recall a rainy day long ago when we sat in his kitchen and I shared a poem I had written.  “That’ll do Pru.” he said. Thanks Daddy. Rainy days make me miss you.

Thunder

I am the thunder

I shake the ground,

and raise the dust

in clouds that surround.

     Only the brave

can walk in my track,

and dance the dance

that will bring me back.

    I roamed the plains

in massive herds,

now I am few

heed my words…

     Nothing is as worthless

as worldly wealth,

you cannot save the earth

if you won’t save yourself.

     Those things you ignore

and do not save;

soon, with you,

will share the grave.

     I am the thunder

written in stone.

Life and death

matched bone for bone.

 

A Horseback Hymn

Morning finds me walking out among the horses. A neighbour called and said she thought we had some cows out. There are cows out, but not ours or any immediate neighbour’s. Calls made, I shake a bucket and they come to the closest pen and wander in. I will make more calls when I go in.

Cows out brings me to thoughts of the safety of our livestock. I wander out to the horses, count each head and move on to the other pastures. My old paint mare follows. We check fence together along the road and walk up to the big pond. She and I are retired from one another. She is too old to be ridden by anyone other than little grandchildren and I am too old to fling myself onto her bare back and take off like we did so many times, so long ago.

In the quiet of this morning we simply enjoy one another’s company and pretend we are riding through the wet grass.  The rhythm of our steps makes for a melody and we sing. (Actually, I sing and she tolerates me.) It is good. It is why I love this place and this lifestyle. We are fortunate indeed.

        Horseback Hymn

There’s a certainty within us all

that tells us we should ride,

And give our hearts to the West,

our feelings we’ll not hide.

     There’s a sanctity of the Spirit,

in the movement of the wind,

And a peacefulness from the soul,

that comes from the Earth within.

   There’s a silence in the moment,

that fills our hearts with glee,

And an openness to the light

that sets our Spirits free.

    There’s a gift of Salvation

when we throw our arms out wide,

When we look to the certainty

that tells us we should ride.

Reaching Our Goals

As part of my Grandson’s home-school program I was required to ask him “what is your goal for your life?” First of all, he is five and I am not sure he totally understood the question in its written form. After having him stare at me I simply asked, “Hoss, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Smiling broadly he said “I want to be PawPaw!” Good answer.

I identified with this because as a child I wanted to be like my Papaw. My Papaw was a mixture of Texas Cowboy and Oilman. There was nothing he didn’t know and nothing he couldn’t fix. From a broken toy to a broken heart he always had all the answers. He allowed me to follow him everywhere and everything he did he taught me how to do. I was his oldest grandchild and his only grand-daughter. Though I was a girl and a lot of the things I did with him were not exactly considered things little girls should be doing, he defended my choices.

When folks pointed out that I was a girl and maybe I shouldn’t be out there with the horses and cows, he told them I was the best livestock handler he knew. He taught me how to use tools properly, how to fix my own car and to never back down when I knew I was right. I came to believe that I could do anything and fifty years later here I am, working with horses and cattle and raising a five year old full of questions. I married a man very much like my Papaw who believes in this little boy sitting across the table from me and who teaches him the same kinds of things my grand-father taught me. So, his goal to grow up and be PawPaw seems very worthy to me.

Is this the answer they were looking for in the home-school program? Most likely not, but I believe if he can just be a PawPaw that it will lead to other great things in his life. I know it did in mine. Today’s lesson is to follow PawPaw around outside and absorb some good old-fashioned common sense. I have a feeling he is going to get an A+.

Melting Time

Where did the week go? With a family illness, the hospital and Doctors played a big part. Running home to make things keep working here, trying to coordinate things between here and Colorado and let’s not forget homeschooling a five year old all ate time in huge chunks. Then, just as I thought I had it all whipped into shape and could sit down and write my column an opossum threw me for a loop!

My quiet time consists of walking around the property and filling water tanks. Even on exceptionally hot days or very cold ones in winter, I like that time. As the water fills the tank I take the time to watch the horses and absorb the outdoors as the sun sets. The day’s troubles melt away as the water flows. Last night I ran late because of all of the many other things this week has dropped in our laps. It was dark by the time I reached the big tank to the east of the house. But it was not dark enough that I could not see the dead opossum floating in the water.

Yup, you guessed it, when I should have been sitting at my computer writing away, I was out there draining the tank, scrubbing it clean and refilling it. Midnight rolled around by the time I made it to the house; but was that the end of my day? Noooooo! I was then presented with the chore of scrubbing a very helpful (sarcasm) five your old and myself in order the get all traces of dead critter off of us. Then, since we hadn’t had our supper, I found myself fixing something to eat at 1:00 a.m.

Time had indeed melted away; but as I tucked my grandson in he said “MawMaw, I like playing in the water.” Something else melted…my heart. It often takes the words of a child to put things into perspective for us. He loves living here on the ranch so much that every chore is play to him. As I listened to his prayers and kissed him good night I thanked God for His wisdom and for using this little boy to remind me why I love it here.

You see, I had planned on writing about my dead garden and all the wasted time and effort I had suffered due to this drought. Instead, I was blessed with a story that I am sure I will laugh about later. Well, time is melting away as I write this and I have more to do than I had planned, and I have a five year old who just poured his own cereal and milk who requires my assistance cleaning up what he refers to as ‘a little bitty spill’.  I’m just thankful it doesn’t include a dead opossum. ‘Ride Hard, Laugh Often!’

**************************

There are times when a piece of writing says something that with all my heart I wish I had written. Last night I received a note from my life-long friend retired Navy Chief Jimi Tucker. The incident she described brought me to tears and made me understand that once you serve your country, you serve it always. Branch of service does not matter, that sense of honour and duty are ingrained into your very spirit. I am proud of the men and women of our United States Military. Thank you, Jimi for giving me permission to repost tribute.

Inheritance 

You know we wait our whole lives to inherit things of this world. Tonight I inherited something I never thought of, never really consider a wealth.

I work at a Veterans Hospital. We have a full hospital and an old veteran’s home too. We had some WWII vets that belonged to the VFW.  When one of our fellow Soldiers or Sailors passes to their next journey, they are draped with the flag of the country they fought for, the United States of America. We play taps for their last journey and salute as they pass by. The VFW boys usually called us to attention and gave the order to hand salute.

Tonight we honored one of these fellow comrades who passed to his next journey. As we stood lined up on both sides of the hall, I looked around and noticed the VFW boys were not at their post. They all have also passed on.

Being the senior vet on my crew I had the privilege to step up and take the lead, thus my inheritance. I have inherited an honor beyond all honors. To be able to render honor to fellow vets as they pass through our halls for the last time is one of the saddest things, yet I’m so glad that I’m here so they don’t have to take that journey alone!

As I called my crew to “Attention!” they snapped as if they were still on active duty. “Hand salute!” SNAP at once they all hand saluted. Out of my peripheral vision as far as I could see down the hall other vets (patients) snapped and hand saluted also. I could never be more proud of a group.

As the family left, they thanked me for what we had done. I looked the daughter in the eye and said, “We thank ya’ll for allowing us to be able to honor your father for paving the way for the rest of us. “

SHC (SCW/SW) Jimmie D. Tucker USN Ret.

