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5188 Views 10 Replies 9 Participants Last post by  Jim in NC
Did y’all survive January? With winter storms, and illness all around, it seems it’s gonna be a while before blessed spring arrives.

I, myself, had bronchitis a solid month, starting on Christmas Eve morn, and finally clearing up about the twenty fourth of January. I took a whole bottle of antibiotics to keep it from going to my lungs, then, somehow muddled through, but I sure wasn’t up to par for weeks. All my neighbors and friends either are sick, or just getting over some bug. Yikes! Whatta miserable winter for flu and such…

Maybe February will bring better times since those “secrets of the heart” on Valentine’s Day are approaching. I must remind my husband NOT to buy me any chocolates for the occasion since I’m trying desperately to get the extra chocolate pounds (plus) dieted off after the holidays. UGH!

One thing about winter months, it gives one plenty of time to settle in, reminisce about the “good ol’ days”, and wish to be in another place, another time…

I was looking at some winter art up in Scottsdale yesterday by some excellent artists, and it sure brought back memories of those snowy days of watching ranchers drag hay bales out to their cattle on a huge sled being pulled by a couple of bushy-haired horses. Steam came from the nostrils of those old steeds in great puffs as they struggled to keep forging ahead in deep snow. A cow-dog usually danced along side barking at their heels, while the bundled up rancher kept ‘er all goin’ steadily forward. It seems funny, (strange) to me now how everyone took for granted the duties of these dedicated ranchers and farmers to make a living off the land and beef cattle in some of the worst circumstances of the day. Believe me, I knew how hard they toiled! I saw it happen firsthand everyday no matter the weather, their personal problems, or health.

They must have seen the old farmhouse in the distance as a warm and pleasant refuge when the sun went down, and they could finally call it a day, (if they were lucky enough not to be called out of their beds in the middle of the night with wolves circling the herd, or a fox in the hen house!)

It seemed there was never enough time to keep up with all the fixer-uppers on the house; those shingles loose and flapping even in a slight breeze, rain gutters rotted through, screen doors always needing hinges tightened, paint peelin’ off siding, broken windows needing replaced, chimney with soot buildin’ up, cupboards hangin’ off, wooden floors warped and in need of repair, and outdoor privy needing to be abandoned for installations indoors.
But it was home, and another log in the woodstove could make it cozy as a bear’s den in winter, especially after a cold day outdoors feeding animals, and breaking ice out off watering troughs to let them drink.

The lucky rancher was the one with a wife and family to great him with a hot meal, lots of love, and maybe a soothing back rub with greasy liniment to keep those tired and aching muscles able to perform hard duties again the next day, and the next.

The single cowboys on the ranch weren’t always so lucky. Often they were greeted only by a cold and drafty bunkhouse, no hot meal sizzlin’ on the old cook stove, or pot-bellied stove glowing with warm embers as they came in from a miserable day of blowin’ snow, and hardscrabble chores.

The elements have always been the rancher and farmer’s nemesis, but somehow they’ve managed to survive, and even thrive at times through drawbacks at every turn.

A harsh winter can only make their work more difficult when they should be able to sit a spell, and wile away time repairin’ tack, or some other indoor chore. But when they think it can’t get worse, along comes February an’ those dern heifers start hidin’ behind a tall snow bank droppin’ calves, and night or day the rancher has to check for the little ones who won’t survive the freezin’ cold. Tryin’ to grab up a new calf from a protective, bellerin’ mother cow is tricky by itself, and then to convince her to follow along so you can get them both inside a warm barn to survive, isn’t an easy fete either.

Well, I give ranchers, their wives, and kids who work shoulder to shoulder (sometimes on horseback all day) their due. I’ve seen ‘em in action!

Here’s a poem that relates……


On a night in mid-December,
the wind was blowin’ hard,
blizzard snows were fallin’
as Slim pulled in my yard.

I heard his pickup door slam,
saw him bend against the storm,
an’ knew this weren’t no social call—
sittin’ by fire snug an’ warm.

I’d rode with Slim for sometime,
worked long hours on his ranch—
many years a toilin’,
never leavin’ naught to chance.

I flipped the ol’ porch light on—
his boots crossed weathered planks.
He flung the door wide open,
an’ his face looked haggard—blank.

“What brung ya out this time a night?”
I managed then to say.
“Well, I’m hear to ask ya, cowboy,
for a favor you might pay.”

He stomped his boots on the entry rug,
beat his hat against his knee—
snow flyin’ in a misty cloud
all over him an’ me.

“Ya see, I come a callin’
‘cause there’s a heifer by the creek
who thinks her time a birthin’s come—
half froze an’ too dang weak.

We’ll need to use yer pully
to drag her from that slough—
just me an’ poor equipment
can’t do the work a two.”

“Why sure, I’ll help ya, pardner,
just let me grab my coat,
an’ in case she gives us trouble,
an extra rope I’ll tote.”

He drove his pickup, Hazel,
down to the ol’ barn door
to gather what we needed—
not wastin’ time for shor’.

When loaded up, we started
for the creek a quarter mile,
knowin’ we’d play doc that night—
there’d be no vet to dial.

The blizzard was a howlin’
like menacin,’ old wolves,
an’ we had to follow instincts
to find snow-covered hooves.

