New old hand back in the saddle
“No Chicken,” I responded to the abundant options offered for the party menu, including braised beef brisket, tri-tip, barbecued ribs, pulled pork and of course, chicken. All good pairing with barbecued beans and smoked mac and cheese. But no chicken, thank you. We raise beef. For folks at the party needing a white meat option there was pork.
I share this information now because I can. The man I share a sink with to brush my teeth was retiring from his town job and the great folks there were putting together quite a surprise party for him on April 1 to send him back here to the ranch.
And the party was great. Even a surprise to me, knowing about it. There was so much clever thought put into the guest list, the food, the venue, the hysterical happy trails decorations, complete with a hand-made cake with a cowboy hat and red handkerchief. Shared stories about the guy whose socks are in my laundry basket were funny and insightful. Some tears shed in laughter and heartfelt goodbyes.
Why am I being so evasive about the man who puts his coffee cup on top of all the wooden fence posts out here? Why won’t I come right out and say who he is? Because years ago this man said, and I quote, “Sure, tell your stories, just don’t use my name.” And for quite a few years now I have managed to tell ranch stories without his name and today will be no different.
However, it will be a lot harder to do so in the future. See, most of the things going on out here for the past 20 years were of my doing. I was the ranch hand. I learned how to irrigate, feed, bail hay and drive a manual truck and bulldozer. Learned to recognize the signs of a calving heifer, to keep an eye on her in case assistance was required. I bottle-fed baby calves in the barn and in my laundry room.
But April 1 all that changed. I am now the sidekick to the new old hand out here.
The guy who showed me you could catch a calf without a rope in fast tennis shoes is now back on the job.
When the house phone rang Friday and the neighbor wanted to know if our hay field was ready for water on the first my mind went into high gear planning my day. Are the weeds out of the ditch, are the boards still set from last irrigation season? What do I have to rearrange to be here when the water comes? And then I remembered.
“Hold on,” I said. “I am going to put the new guy on the phone. He can tell you if the hay field is ready for water.” And I handed the phone to the guy next to me and said, “Here, honey, this call is for you.”
We both retired when that guy who keeps his hats in the same laundry room as I do started back at his new old day job out here. If you ask, I am enjoying it. He is busy outside so I won’t ask him.
Marie Johnson is a Carson Valley rancher.