Treasure Hunting

The destruction of the old carport/hired hand quarters is far from complete. However, the roll-off dumpster is full and waiting to be picked up. Plans have been made to get another on Husband’s off weeks the first of next month. While we worked at taking it down we have treasure hunted. I don’t think there is a person out there who owns an old house (107 years and counting on the original section and add-ons throughout the years) who has not hoped to find treasure as they remodelled. Last year we tore out the kitchen floor and all and revealed many interesting things under the old house, but no money, no gold, not one thing that would allow us to retire. It has pretty much been a repeat this time; still no gold, no old family silver and no priceless antiques.

Even though we are tearing it down we have been judicious in scrapping out those things we think may be useful. We have a pile of boards with potential, old hardware we can use in the new barn and because we did not want glass in the dumpster in case someone had to climb in and pack it down, we have a pile of old wooden windows, some old mirrors and a pile of unclassified junk. Well, I thought it was all junk until Daughter arrived. She asked what we were doing ‘with all the neat vintage stuff”. “Vintage”? It seems old junk has now been reclassified as “Vintage” and that means money. She has become a member of a FaceBook yard sale page and said she could make money selling our junk…excuse me, Vintage pieces…on the page. I offered to split whatever she could get with her; then I snickered and wondered what I would do with the $1.10 she would bring in.

Today she brought me $174.00! This was not the total amount, this was my half. I was surprised beyond belief! People, this was all stuff destined for the trash dumpster once it was full and the possibility of going into it was past. And here I was with cash money for what I had considered trash. But you know what they say about one man’s trash being another’s treasure. Treasure! Finally, after searching and hoping we had treasure! It’s all in the eye of the beholder and I began to behold things in a totally different light.

Before he left for Colorado Husband forbade me to work on the demolition alone. He has this baseless fear that I will hit the wrong thing and cause the remains of the structure to fall on top of me. Silly Husband, I won’t be inside it when it comes down, I will be in the tractor pushing it. Seems they also buy old wood with faded paint remnants, rusted roofing tin and old doors. Besides, I’m not demolishing it, I’m treasure hunting!

Better Things to Do

When we moved in here 17 years ago the old carport served well as a couple of temporary stalls. We would learn later that the two small rooms at the front had been quarters for hired hands. They served well as storage for hay and feed and for odds and ends that we had no other place for. Plans were that we would build a new house and that this structure too would come down and be replaced with a garage. But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. In our case cancer came to call and all the money laid aside to build our dream house was doled out to Doctors, Pharmacies and all those misc. things you must have in order to stay alive.

Making do is the norm for us. We have made do from the day we met nearly 32 years ago. We do not mind because in spite of things not being exactly as we planned we are happy and content with this life God has granted us. But last week when we got home after a month in Colorado we found a little weather damage to the metal part of the roof. In Husband’s attempt to fix said loose metal he pulled it from the corner of the structure and two of the poles holding it up fell down. Time, weather and termites had totally detached them from the ground. Though the weather has been in the 107-109 range, upon further inspection it became apparent that the entire structure would have to be demolished before one of our Oklahoma winds blew through and took it down for us in a not so neat way.

Roll-off dumpster delivered and we began the demolition. First we had to move things out of the two small rooms. This went well; right up until Husband pulled several shed snake skins out of the closet of one room. It was then that I realized I other things to do! Now, I can’t say for sure that there are live snakes in there at present. But snake skins, no matter how dried out, mean there have been snakes in there and I am not reassured by Husband’s insistence that they are the skins of snakes that are non-poisonous and who eat mice and do not go after humans. So I was certainly out of there as far as the demolition of this structure went.

However, I could not in good conscience retire to the inside of the house and work in the air-conditioning while he and his helper slaved in the heat. So I attacked the old dairy barn which is full of my art and craft supplies, Christmas lights and decorations, things that I do not remember owning ever nor do I recall placing them inside. Husband held my efforts at throwing things out of that building in slight distain until he and his helper came to remove the dishwasher box and twenty other various sized boxes of trash. I was ruthless! And I am not done as I have the roll-off for another 9 days and plan on making every effort to get all the way to the back of the barn.

Daughter asked me what I was going to do if I found a snake skin in the dairy barn. I told her I had no plans at present as to what I would do but she could rest assured that it would involve screaming words that would not be fit for her or her young son’s ears. Until that moment I plan on ploughing right along through boxes old school papers, kids toys, puzzles, broken tack and (for some reason I cannot recall) a file cabinet with tax records from 1976-1989. (Which Husband had assured me that he had destroyed several years ago.) Out with the old and in with the new and never the twain shall meet!

 

In Search of Coolness 

After a month in Colorado where they are experiencing record heat, drought conditions and fires we have come back to Oklahoma to record heat, drought conditions and fire warnings. We force ourselves to be up and out at four a.m. in order to get through chores before the major heat of the day. Long before the sun comes up it is already 85 degrees. Welcome home.

The grass crunches beneath our feet as we walk from one area to another, filling water tanks and dumping feed. We put hay out in the pastures, not something we normally do at this time of year; but the grass is so dry and has no nutrition left. We find ourselves do what we have been doing in Colorado…praying for rain.

The birds come to the water tanks to drink, a sign of how very dry it is. (Oh Lord, please send rain.) The horses dunk their faces into the cool water filling the tanks and drink and drink and drink. (Lord, we are your servants and we will follow you. Thank you for the water we have.) The cattle come down from the hill as we fill their tanks. They have ponds to drink from but the water is thick from the heat. (Father we ask in your name to fill the ponds with fresh water.)

All things suffer the heat as we notice around the tanks small foot prints of racoons, coyotes, opossums and birds. They come for what is spilled over when we come out and fill tanks again each morning and evening. We spill over just a little so that they can reach water and so that the horses can stand in the wet dirt. Long ago Grandfather said it is good for their hooves when the weather is like this. Is it true? We have no opinion one way or another; we just follow what he always insisted was true. Either way, the smaller creatures appreciate the moisture too. (Lord they are also your creatures and we ask for rain for them too.)

We know the rains will come eventually and we will be up to our knees in mud. But we will not complain as mud is much preferred over hard ground that will not grow grass. What we would give for rain now; even just a little. As the sun rises, bringing another day of record heat, we look off towards the southeast and see clouds. (Lord, will you shove those clouds a little closer and drop some rain from them?) The weather man says we are looking forward to ten more days of triple digit temperatures. Why does he say it that way? No one is looking forward to it.

I notice as the horses walk small clouds to dust kick up and cling to their legs. My own feet kick up the same small clouds and dust clings to my jeans. It occurs to me my Grandfather lived through an era of extreme drought and dust storms long ago. He told us stories about parts of West Texas totally blacked out by the dust that kicked up and surrounded the family place. (Lord thank you for only small clouds of dust at our feet and not clouds of it blocking the sun.) We go on, we do our chores and we keep praying for rain. It worked in Colorado and we know eventually it will work here too.

We find ourselves standing in the shade of the barn. The horses stand next to us and fan themselves with their tails. From the southeast, a small breeze and just a whiff of that smell that says “Rain!” Their heads go up and they look that way. Their ears turn and we are all blessed with the low rolling sound of thunder in the distance. (Lord, thank you for listening.)

Praying For Rain

As arrogant as we humans can be we at least understand one thing; we do not control the weather. We take what we get and we live with it. However, it does not stop us from trying to control the weather in one way. We pray.

