Guest opinion: A cowboy’s special Christmas memory
December 18, 2003
In keeping with the holiday spirit I asked my sons to tell me one of their favorite Christmas memories so I could write it for my December story. Well, the younger boy jabbed his finger in his open mouth and made a gagging sound. No touching children’s story was going to be available for this deadline.
So I asked the local cowboy what Christmas was like when he worked as a buckaroo for the YP Ranch, a million-acre spread, in the middle of Nevada.
He told me things that burst the romantic bubble in my head of what a cowboy Christmas must be like.
No cowboys sharing their favorite leather work with each other. No taming a wild colt and making it the best horse they ever had. No campfire songs or finding a much needed surprise gift in your old worn boots.
The cowboy said they didn’t leave their boots out for a secret Santa gift. If you left your boots out, he said, someone would probably just steal them. And there was no drawing of names to exchange gifts at the office party. Where would you have an office party on a million acres of sagebrush and sand?
He said, quite plainly, that it was just depressing and you got the whole day off to be that way.
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Only the cowboys, the buckaroo crew, were given the whole day off. The farm crew, those who put up the hay and fed the animals, also known as the ‘rosin jaws’ cuz they talked too much, took care of the animals on Christmas day.
The next day the cowboys would be back to cowboying unless they made arrangements to get to town which was just plain far enough away for some of the boys who liked it far away.
The cowboy told me one year he made arrangements to go to town. He was kinda smitten with the camp cook. So for their first and only Christmas together on the YP Ranch, he asked her to go to Reno with him.
They left Tuscarora in a blizzard, drove off the road and got stuck in a ditch for three hours until another truck came by to help them out. Then they managed to get to a local laundromat further down the highway where the cowboy stood naked in the men’s room for about half and hour while his date dried his clothes. After he was dry and dressed, they took a nine-hour train ride to Reno.
See, the cowboy had been meaning to ask this camp cook a question ever since last spring when she had followed behind his cowboy crew pushing heifers to the desert for spring turn out. She had run out of diesel fuel in the ranch vehicle and walked the remaining eight to 10 miles behind the dusty herd of heifers until reaching camp where she then proceeded to make dinner for the whole crew.
The cowboy knew this one was a keeper. He would never find a better one. So in Reno he asked the lovely young camp cook if she would be his bride.
Well, that was more than 20 years ago. They live next door and have a fine family. She is still a great cook and he still cowboys, not going to town too often. A real cowboy Christmas story.
– Marie Johnson is a Fredericksburg, Calif., resident and is married to Kent Neddenriep. They have two sons, Kyle, 14, and Bradley, 11. Her column, “Fence lines,” appears once a month.