We hung our heads out windows—
sleet stingin’ cheeks an’ face.
No other way to see ahead
to find her hidin’ place.

We fin’lly heard her bawlin’,
thinkin’ that was a good sign—
Slim’s dog, ridin’ ‘tween us,
started pullin’ on his bind.

I flung the door, on my side,
open with great haste,
an’ started runnin’ t’ward the cow—
we had no time to waste.

Slim waded thru’ the knee high snow,
an’ tied the heifer’s feet,
then hookin’ rope to pully—
he made the job complete.

We slowly got her movin’,
both hands windin’ that ol’ crank—
she bawled an’ kicked a little
but we got ‘er up the bank.

Then slowly, we did drag her—
that poor, sufferin’ cow,
an’ she managed to live thru’ it,
but I’m still wonderin’ how.

When I saw dim lights at his place,
we both let out a sigh,
relieved we’d fin’lly made it,
yet, afraid the cow might die.

We pulled her clear inside the barn,
an’ placed her in a stall,
then, tied her hind legs to the posts
while she bellered an’ she bawled.

We lit two kerosene lamps
to watch all the proceedin’s,
as she pushed to get that calf out—
her progress we was heedin’.

Pink, tiny nose an’ two front feet
was all that we could see—
contractin’ out, an’ then back in
for what seemed eternity.

The steam was risin’ off that cow,
an’ the barn seemed almost warm
as we locked the doors against the cold
so her young’n could git born.

Slim turns to me ‘bout an’ hour in,
says, “This ain’t workin’, Son,
best get the rope ‘round that babe’s feet
an’ finish what’s begun.”

I can see him tyin’ off those feet
with a good cinch an’ a half,
an’ sayin’ “Won’t be long now
before she drops that calf.”

We started yankin’ on the rope
extendin’ from that cow—
both of us bent at the knees,
not strength nor will be bowed.

I’m workin’ up a pow’ful sweat,
an’ Slim, he does the same,
neither of us givin’ out
for fear a lookin’ lame.

We pulled an’ tussled half the night,
but with the mornin’ sun,
that critter come a slidin’ out—
we knew our work was done.

With gunnysacks—we wiped him off,
since his ma was too dern weak
to clean up the little feller,
an’ a milk-teat help him seek.

His bony legs were wobbly,
but he soon stood on all fours
as the blizzard kept on howlin’
outside those ol’ barn doors.

Slim slapped my back to thank me,
said, “Yer shor’ a son-of-a-gun,
but in hard times, I can count on ya,
my best friend—an’ my son.”

Tamara Hillman
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Tamara, where are you now living, you mentioned Scottsdale in this article. I've got a 10 year younger brother (Don) that lives in north Phoenix & we visited out there last year. Also have a very good couple from our local antique tractor club that winter in Ajo, & we also visited them last year when we traveled about during the winter months.
Yeah, the sickness has hit us her also in N/W Ohio this winter with a vengeance. All last year traveling we didn't even get a sniffle & were around a lot of people then.
Another great one! Enjoyed it! Thanks! And yes, I too have some kind of crud I cant get rid of!!
Tamara i never worked the northern plains; but used to work the Texas high plains and the breaks east of the caprock.. Wolves had been done away with many years back; but along the draws where there was water and cover we were always at risk with wild hogs and bout 9 9&1/2 months of the year specially cose to a windmill there were always from a couple to several rattlers close in particular the diamond back; made for some interesting encounters when on a particularly skittish mount.
Been healthy this winter but stay in away from other people so I don't
catch any thing..Enjoy your poem..
Good to hear that you are feeling better. Thanks for the poem, it was like you wrote it about me. I have been thinking lately how lucky I've been to do the things I've done but at 62 how much longer can I do it. Got a poem about a cowboy starting to think about his last roundup? Always glad to see your next poem......mike
Sorry to hear you've been under the weather, especially on Christmas.
Was glad to see you got your January post in even though you weren't up to par.
Glad to hear you're feeling better, and always enjoy reading your stories. ;)
Great poem, thanks Tamara :D
Sorry to hear ya been poorly, my wife had the same thing for most of a month, glad you feeling better.
Great memories here in your story. Although, in NC, ranching was not a farmer's primary activity, we have plenty of witer time chores and stories that sure all point to the comfort and warmth of the home.

A neighbor and tenant farmer on my grandaddy's place would come in a little before dark on these winter days. Lots of the 'older folks' always kept rich pine or lighter to help start their fires. This farmer would get a few pieces, mix with firewood, and start a fire in the fireplace in the room that he and his wife slept. He would sit and strum his guitar for a little while waiting on the fire and for supper to be prepared. I spent many winter 'Concerts" with him.

The two story drafty farmhouse is now ours. It is not worth remodeling, and it is more a liability with its asbestos siding. The brick chimneys are crumbling. My mom was born in this house also. Even though it is slowly fading away, the memories it provides remain strong.
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I hope you aren't living in that crumbling house! If so, RUN, it may come down around your ears any minute. ha! ha!
My Dad used to play guitar while Mom was fixing dinner too.... Good memories on a cold winter's night!
Tamara, we live in the house where my dad grew up. We re-did the chimneys back in the 1980s, so all is good with them. The homeplace fits us just fine.
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