For weeks, no, make that months, we have been praying for rain at home in Oklahoma. We had a nice spring with good rains that helped the pastures but still left us over eleven inches behind what they consider ‘normal’. Drought here in Colorado has lead to forest fires and even an oncoming rain storm is watched with trepidation because lightning causes more fire. So while watching smoke from the fire at Mancos, we prayed for rain. Rain that would help douse the fires. Rain that would help protect homes and businesses. And it rained!

It rained and it flooded the streets, but were people grateful? No. I heard more complaints than thankful comments. “Be careful what you ask for”, I have heard. I have asked for rain and I will continue to ask for it as long as we are behind and as long as the word drought is used in every news report. Because I believe that God answers prayer does that make me arrogant? Perhaps; but it is not going to stop my prayers.

The rain has also gifted us with several brilliant single and double rainbows. I take these as a very good sign that God is listening and that He will keep his promises to us. In the mean time, I hope everyone will say a prayer for those affected by the fires and drought. We still do not control the weather but we do control what we pray for and that goes for more than rain. So pray without ceasing; you will be amazed by the results

Through the Gate

Jake was standing at the gate grinning

  when McNamara walked through,

He handed him the reins to his horse

  and said “I been looking for you.”

“We got a long way to go,

  no time to dawdle or play;

The girls are waiting supper,

  we better be on our way.”

Mac swung up into the saddle

  and realized his horse hadn’t changed,

Lucky was as stout, slick and fit

  as he was when they rode the range.

“We’ll be riding familiar trails,

  across places from long ago;

When we get to where we’re going

  you will immediately know.”

They pushed their horses to a trot

  and covered many miles,

Each time Mac looked at Jake

  both of them broke out in a smile.

Communicating is simple,

  good thoughts are easy to find,

When talking isn’t necessary

  because you’re both of a like mind.

Two cabins lay below in the tall-grass

  behind them a red setting sun.

“Home!” Whooped Mac at the top of his lungs,

  And kicked his horse into a run.

They barreled to the bottom of the hillside

  then Mac let Lucky have his head,

 They flew rapidly across the prairie

  through the tall-grass they hastily sped.

He caught sight of Millie on the porch

  white apron and red ribbon in her hair;

As beautiful as he always remembered,

  in minutes he would be there.

Was that blackberry pie he smelled cooking?

  Was that her smile he now could see?

Her eyes as blue as an Oklahoma sky,

  but he wondered where he could be.

“It’s Heaven!” shouted Jake above hoof-beats.

  Ain’t you figgered that out by now?”

Heaven! Could it really be Heaven?

  It was more than his mind could allow.

Says Mac “The gate I passed through was cedar,

  I didn’t see one bit of gold or any pearls.”

Smiled Jake “God gave us riches in our children

  and the love of our beautiful girls.”

I won’t tell you the rest of the story,

  the boys don’t want to be late.

Just know through God’s son we reach Heaven,

  and he gives us each our own gate.

And He gives us loyal friends who show us

  that life lived loving sets us free;

I pray with all my heart that this is true,

  and at the gate they’ll be waiting for me. 

Just a Quick Note

My first cousin once removed Zella always started her letters with “Just a quick note to let you know…”, followed by the news of the week. I had long ago learned from corresponding with her and my Aunt Carol that if I wanted letters to read that I had better write letters to be read. I would read her ‘quick notes’ that would go on for pages and feel a part of my family that was so very far away. I would read it several times over, pick up my pen and write back. Reading made me feel less separated from my relatives and writing made me feel less homesick. Tucked away in several shoeboxes in a steamer trunk in the old dairy barn lie each and every letter they each wrote to me over the years.

They and their letters were my lifeline as we travelled from one job to another. We lived in a thirty-five foot travel trailer and pulled an eighteen footer as an office for Husband. Back and forth across the country we moved while our friends settled into homes here and there. We dreamed of other things, saved money by staying in the trailer and waited patiently for acres, cattle and horses. Zella lived on homesteaded land claimed the last year you could file for a homestead in Oklahoma. She understood about wanting, needing land. Carol understood about moving and taking your house along with her as she and Uncle Bill had been nomads like us at one point as he too worked in the oil fields.

Last week while I was laid up with a messed-up shoulder, I went looking for a book and found instead those boxes of letters. Good news, sad news, jokes, good-natured gossip and stories made for good reading. It is my family’s history compiled for the most part by two women who taught me that love quite often comes in the written word.

Zella is long ago passed through the gates of Heaven, while Aunt Carol lives about thirty-five minutes from me. It seems strange to think about writing a letter to her when she is so close. But as I write this I am prompted to remember that it was she who wrote the last letter to me and therefore, I owe her a letter. I also believe my first line will be “Just a quick note to let you know how very precious your letters have always been to me…”

Hen’s Egg Hail

Once upon a time my Dad asked my Mom to make sure while she was in town to please stop by the discount store and pick him up a couple of pairs of Big Mama panty-hose. Yes, my Dad wore panty-hose; but he had a good reason. If you have ever spent any time in the tall grass or the woods in Oklahoma will know why. For the rest of you, let this poem explain.

Hail as big as hen’s eggs sounds like pistol shots on the roof. We bail out of bed, look out the front door and know that we can do nothing for the horses or cattle in the big pastures. We fear that they will come to harm. Just as quickly as it started, the hail stops and the rain starts. Husband throws on clothes and boots and heads out with a light. I stay inside, we have both small grandsons here and I cannot leave them to go check with him. I stare out the door and wait. It seems like forever before he returns. I am not quite over this unpleasant surprise.

All is well as far as he can see in the darkness with only a flashlight. It lasted only minutes but hail that size can destroy a great deal in that amount of time. The boys slept through the whole thing; the banging of the hail on the metal roof, the two us throwing open doors and dashing about, turning on the TV for the weather alerts and tromping out and in. They do not fear the storms or the sounds associated, they are blessed with child-sleep filled only with dreams.

In the light of day we venture out and see that the worst damage has taken its toll on the garden. Holes in the two foot around squash leaves, the dipper gourd vines hang shredded along the fence and tomatoes lay on the ground. I pick them up and put them in the kitchen window to ripen. At least they will be salvaged. And at least that is the worst of it. No horses or cows permanently harmed, just frightened and maybe bruised here and there.

Oklahoma’s weather is unpredictable this time of year. For all of my life I have watched the sky for storms. They do not frighten me, but they do make me cautious. Even with all of the electronic equipment used by the weather service there are some things that cannot be predicted. No station warned us of hail yesterday; just predictions of rain and wind and yet hail fell causing us to bolt out of a sound sleep. Oh to be like the grandsons and sleep through it all.

It occurs to me that I am not afraid of bad weather because I have faith that God will protect us through all of life’s storms. He protects us though dangerous things fall all around us. It is our belief in His protection that keeps us safe. I know in my heart that the garden will recover. I know that the livestock will too. And I know that no matter what nature throws at us, be it rain or wind or hail, that we may be surprised but not fearful. That’s how it works, that faith thing, we just believe and all is well.

Cowboy Fears

BITTEN

Cowboys don’t fear the coyote
he just yips and yowls.
But the wolf is another story
your blood chills when he howls.

And a panther, will stalk you
even in the dark.
And a bear, when he catches you
will tear you clear apart.

The best thing about a snake bite
is it kills you pretty quick.
And those ‘under-a-rock-critters’
their bite will make you deathly sick.

But the most vicious of the critters
the one every Cowboy fears,
Inflicts a type of torture
that leaves grown men in tears.

