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Fence lines: Rancher woman without earrings? For shame!

by Marie Johnson

This house repair project of mine is dragging on like a tedious tax audit. It consumes all my spare time, which I have none of, what with water getting scarcer and brown spots showing in the pastures. To distract myself, I look at the calves in the field, some almost the size of their mothers, and consider fall fashion, realizing I’ve been doing my irrigating naked.

Appearance is very important in the cattle industry. Buyers select animals at an auction setting their price from a visual appraisal of the livestock. A sleek, shiny coat and well-developed double muscles on shoulders and rump are influential factors. I make a profit or lose money on how my cattle look. I understand the importance of appearance while acknowledging I am not very fashion conscious and don’t make for the best-dressed ambassador of the beef industry. I am too plain, too short and confess to discovering I do my chores not completely dressed.

I didn’t know of my state of undress and none of the ranch hands in this area was aware of it either, even though image is critical to a cowboy. My need to rectify my unseemly cowhand apparition was shown to me by a prominent home sales organization consultant’s videotape which states working women today are not considered completely dressed until they put on earrings. In my days of delicate shoes and dry cleaned suits, I might have let that little line pass without too much comment. Lately, I consider knee high, black rubber irrigating boots and a lovely red-handled shovel quite an ensemble to accessorize with leather gloves. But now I know I need earrings, too, or I am creating a fashion faux pas.

I should be more attentive since my husband has pointed out for years that I wear bizarre outfits to do my chores. And now there is proof documenting he is right. It’s not a tape of me in my mismatched, colorful circus getups I wear out here, saving my reasonable clothes for trips to town. It’s that sales tape saying I need earrings to complete my work outfit to be considered fully dressed.

As a newlywed, I dismissed, with love, comments my husband made about my fanciful chore wardrobe. One comment, however, has stuck with me for 13 years. I should let it go now after discovering he was accurate in describing me as he did the day I jumped into the spring ditch, in the sagebrush field, to pull out a drowning calf. He held the mother cow off, protecting me with a large tree branch that had broken off during a heavy overnight snowfall. I pushed the shivering, slimy, newborn calf up on the ditch bank and, after climbing out of the slippery creek myself, I dragged the calf by its back legs away from the edge to firmer ground. My husband and I, both very cold and wet, went back to the house to dry off. Standing in the kitchen dripping mud, tired and out of breath, shaking, with adrenaline still in my blood, I felt proud as I pulled off my icy, water-logged, outer winter garb, puffed up feeling smug with satisfaction for saving a calf. I may be a city girl, but I could drag my own weight around out here if calves were drowning in ditches. My young groom looked at me and said, “Honey, you look like a ragamuffin!” No doubt, I could have used some earrings.

Marie Johnson is a Fredericksburg, Calif., resident and is married to Kent Neddenriep. They have two sons, Kyle, 9, and Bradley, 6. Her column, “Fence lines,” appears once a month.