This week’s RR is another look into my past, and (I think), a look into part of what makes me tick.
My Dad finished his 28-year stint in the Navy, and settled in Waco to take the civil service job he was offered – as a fireman at the James Connally Air Force Base.
He had grown up on a farm tending cattle, and I guess he wanted some of that lifestyle back. He and I did some clean-up work for a retired Polish couple on their farm (clearing mesquite frees and such), and the next thing I knew, he had bought it from them. Guess who became his unpaid farm hand? Moi.
It was about 118 acres, and we kept around 30 / 60 head of Hereford cattle on it. My Dad bought me a horse – a roan mare who I named “Apache”. She was turned over to me so well-trained that I could throw the reins over her head, tell her “Go get the cows, girl!”, and she’d trot off and round them up like a border collie does sheep. She would always come when I called her, and she got lots of treats – usually raw carrots. I spent a lot of time riding fence, looking for broken or loose strands of barbed wire, and fixing them. The rest of the time riding her was spent rounding up the herd, looking for newborn calves in the tall grass, etc.
My other duties included the stuff you don’t see in cowboy movies – inoculating, turning young bulls into steers (castrating them – having too many bulls in a herd start fights),
YOU WANT A PIECE OF ME, BUDDY??
shooting varmints (particularly armadillos, because they dig burrows that cattle can step into and break their legs). A cow that has broken a leg in an armadillo hole is truly tragic – because it was up to me to put the poor animal out of its misery, and then wait there until my Dad had gone to the closest phone to call the knacker.
Not the stuff you see cowboys doing in the movies, is it?
I also dispatched rattlesnakes and water moccasins (there were several water pools, which are called stock tanks), but never rat snakes, king snakes, corn snakes, or other harmless vermin-consumers.
More after the YE HA!
We divided the land into three large segments, one with the cattle, one that the cattle had occupied the previous year (laying fallow for one year), and one that we ploughed and planted grain sorghum on to reduce the amount we had to buy to feed the cattle. Every year we rotated clockwise one section.
Now – my Dad’s fireman job was 24 hours on, 24 hours off, with a three-day weekend every other week. We didn’t live on the farm (we had a standard three-bedroom frame house in the Timbercrest region of Waco), but every day my Dad was off, we were out at the farm. It was a LOT of work, and I never got the nerve to ask my parents if the money from cattle sales exceeded the maintenance costs.
As I got older and more rebellious, I got less and less available and useful. My days of riding Apache along the fence lines, with the wire-stretchers clanking quietly behind the saddle and my .410 in the saddle holster to my right were over. With no one to saddle and ride her every other day, Apache gradually went wild, running free on the property. After I left home, my Mom told me my Dad had sold her.
The house on the property? My Dad just let it rot away until there was nothing left but a pile of wood and a well behind it.
When my Dad died, he left the farm to me and my two children. When we sold it, I used my part to put a down-payment on my first house.
But – considering the minuscule number of Texans who have ever actually worked cattle, I smile a smirky internal smile at the idiots with their 20-pound belt buckles, $200 Stetsons, and snakeskin boots who believe they look like cowboys, and think “Ain’t that cute?”.
Postscript: My wife Barbara, as a kid, always wanted to move from California to Texas and marry a cowboy – and I always wanted to be with a California beach babe.
I guess we both got who we wanted.
Here’s my old home on the strange :
And of course, the theme song (actually, no, you don’t want to be a cowboy – it blows dead goats).