With a bite so excruciating
it will make you wish you were dead
And there’s nothing more terrifying,
than when it raises its ugly head.

It attacks without a warning
it’s cold-hearted and just plain mean.
It considers all men prey
and will bite any one that seen.

The suffering, is lingering
and to this very day;
There’s no cure or medication,
that can take the pain away.

It’s just the size of a pin point
and it don’t get much bigger;
But I’ve seen Cowboys brought to their knees,
by the savage bite, of the Chigger.

*Dedicated to my Dad and my Husband who says, “There is nothing worse than
an enemy you can’t see.”

Transformation

They say when you live with someone for a long enough period of time that you will eventually become very much alike. I have a hard time believing this as Husband and I have been married almost thirty-one years and we are really nothing alike. For example, he loves fish and I would rather go hungry than to eat fish in any form or fashion. He can watch bull-riding for hours and after three or four rides I pretty much have the idea and go on to something else. I read anything and everything in print and he considers reading (unless it is about bull-riding or horses) a huge waste of his time.

But yesterday we found common ground while out working in the yard. It seems as if flies blossomed over-night. One day we were sitting on the porch enjoying the evenings and the next flies of every type and size were tormenting us the moment we walked outdoors. Our hatred of flies is one way that we are very much alike. We detest them so much that we have actually given one another decorative fly swatters as gifts.

I have been trying to finish planting the rest of my garden and was hard at work last evening when a large, good-old-fashioned horse-fly began to torture me. It landed on the back of my knee, so I stomped my leg. It flew up and landed on my cheek so I shook my head to get it off and shimmied it off of my shoulders. Repeatedly it landed on me; first one place and then another. I shook and blew and moved around trying my best to avoid the little devil.

You know that spot on your back that you just can’t reach when it itches? In the very middle just below your shoulders and higher than the small of your back that is inaccessible no matter how you twist or turn, no matter how you contort your torso or your arms. That is where it landed next and to add to the aggravation, it began to bite me! To have a horse-fly biting with all its might just out of reach adds injury to insult! I twisted, I turned, I hopped about and I shook some more, all to no avail.

Some of you know that I have hair that goes down below my pockets. As a rule, when I am working outside I keep it in a long braid. This braid was hanging over the front of my right shoulder, and without thinking I grabbed it and slapped it over my shoulder hitting that unreachable spot on my back. I knocked the fly to the ground where I was able to give it a good stomp. “Way to go there Sheza,” quipped Husband. (Note: Sheza is my paint mare and has the longest tail of any horse on the ranch and is seldom tormented very long by any fly.)

I was about to snipe something back when it occurred to me that he was right. I have spent thirty-one years with him, but I have spent my entire fifty-five years with horses. I have become very much like them. I am a creature of habit when it comes to feeding time with two of my favourite foods being oatmeal in the mornings and corn pudding at night. I am more comfortable in a herd of like beings and I respect pecking order and age. I can carry a heavy load and I do not mind pulling my fair share. And last night I proved I can swat a fly with my ‘tail’. Looks like that old saying is true; over time we have become very much alike. I guess it could be worse and I could be more like Husband after all these years. He has a long, thick moustache and instead of a ‘tail’, I could be growing one of those instead. Thank God for small favours!

 Sunday Creek

Sixteen years ago I was asked if my column could run in a paper called the Cowboy Gazette. The Gazette was put out monthly by the Great Falls Rodeo Club and their faculty advisor and editor for the paper was Jeff Streeby. Over the years we have become great pals. Jeff and his wife raise good horses and good kids and such as we did the same we had a great deal in common. Even more, Jeff is an incredible writer. I have been fortunate to have been allowed to do a great many first reads of Jeff’s poetry and character sketches for his book Sunday Creek.

I have waited a long time to see this book in print and my patience has been rewarded. Sunday Creek is now available at Amazon.com. If you search Jeff Streeby, Sunday Creek you too will be rewarded. I recommend this book; no, I insist that you get it. It is a masterful piece of Western literature. Based in the mythical Montana town of Sunday Creek the residents are all based on actual characters of the old West. Their posthumous dialogues weave together a story of pioneers, miners, cowboys, western businessmen, lady entrepreneurs, wagon trains, soldiers and Native Americans. Below is one of my favourite pieces, young cowboy Wiley Rawlins.

Wiley Rawlins
(1867-1889)

I pulled my weight like all the rest–
rode the outside circle on the roundup in the broken country east of Sunday Creek–
did rough service for my outfit in the breaking pen
twisting the wild out of snuffy broncs–
stood my turn at guard under Montana stars thick as snowflakes–
and no complaint–
rode a freight train to Chicago once when Nedringhaus shipped steers–
At 22, I’d had my share of fun–
And then topping a rise one bright August afternoon
wondering at the length of shadow that we, man and horse, cast down the hillside,
the world went white and hot at once
and I, my last flash of wit caught in the like instant when flint strikes steel,
tried to say

“By God. Lightning.”

Who’d have thought?

…………………Jeff Streeby

To this day my Mother’s hands are never idle. She tatted the lace for my daughter’s wedding handkerchief and crosses that she gives to others. She never has to look at her hands, but I have watched them and listened to the song of the shuttle for hours on end.

Tatted Lace

       Her hands were never idle,

she could quilt, and she could sew.

She made the clothes, that we wore,

and the curtains for the window.

        She could make something out of nothing,

it appeared as if from thin air,

And each thing, that she made us,

was filled with love and care.

        The materials came from feed sacks,

opened and washed, then neatly pressed,

And from odd bolt ends of yard goods,

into which she made our Sunday best.

        To make it all so special,

make a feed sack dress stylish and grand,

She edged it with the finest lace,

that she tatted herself, by hand.

        We’d watch the balls of ecru thread unwind,

as her magic, she did weave,

The shuttle moving at a pace so quick,

our eyes it would deceive.

        We watched her tat for hours,

and a certain peacefulness it did bring,

Drifting to sleep at her knee,

the clicking shuttle, a lull-a-bye would sing.

        I’m grown and can afford store-bought clothes,

the very best money can buy.

But I never find anything that I like,

and I’ve begun to understand why.

        The workmanship cannot compare,

to that crafted by her hands.

For I still have pieces of that lace,

and the test of time, it does withstand.

        And like the love she put in it,

when she crafted it for me,

I know where-ever I am in the world,

there also, She will be.

        And in the twilight, through the window,

I still see her hands and face,

The shuttle clicking to and fro…

making tatted lace.

Creak Speak

When we walk into the house the floor makes a creaking sound. It is the same sound that was made by the floors in my great-grandmother’s house in Keifer, our cousin’s homesteaded house in Mangum, my husband’s grandmother’s house in Red Bank, Tennessee and a myriad of other old houses that we have lived in across the years. It was that sound that attracted us to this 107 year old house that we live in now. It is a soft creak; a sound that says “Other’s have lived here and called this place home; you call it home too. Be safe and comfortable here.”

When we first moved here we knew we would have to do some extensive remodelling work. We even considered applying for one of those home makeovers when that program was still on television. Then, instead of remodelling, we saw that they simply bull-dozed the houses they were renovating and started from scratch and our hearts sank. Bulldoze the history here? Never! This house is partially built on what was once a trading post. The stories people have shared with us about their great-grandparents trading here are golden. The stories of the people just prior to us, who lived here for fifty-one years, are priceless. She was a nurse of 42 years who talked a retired doctor into coming and running a clinic for the farm families of this area and he a farmer himself. The WPA built our terraces and put in the “Eleanor” outhouse; named so in honour of a program put in place by Eleanor Roosevelt so that all rural homes would have a sanitary facility. The concrete base sits in the yard. It would be a sin to bulldoze that kind of history.

