Unexpected friends in Smith
March 9, 2012
Editor’s Note: Ron Walker made a new friend named Ted in Smith Valley
“Ted wants to know if you would like to borrow his hospital bed,” Orllyene says. She’s just met Ted at her physical therapy session. It’s two days before I receive a new hip. Providence has smiled. “Hi Ted, it’s Ron Walker,” and I accept his offer. Before we hang up, he says, “I just butchered a steer. Do you like liver?”
“Well, no, but I’m sure it will put a smile on my wife’s face,” I say. “For a man my age, there’s nothing better than putting a smile on another man’s wife’s face,” he says. Ted and I instantly become old friends.
Ted lives clear across Smith Valley, up against the Pine Nuts in a sprawling ranch house surrounded by wash tubs, black powder log splitters, a water buffalo, a lama, three donkeys and a milk cow. These are not incidentals; they’re essentials to Ted’s way of life.
We hunker down at a solid oak table in the dining room. Sabina, Ted’s lovely partner, brings us coffee. Ted speaks in a low, rumbling voice.
“Back in the ’40s, Pat and I got married on Friday and headed north on Monday. It took us three years to get there. In Oregon you look for a ‘ranch hand wanted’ sign along the road. In Nevada, you go into a bar. Well, I signed on at this friendly mom and pop place to get us started,” Ted says.
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I interrupt with, “Where did you live?”
“They gave us a house, a flock of chickens, meat, and a milk cow. The trouble was all the leppies on the cow,” he says, thinking I know what the heck a leppy is. “If a cow loses her calf, you skin it and put it on an orphan calf. The cow sniffs it and accepts it. That’s a leppy. Anyway, pretty soon I’m taking care of seven or eight leppies and getting no milk for us. So, I ask for a percentage when the calves are sold. No dice. You really don’t know a person until you do business with them. Well, it wasn’t long until I sign on with a big outfit as a buckaroo. I don’t fix fences or put up hay. I just tend cows. Some days I trot for an hour to where the cows are. I’ve seen those little desert cows go three days without water,” Ted says, beaming with amazement. “Then they leave their calf with a baby sitter and walk half a day to water. Once they drink their fill, they lie down and rest. Then they go drink some more until their belly comes up above their back bone,” he says.
There is nothing slipshod about Ted’s reminiscences. “I was very lucky. I was the only one who stuck to what my dad taught me. I wanted a rural life for my family so they’d know what makes the world go ’round. One year we grew cucumbers for Nally’s Pickles. One time Pat drove a tractor pulling a chain to get potatoes out of the ground. Some winters I’d go down to Deep Springs College where my dad, Marriot Holoway, was and do his calving for him. One year he bred his little 600-pound heifer to a big bull and I had to do some real serious calving,” Ted says.
On and on I listen, knowing I won’t be able to include half the stories Ted tells me when I write about him.
“You are the most self reliant person I’ve ever met,” I say.
“I try to be. I never wanted anyone to outwork me,” he says.
The other day, Ted and Sabina came over to our house for a big shin-dig. It was Orllyene and my 50th anniversary. As a gift, Ted brought a T-bone steak the size of a kid’s school desk. Ted just can’t do enough for people. In western parlance, Ted is as resilient as a bristlecone pine, has a heart of pure gold, but don’t be fooled. He won’t take kindly to any leppy shenanigans.
Ron Walker lives in Smith Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.