My mother grew up on one of the largest cattle ranches in Kansas. She could rope a calf, run a barrel race, move a herd of cattle, drive a tractor and gather eggs all before she rode her favorite horse to school. In all seriousness, she did do all those things — maybe not all before school.
I grew up in Corpus Christi. I could read a book, walk two blocks, load a backpack and eat an egg before arriving at school. Yes, I could; that is all true — a marvel, but true.
Back on the ranch, my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were all cowboys, business men, veterinarians, and cow wranglers . . . all in a days work. Every summer my sister and I would visit for several weeks. Since it was a working ranch we became part of the crew, right alongside the hired hands. How many of you know city slickers do not make good cowboys? We would climb on horses, ride out to the pasture, gather up a herd and drive them back to the corral. Typically with lots of people yelling instructions at us as we moved along. We were the world’s worst cattle ranching hands! But we loved it.
As far back as I can remember Grandpa would pile four to six granddaughters into the cab of the pickup truck and let us drive — even before we could reach the pedals. He would work the clutch and accelerator, the granddaughter in the middle shifted the gears and the granddaughter on his lap steered the wheel. Each cousin would take their turn — half of them younger than I. All of them drove tractors at the age of 6. They absolutely dreaded my turn. But no one dreaded it more than I. Grandpa would put me in his lap and say “Take us home, Michele” and I would promptly put us in the ditch. E - V - E - R - Y - T - I - M - E. To which Grandpa would say, “You got her in here, you take her out.” It was always a long, hair-raising ordeal that kept my cousins talking for years.
One summer the crew needed to round up the cattle in the pasture a good distance from the barn area and drive them into the loading area. The horses were saddled, loaded in the largest horse trailer on the ranch — 8 horses — that’s one long trailer. Everyone piled into the truck pulling the trailer and off we went. One by one the horses were led out of the trailer and Grandpa would announce: Bryant, Bear's yours. Bryant would climb onto the big black horse. Nanette, Socks is yours. And the announcements continued. Seven horses out of the trailer with riders on them trotting through the pasture. Grandpa lead the last horse out of the trailer, put his foot in the stirrup, swung his leg over the saddle and with a twinkle in his eye tossed something to me. As he began to ride off, he hollered, “Take her home, Michele.”
A R E YOU K I D D I N G ME?
I’m 14 years old; have no driving experience except for a couple of weeks each summer at the ranch. I’ve never driven anything, much less anything with a 27 foot trailer that’s 7 feet wide, on a gravel road that’s not much wider. Add to that, I don’t know where I am or which way the house is. I couldn’t make it back to the barn if my life depended on it. I’m holding the keys with tears in my eyes as I watch eight backsides disappear over the rim.
There is no reason to believe that I will get out of this alive. In fact, my initial idea is to sit in the truck until they get back to the house with the cattle in six hours and discover I’m not there. Surely, they’ll send someone.
After that thought leaves me feeling hungry, I take a deep breath, put my hands on the steering wheel and start to lean my forehead against it for a good, long cry — then it dawns on me I have a secret weapon. GRANDMA! Grandma is the kindest, most gentle women on the planet. She knows absolutely everything about cattle ranching. She can ride a horse, rope a calf, wheel and deal with the buyer, grow the vegetables and fry ‘em up in a pan. All I need right now is Grandma.
I can’t drive, I can’t find my way out of a paper bag, but I know how to use a CB radio. “Rawhide one, this is Rawhide 5, come in?" And then it happened, I heard Grandma's voice coming through the static on the CB. “This is Rawhide one. Go ahead, Rawhide five.” Words spilled out of my mouth like they were on fire, “Grandma, Grandpa and the others left with all the horses. Grandpa gave me the keys. I’m supposed to bring the trailer home. Grandma what am I going to do?”
Grandma said calmly and confidently, “I’ll help you.” And she began to instruct me about where to put the key, which foot to put on which pedal, what gear to shift into and which direction to move in. The truck and trailer lurched forward and I was off and moving with a $50,000 worth of equipment dependent on my abilities. At every corner, I described the landscape and Grandma told me where to turn, how to line up the tires so that I wouldn’t lose the trailer in the ditch. When a fellow rancher was coming toward me on the road. I said desperately into the CB, “Grandma, there’s a pickup truck coming!” She calmly said, “Move as far as you can to the side and stop. He’ll go around.” How likely is it he was hearing the entire conversation on the radio? She probably sent him, for all I know.
A full hour and a half later, with all of ten miles behind me and the truck and trailer fully in tack, I pulled into the drive. Complete relief rushed over me; I jumped out of the truck and ran to the house, wrapped Grandma up in a big hug. That’s the day I believed. I believed in myself. I decided I could do it — whatever “it” is.
It turns out you’re the only one standing in your way!