So alone and other times with the help of family and friends, we have remodelled ourselves on and off for fifteen years. Behind the barn wood panelling  in the master bedroom there is an area where we traced our hand prints, the hands of our children, the paw prints of our three dogs of the time, the hand prints of the friends and family who came and helped. It is dated and everyone signed their names. I added a poem and my kids drew pictures. Then we sealed it up with the last of the panelling. Each room we have re-done has a similar hidden message inside a wall, between the flooring and the sub-floor and even written on floor-joists and new stem-walls. Little hand prints of our children grew as we went and our family history is played out in story and rhyme. We know it is there and with luck, a hundred years from now, no one else will know it is there because this house will still be standing.

With all the work we have done, we still have been unable to stop the creaking in the floors. This is not a big deal to us; it is how the house talks to us, reminds us we are part of its history. In the quiet of night, when one of us gets up and walks through the house softly it says “Creak” and stories unfold. “Creak”, it says. “Children played here. Creak. Families were raised here. Creak. People loved and prayed here. Creak. I am a home.”  Why would we ever want to change that? We wouldn’t. And we won’t. “Creak!”

 

What a Load of Malarky

As the Grandson wheeled past me going ninety-to-nothing on his tricycle, my buddy Duffy pulled into the drive, parked and rolled down the window and hollered “Hey there girlie! What’s with you?” I told him it would take too long to tell which prompted him to get out of the truck and head over to the picnic table where he took his favourite seat facing the road. “Spill it.” he said.

Many big discussions have taken place at that table. Long discussions have gone on about horses, cattle, and politics; Cowboy Poetry and Music have been performed and deep dark secrets have been shared as well as family stories legends. Talking takes tea, so I fetched glasses and a pitcher. After filling them and corralling the Grandson in the back yard I sat down in the shade and looked Duffy in the eye. “Well?” he said.

“It’s really nothing.” I said. I cannot spell the sound Duffy made. It’s sort of a steam escaping ‘pffft’ sort of sound. Translated it means ‘what a load of malarkey!’ He was right. There has been something weighing heavy on my mind lately. I looked into the understanding eyes of my lifelong friend and opened up. “What happens when I run out of things to write about? What will I do then?”

Duffy looked at me, smiled that lopsided smile of his and started to guffaw! “I’m serious Duffy”, I cried, “What if I run out of things to write about?” Recovering somewhat he said “You live with folks and critters, don’t you? You have friends don’t you? You get up and breathe and work here on the 4DH, don’t you?” I nodded my head yes. “Well then, how could you ever run out of things to write about? Besides, if you hit a dry spell call me, and I will tell you something stupid I did that week and you can write about that.”

So, this week I want to share this: It is my prayer that all of my readers have at least one good friend who is loyal and true of heart as my friend Duffy Moore. The kind of friend who listens to you when you need to talk; who is willing to be a little embarrassed to keep a column going and who epitomises the very meaning of the word ‘Friend’.

As for the stupid thing he had done this week; he went on to tell me that he decided to learn to cook Chinese food. “I bought me one of them wok pans and everything. And I followed the directions to the letter, only it didn’t taste so good so I throwed it out to Button and now that dog won’t have nothing to do with me at meal time. I suspicion he is taking his meals up the road at Miss Hellen’s house. So I decided I must have done something wrong and I cooked that chicken dish again only this time I didn’t use soy sauce, I added some Hat Creek BBQ Sauce to it and it was down-right tolerable. Well, to me anyway; Button, he still won’t touch it and I think he thinks I have it in for him or something. I just think he is too picky for his own good. I do believe he forgets sometimes that his is a dog.” (And this from a man who bought another recliner so Button could have his own chair and not have to lie on the floor.)

I rest assured that I will never run out of things to write about back here in the drags and I remember now why I am the Drag Rider for the 4DH. I get to take my time picking up the strays and I get to hang out with the neatest people back here in the dust. (Note to self: Do not accept any dinner invitations from Duffy until he is off his Chinese cooking kick. P.S. Duffy’s birthday is coming up. Remember to buy him a new cast iron skillet, a couple of steaks and a case of Hat Creek BBQ sauce.)

Recycled

How green are you? I never know how to answer that question. It seems it is important to be green, to do things green, to think green. I suppose I don’t understand all the green hoopla because we never called it ‘going green’. In my day we called it ‘recycling’ and in my parent’s day it was called ‘making do’.

In reality we were green before it was popular. I don’t own a single dish rag or dust mop that hasn’t first done service as a dish towel or kitchen curtain. Bath towels go from human use to dog use, and then they see use in the barns during foaling and in the horse trailer. We reuse every box, coffee can and jar we get our hands on. This afternoon I used cattle supplement tubs as planters for my squash and onions. We also use them for watering stock, feeding hay in the pens and a plethora (I have always wanted to use that word) of other farming, ranching and household projects.

Garden plants are started in recycled soda bottles, egg cartons and yogurt containers. I refill my own water bottle and we all have a reusable cup. We wear clothes for good, down grade them for outdoor work, then use them for paint and tar jobs before throwing them away. Laundry soap bottles become feed scoops and scraps of bars of soap go into the leg of panty hose to be hung out by the frostless hydrant so we can wash up outside. Everything has more than one use and we reuse automatically. It is that simple.

I recently read an article on “repurposing” things. They took an old dresser, painted it and glued pictures of tools on it and “wah-lah!” it became a tool-chest. Done that. There was an old bookshelf that they painted and put some baskets on in the hallway to put shoes in. Did that too. They also painted old tires and planted flowers in them. Ok, I never did that; my tires have potatoes planted in them. There was nothing “repurposed” that we had not “recycled” in much the same way. Potato, Patater!

Having realized I have always lived my life green I have decided to remain green afterwards. I have made arrangements to be recycled after my passing. I shall be cremated and my ashes placed in the garden as fertilizer. I figure this will tie me to the home-place forever and I will be making things grow green for quite awhile. My friend Dave thinks this is a capital idea. We have known one another since high school and he says I will make excellent fertilizer because for as long as he has known me I have been full of it. Very funny Dave; and by the way, I am saving a supplement tub with your name on it. If I’m going green, I’m not going alone!

 

RUN HORSES RUN

The horses have been in the lower pasture all winter. It keeps them up close where they are easy to feed and keep an eye on in winter weather. When spring gets here and the grass is up, we open the west gate to big pond on the hill. Husband makes his way out to the gate, one or two of the old mares following along for the attention he doles out along the way. Stroll, stop, pet, scratch, stroll some more. When he opens the gate they walk on through and within in a few steps they drop their heads and start to graze.

From across the pasture the other mares throw up their heads at the sound of the gate squeaking open. They begin to walk in the direction of the gate, then trot and finally they break into a run. You would think they would crash into one another, but they don’t; they funnel  through the gate in perfect precision. Up and over the hill they go, where they run the length of the four acre pond, circle down the hill back towards the gate and then make the run once more for good measure. They slow, trot about, show off a little with a kick, a buck and a whiney. It is the same every year. “Spring!” they seem to say, “It’s finally spring!” Heads go down and the only sounds we here are horses breathing, grass being munched and birds singing.

Of this we can be sure, that spring will always come, the horses will always run for newly open pasture and that God has and will continue to bless us with good horses and a strong love for this place we call home.  Who could ask for more?

A Cowboy’s Easter Story

“As surely as the sun, Christ has risen.”

was the Preacher’s message that Sunday morn;

Sitting silent in the back of the church,

was a thin Cowboy, tattered and torn.

 

Quietly he listened to the story of how,

Christ was crucified in a thorny crown;

That he begged forgiveness for his slayers,

before he died and was taken down.

 

The Cowboy bowed his head,

and from his eyes flowed many tears;

He felt great sadness in his heart,

for this Man he’d forgotten for years.

 

His Ma had sung “Jesus Love Me”,

to him as a very small child;

As he grew he drifted far from home,

taking on a life low and wild.

He had no idea what lead him,

to this church this Easter morn,

For days he had traveled a trail,

leading back to this place he was born.

 

He could hear his Ma’s soft singing,

As the Preacher raised his voice and said,

“He died for our sins, to save us!

He is risen! He is not dead!”

 

As he listened to the message,

he felt his own sins melting away;

He realized God’s hands had lead him,

he clasped his hands and he prayed.

 

“Lord I am a worthless sinner,

You and I know this is true;

But I believe your Son died for me,

that He was sent to me from You. 

 

I believe I am forgiven,

I’m cleansed of my evil ways;

I accept Jesus Christ into my heart,

I will follow him all of my days.”

 

He walked out of church a saved man,

lived his life many more years as a Cowboy;

credited Christ each day as his Savior,

and for giving him the family that was his joy.

 

That old Cowboy was my Great Grand-dad,

each Easter he told this story to me;

“Christ died on the Cross to save us! He is risen!

         And through His Glory we are free!”

 

Building Materials

Along the window sill of my Father’s cabin sat a collection of bird’s nests. He would find them on the ground and bring them in to share. Each was a marvel in bird engineering. He could have told us what kind of bird built the nest we found this morning in the yard. Woven of many colors of horse hair and bits of blue and white baling twine it is tight and strong and we marvel at its intricate form.

I remember a family story about my Grandmother and how she would sit out on the back porch and comb her Irish red hair. She would clean her brush and put the bright strands out by the fence as an offering to the little birds that would come and bicker over it before taking it to add to their nests. Daddy said for years they would find nests with strands of red hair in them.

I have watched the birds go after the hair left on the ground after we have groomed the horses. It has ended up in nests much like this one we found today; basket-like, with the strands woven so tight that I would have a difficult time tearing it apart with my hands. How do they do this? How do they build as if it were important that it last forever? We humans have lost this ability I am afraid. We think we must build from only materials purchased at high cost from the local building canter. We throw it together and call it good enough; then when the high winds blow it all falls down and we moan and complain that nothing ever lasts.

The nest that finally fell today has hung from that branch for eleven years. I watched them build it when I had cancer. It was part of healing time and I sat by the window and watched them fly back and forth to where my husband had groomed the pregnant mares. I put the nest on the shelf on the front porch and remember that in the spring my Mother throws her dryer lint out for the birds to use to line their nests. As I make my way to the laundry area in back of the house I promise myself I will learn more about birds and the nests they build so I can share that knowledge with my grandsons. I also promise that I will try to build more permanently so the legacy I leave them will last like the horse hair nest.

Attic Fan Memories

My friend (and one of my publishers) mentioned that after a very busy day she would be spending some time under the attic fan. I smiled to myself at the very mention of the words. Ah, the attic fan and the memories it blows forth!

I hear “attic fan” and I am instantly in the small bedroom in the back of Grandmother’s house in Bristow. Without the fan it was insufferable and still; with it on the coolness rushed in and made sleep comfortable for little children. Yes, I am old enough to remember having no air-conditioning. If someone had a swamp-cooler they were considered up-town; but even then they still had to have an attic fan to make it truly cool in the house.

The attic fan made the house bearable on 100 plus degree Oklahoma nights. It pulled the air in and made a wonderful loud hum that cancelled the sounds of traffic and loud neighbors. So many nights of dropping off to sleep to the sound of the attic fan come bubbling to the surface with just that one comment. A thousand bedtime stories told and songs sung by my family ran through my mind, as did the memories of thousands of giggles tittered just before the fan came on and lulled us to sleep.

I saw it in a magazine on an airplane, for only $199 I could buy a ‘white-noise machine’. It was guaranteed to mask all other sounds with a sound they described as a ‘low droning’. I do not know what that is, and I do not want to know. Somehow the words ‘attic fan’ sound much more friendly and conducive to good, cool sleep.

I took a look on the internet and at the hardware store three towns over I can purchase an attic fan. Tomorrow I am going to call my favorite building guru Mike and ask him what it would take for him to come put an attic fan in my 107 year old house. A little voice is calling out “You have to spend that tax return on something!” And my own common sense tells me that with that fan on I won’t be able to hear that same little voice when it tries to convince me to buy that black and white paint horse I saw earlier this week.

Thank you, Leigh Ann, for setting my mind off on a wonderful journey down memory lane. Good night and sleep tight.

Finally Rain

When it started raining yesterday I fully expected it not to last. Rain has been scarce the last couple of years and the pastures have suffered. We have had to scramble for hay with us bringing some to Oklahoma from as far as Colorado, so half an hour of rain does nothing to impress us.
It rained on and off the day before yesterday and in spurts yesterday; but last night it started a steady rain and just kept going. It has been a full twenty-four hours and the rain is still coming down. This is the kind of rain we have dreamed of, that we have prayed for and now that it is here we are thankful. How long will it last we cannot say, we can only thank God that it is here.
I sat by the window and watched the drops of water trickle along the glass and I imagined what the pasture will look like when it is green again. How do I know it will keep raining enough to grow good grass this year? I just believe. Do you?

Be Prepared

In September, instead of a new work coat I bought four 100 foot extension cords toreplace the ones that go to the larger tanks’ heaters. Instead of new boots in October I bought another tank heater, two tarps to cover the holes in the onehundred year old hay barn and two more diesel cans for extra fuel. In November I bought two replacement hoses, lead ropes, mineral blocks and horse feed supplements. In December we ran across a great deal on some hay that was being sold by a neighbor who was getting out of the cow business; we bought that instead of Christmas gifts for one another. In between each of these purchases Husband brought home trailer loads of alfalfa each trip home from his job in Colorado.
Next week we will haul one more load. Why? So we can be prepared! As the last thirty years have passed we have found that as long as we had laidaside feed, extra equipment, hay and a little money the winters never seemed to be so bad. Oh, not that there wasn’t snow or ice, we have had more than our share of bad weather and short pay checks. Last year’s 54 inches of snow in ourpastures and yards made for hard feeding and working around our place; but we did not suffer because we had prepared for it. Much like that old Ant and the Grasshopper story we work each year and put away for the coming winter. We do without for ourselves to live our Rural American dream and we do not regret it. We are proud of our family’s hard work and we have earned what we have.

In this day and age there are many who think they are entitled to what-ever it is they want. They do not plan ahead, they do no sacrifice and they get angry when it is not all handed to them on a silver platter. They move to the country and buy a house with “history” that they have not made themselves, buy up a bunch of misc. livestock and other animals so they can call themselves“farmers/ranchers” and then allow their critters and kids to run wild. They are the ones who take great umbrage to you asking them to keep their dogs out of your horse corrals and their kids and their four-wheelers out of your cow/calf pastures. And when bad weather finally sets in, they are also the first ones to show up at the door asking to borrow (not buy), hay, feed, fuel and even food.

We live in a wonderful, close rural neighborhood and we go out of our way to help our neighbors; that is, the ones who have worked hard too, who have had an unfortunate circumstance come their way. They are the neighbors and friends who will return the favor, who were there when I had cancer, who helped my Dad when he was ill, who help each other and never expect anything in return. For them, we will share it all.

But listen-up Grasshoppers! Not one scrap for those who have never helped an elderly neighbor; but you let your kids run his old horse through a fence with those four-wheelers. If your livestock has no hay, take them to the sale; you should have put up hay yourself like we did in one hundred degree plus weather. If the electric goes off, make it to town as best you can on one of those four-wheelers your kids are running up and down the snowy road on and buy yourown fuel. We and our neighbors are good people who have worked hard for what we are using to get through this winter. We prepared and we suggest next year youdo the same. Under other circumstances you would be treated accordingly; but right now, you will definitely be treated accordingly. Winter is finally here Grasshopper and the Ants have lost their since of humor!

“To have good neighbors, you have to be a good neighbor.”

No Flowers Please 

Husband never brings me flowers for Valentine’s Day. Actually, I suppose I should say, “Husband is forbidden from bringing me flowers for any occasion.” It started with the first rose he gave me on a Monday, followed by the announcement on Wednesday that he had been offered a new job two states away. The next flowersI received came with the words, “Happy Birthday, how do you feel about livingin Illinois?” Each and every time he gave me blossoms of any type, within weeks we would be packing for another trip across state lines. After dozens of moves I simply forbade the giving of flowers.

 He thought he could out-think me once and instead of a fresh bouquet he gave me a painting of Irises. It is lovely; a masterpiece by an exceptional artist and Iloved it…right up until two weeks later when he came home with the news that we would be moving once  again. Luckily ourtwo choices were Las Vegas and or Tulsa. Since my family lived in Claremore andhis in Broken Arrow, Tulsa was the winner. That was twenty-four years ago; exactly the number of years that the painting has been in the dairy barn. From time to time I am tempted to bring the painting in and hang it up; but the fear of packing all we have accumulated gives me pause and I leave it where it is in storage. 

Myfriend Joy once asked me didn’t I miss getting flowers. I explained that I have gotten flowers from family and friends from time to time and only Husband is banished from the flower shop. Besides, he is a great gift giver who puts lotsof thought to each and every present. Over the years he has given me a trip to a writer’s seminar, prints of horses, a real horse, a cast-iron skillet like mygrandmother had and books I lusted for. In between holidays I receive wonderful little remembrances such as feathers he has found while stringing fence, prettyrocks, odd pieces of cedar wood and my favorites, four leaf clovers. So, I do not miss flowers from him and I appreciate his sticking to the ‘no flowers’
rule. 

Howeverhe recently warned me that he had sent me a Valentine’s card and I should be on the lookout for it in the mail. He said he was not sure if I would like the card or not but he hoped I would as it had something very pretty on it. When itgot here I sat with the envelope in my hands and wondered if I wanted to openit. What if, after all these years he had been tempted buy a flowery card? The very thought of Valentine’s wishes with a picture of roses or other flowersmade me tremble! Would I be packing soon? Did I need to go off to town andstart gathering boxes and packing tape? I swallowed hard, opened the envelope and withdrew the card. I could not believe my eyes! On the front was a picture of a long-haired wiener dog that looks exactly like our Booger the Wiener Dog King of the Ranch and in his mouth…a large, red bunch of Valentine’s hearts!  There is nothing I think is as pretty as a wiener dog. And friends wonder why I love a man who never gives me flowers. Silly people!

Counting Treasures

I run across it now and again when I go looking for an old photo. Settled among the older photo albums in the oak wardrobe lies a cedar box that holds those knick-knacks, treasures and keepsakes that represent those moments and people that make up the best times of our lives. Each time I come across it I sit down and go through it. Memories begin to flood my mind and my heart as I take A Trip To Texas.

   I can go to Texas by counting treasures in a
box;a Ranger’s badge, a pocket knife, and hair tied up in locks.

   A picture in a cameo and a Bible full of names; testifies
to who we are and from where we came.

   I can go to Texas just by going through this collection of memories, it’s all I have to do.

   I hold them in my hands and I know who we are;

I can go to Texas, it’s not very far.

   They say, as around this world you ramble and you roam; that
you can think about it, but you can never go home.

   But this is something I don’t think is necessarily true.

If where you are, you will keep a piece of home with you.

   Any small remembrance your family laid hands
on too,

will remind you who you are, and to your own heart be true.

  Little trinkets in a box, a tiny ring and asmall round stone,

and a hand-stitched sampler remind us’ ‘There’s no place like home.’

 

Horses in the House

My 4 year old Grandson (who we call ‘Hoss’ after his Great-Grandfather) wants to know why the two miniature horses cannot come inside and sleep in the house. I am sure there is a good reason I cannot not allow them in the house; however it escapes me. He is persistent and sincere in his efforts to persuade me to see things his way. He reminds me that he cannot play outside because it is too cold. If he cannot play outside, they should not sleep outside. I admit this makes sense.

I explain the miniatures have a little barn all their own and they will be just fine inside there. I tell him how they have fur and their body heat will keep them warm. He raises one eyebrow and tries to comprehend. Then he asks again why they cannot come in. It is late and my patience is growing thin. I contemplate falling back on the old parental stand-by, “Because I said so.”

With a deep breath I launch into a lengthy explanation of how we are humans and they are animals and though we love them their place is outside and ours is indoors. I was well into my diatribe and had begun to believe I was winning the discussion when he put up his little hand and said “They can sleep in my room.”  Quite flip I said “And are you going to be the one to clean it up when they poo on your floor?” I could tell by the wrinkled brow and knitted eyebrows that he had not considered this possibility. “Yes” he said without hesitation.

By then I was becoming exasperated and I could hear my own bed calling me. “Ok”, I said. “They can sleep in your room but you have to clean up the poo AND you have to let them
have your car blanket and let them eat out of your tractor cereal bowl in the morning.” Silence. I had finally appealed to his sense of ‘mine’ and I had won. I tucked him in, heard his prayers, sang our good-night song and put a kiss in his hand to hold for the night.

As I laid me down to sleep I replayed our conversation in my head and came to a couple of conclusions. One is that I am proud of the compassion he shows for animals and their comfort atsuch a young age. This comes from being a country kid. They are a different and
more responsible as evidenced by his willingness to do whatever it took to get them inside, even if it meant picking up horse dumplings. I admired his tenacity and stick-to-it attitude in his efforts to persuade me to see his side. No fitting, no tantrums, just reasoning. And I was relieved to see that he is still young enough that he wants his comfort things. Though he is growing quickly he is still our little boy, with his favorite sleeping blanket and a
cereal bowl he loves because his PawPaw gave it to him.

I get up, slip on my insulated boots and heavy coat, grab the flashlight and go out into the night.In the small corral south of the house sits the small round barn where Lola and Edith huddle together safe and warm against the cold night. I stand there and satisfy myself that they are comfortable. Their breath comes as warm steam and I find myself wishing I was not wearing such a heavy coat. I give them each a rub on the neck and say good-night. As I walk back to the house I wonder how I ever got so lucky to have not only horses, but someone (though only four) to enjoy them with. I smile because I know it is not just luck, it is a fate laid out for me…and for him. I look at the horse night-light shining in his window
and thank God for this life, and for little horses and little cowboys.

Rules

Having given it all a great deal of thought I have come to the decision this New Year will findseveral new rules in place around here. Please take note of all new rules as they pertain to you and act accordingly.

1.If you open it, shut it. That includes doors, gates, the refrigerator and the
toilet lid.
2. If it is not linoleum, a rug or carpeting it does not belong on the floor and will find its way to your pillow where I will put it no matter how dirty or disgusting it is, so that you will find it before bedtime and deal with it.
3. There are 79 and 5/8 acres for you to park your car on, please do not park on the 3/8
of an acre where I park my trucks.
4. Weiner dogs that have had an altercation with a skunk are NOT allowed in the house! (I
am amending this to include humans who have also had the same type altercation.
There are NO exceptions!)
5.Also not allowed in the house are miniature horses, goats and birds of any kind!
(Seriously, do you have to ask me why?)

There now, everyone do your best to observe the new rules. I believe I am being more thangenerous. If you have a problem with the new rules, please feel free to file a protest in writing on our official 50 page form. Our office manager Helen LaBasai will be happy to assist you with filling out your form which she will file in the large green container on wheels out by the road.

Other than the afore mentioned new rules, things here at the 4DH and all rules already in
place will remain the same.

1. God is first in our lives.
2. Friends and family are always welcome.
3. There is always room at the table for one more.
4. Livestock will continue to be cared for promptly because they make our living for us.
5. And we always have time for a good story and a hearty laugh.

Any complaints
about these rules will not be entertained in any manner. Have a happy and abundant New Year!

12-27-2011

………..Things I Know

We are going to start the New Year with several new things. The most important is a new baby in the family. Nathanial David arrived just in time for Thanksgiving. Something I know about babies is that most of them are allergic to cows. I know this because if I am wearing my suede jacket they will become ill and spit up on it.
I also know they know exactly when you have hot food in front of you and will demand your prompt and extensive attention.

I know that each New Year I start looking at the new mail order seed catalogs that come in the mail. Though I know that spring is months away I will be making a shopping list all winter long. The new equipment catalogs also come in the mail and Husband peruses each one with lust in his heart for a new tractor.

New Years finds us being thankful for new people and new situations in our lives. With open minds and open hearts we take on new challenges presented to us by God. And I know each year He never fails to give us new directions and adventures for all of our lives.

For those of you out there looking forward to a New Year please know that the adventure is there for the living.  Be thankful for those new and exciting things placed before you. I also know this, life is no coincidence it is a plan laid out for us for each New Year by a power older than time itself.

………..The Stranger                           

Though it may  not be politically correct I want to wish you a MERRY CHRISTMAS! God bless and  keep our readers, friends and family. May you each and every one feel the love
of the season and have a happy and prosperous New Year!

THE STRANGER

The Stranger
stood above the clearing,
on that dark, clear silent night and listened to
the voices clear and strong,
singing of a star so bright.

He rode on in and haled the cabin,
and much to his surprise,
was met at the door, by a man with a beard,
and in the window, saw five pairs of
eyes.

“Come in, Friend”, said the man of the house,
“and join us, for we celebrate.”
He found himself seated by a fire,
he was given food and he ate.

In the course of conversation,
it became abundantly clear,
that this family had very little
yet, they all welcomed him here.

With “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”,
the woman sang the children to sleep.
Four times she placed a kiss in little hands,
and said “Hold this tight while you
sleep.”

Then around a pot of thin coffee,
a story began to unfold,
of sacrifice and hardship;

The Stranger felt honored being told.
It seems each time they had been nearly out,
of all of their supplies,
they had prayed for abundance,
and enough would appear before their
eyes.

Their prayers, they said, had been answered,
it had been a long time since The
Stranger had seen,
people so anchored in their Faith,
no matter that times were lean.

He saw, as they prepared for morning,
that the larder was nearly bare;
yet they did not give a second thought,
to sharing their meager fare.

The woman said there was enough flour,
that in the morning they’d have a
flap-jack feast;
then they gave him their bed, said “Merry Christmas”,
and the Stranger felt happy and at
peace.

When the woman awoke the next morning,
The Stranger had been gone for an hour,
and in preparing for their Christmas breakfast,
she went to get the flour.

She went into the pantry,
and gave the barrel lid a pull,
and could not hold back a gasp,
when she saw it, and the others, were
full.

Now, there are scriptures I could quote you,
of loaves and fishes and that God provides,
or the one about abundance,
and through Him, being strengthened
inside.

But the search that lies within us,
teaches us, with Faith, we can persevere,
and that though Christ the Son, is often unseen,
He is always standing right here.

No proof can I give you,  just a book of promises that He made;
that The Father will never forsake us,
and that His love never fades.

And there are those among us,
who give their best with unselfish
care;
and through their most innocent actions,
have entertained Angels, unaware

 

……….Christmas Kerpow!

Thirty years ago Husband was working out of town and living in our travel trailer. A dear older friend of ours found out that he was without decorations and sent him a two foot tall ceramic Christmas tree that she had made. For years we used it in the travel trailer as we moved from job to job. After our kids came along we still used it as we lived in small houses and our attachment to her memory was important to us. So, as we have in years past, we recently got it out and prepared to set it up. Our four year old grandson was delighted with it. It was just his size and he loved putting all the little decorations on it. They light from one bulb inside that shines though them. We had hot chocolate, a Christmas movie in the DVD player and all was merry and bright.

Decorating finished, we prepared for the big moment when the lights come on and we admire our handy-work. Hoss stood by his PawPaw who counted down to plugging in the treasured tree. Three, two, one…KERPOW! Total darkness and silence; then a big voice said “Yikes!” and a little voice said, “Oh no!”; while across the dark room MawMaw giggled. Then we all laughed.

We laughed because for as long as we can remember something always happens when we decorate for Christmas. As a child our real trees fell over, had vermin crawl out of them and one caught fire when we turned on the lights. Fake trees have not fared well either with stands that collapsed, fully decorated trees falling into windows and one that was attacked by a three legged cat who destroyed all of the handmade feather ornaments while the dog ate the strings of popcorn. The tradition of the yearly Christmas tree mishap continued on until we received the ceramic tree when the mishap moved to the decorations outside.

Yes, we went to the store and got another tree; a pre-lit, four foot tall masterpiece of a tree hand-picked by our Grandson. Since the ceramic tree had no decorations except for the little reflective lights decorations posed a problem. The ones at the store were severely picked over so we settled for a package of plastic stars, a Mater truck and a Lightning McQueen car from the toy department. Once home we scrounged through china cupboards and knick-knack shelves for potential goodies for our tree. Key chains from Italy, Ireland and Hawaii, crosses crocheted by an aunt, small photo frames with family members and a Navy challenge coin from a life-long friend all hang with many others as mementoes of our lives.

Will we miss the ceramic tree? Yes. Will our traditions change? Yes; with exception. The tree will change, the decorations will change but those things we hold dear, family, laughter and love will remain. And no one could ask for more.

*For more about Debra go to the Cowboy Poetry section at AlwaysCowboy.com.