Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Memoirs of a Ranch Hand, Part I

Sometimes I look back on my life and remember a few of the people that God put into my path along the way.  I often chuckle about the eclectic cast of characters I've met on my journey. What I've come to realize is that often times I learn the most about myself from dealing with the folks who cause me the most irritation. It's as if adversity brings out my true character. It's not always pretty, either. When God puts a difficult person in my life, it gives me plenty of opportunities to practice traits like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.  But the truth is, I often fail miserably when these little opportunities come my way.  Sometimes my botched interactions with people are memorable, and the resulting stories keep me laughing for years.

This is the saga of one of the colorful characters that I encountered in my past. As you will see, some of my own behavior was less than dignified at the time, but there is no doubt that our paths crossed for one very  important reason...

 (Don't worry, all names and locations have been with-held to protect identities.)

During my college years, I was chosen for an internship on a very large ranch for a full year plus two summers.  They were doing some amazing and forward thinking things with the genetics of their herd, and I was an Animal Science student, eager to learn. They had a stellar breeding program, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to have received such a high class education.

My first summer at the ranch, a gal from town was hired on just before I arrived. She was desperate for a job, and my boss employed her as a huge favor for the ranch secretary. She said she knew her way around livestock, but after 30 minutes, it became apparent that she was stretching the truth. Since we were the only two females on the ranch, we roomed in one of the old houses on the property.  From day one, it was evident that we had our differences.  For starters, she smoked...profusely.  She had two big, hairy, barking dogs with no manners who jumped all over her furniture. They shed all over the house, and she wasn't eager to sweep. She was a late night person and our work mornings started by 5am. She was moody, hated country music, and blasted heavy metal from her bedroom. She liked to talk on the phone for hours.

I was skeptical that she was going to work out, but I decided to sit back and see how the whole thing played out.

Our first order of business was to work on the fence-line before putting the cows out to their summer breeding pastures. Heavy winter snows do major damage to the fences each year, and repairing them takes a whole lot of time. For nearly a month solid, several hands work full time on miles upon miles of fence line.

By her third day on the job, the foreman was fed up with the new gal.  He gave up on her.

By day seven, the cowboys avoided her at all costs.

It goes against my grain to say this, but the truth is that she was a horrible worker! Slow, sloppy, bad attitude....the worst combination.

I had a suspicion that her departure was imminent and I felt slightly sorry for her, so the second week I volunteered to work with her to help her figure things out.  We loaded up fencing supplies on our 4-wheelers and headed out to a pasture.  The plan was that she would head left at the gate and I'd head right, and hopefully we'd meet in the middle by sundown. By the end of the day, I'd fixed 4/5ths of the fence by myself. I figured that she must have run into a terrible stretch where all the wires were down, so I didn't say anything to her.

We reported to the foreman, and she took credit for half of the work. This torqued me, but I let it pass.

The next day, I decided to change my strategy so I could watch what she was doing. We decided to leap-frog one another along the fence line.  That way, if she was having trouble, I could help her out.  Within an hour, the problem became evident to me. She was smoking like a chimney on the job, and was already lighting up her third cigarette by 6:15am!!  Right away I could see that she was having a hard time juggling the fencing staples, hammer, and cigarettes.  She needed a third hand.  Instead, she let the cigarette violently dangle from her lips while she hammered like mad to get the wire stapled to the posts. It was a mediocre effort at best, and I was thoroughly annoyed.

By the end of the day, I'd had it! That girl smoked more than she worked. I was so worried that the ashes from her dangling cigarettes were going to start a brush fire that I  kept looking over my shoulder for signs of smoke in the grass. She didn't do much that day, yet she tried to take the credit for the work.  Rather than tell the boss what really happened, I decided to keep my mouth shut.

I was fairly certain she would dig her own grave without me saying a word.

The following morning, it was off to work again with my new nemesis. She was up half the night with her loud music playing, and she looked like she just rolled out of bed.  I went to the shop, loaded my supplies on my four-wheeler, and headed off to the far corner of the ranch...several miles from headquarters.  Her four-wheeler was acting up, so we decided not to split ways.  I didn't want to leave her stranded if she broke down.  That morning, my patience was wearing thin, but I tried to remain cheerful.  She came over to get some wire from me, and it was heavily oiled to prevent rusting. It had a black film on it that gets all over your gloves. She grabbed the spool, unraveled several coils,  then proceeded to itch her nose with her gloves on.

She went from looking like this:
To this:

I sort of chuckled when I looked up to see her new jet black mustache, but I didn't say anything. I was feeling ornery.

Not ten minutes later, she decided to take one of her long smoke breaks...with her filthy gloves still on.  This time, she really smudged up her face! As she smoked, the "V" shape of her fingers made her entire chin look black!
I tried my best to keep a straight face, but inside, I was cracking up!!

As luck would have it, the foreman rode out  to assess the water flow in the pasture.  He stopped by the fence to check on progress. He had a full conversation with my roomate without cracking a smile, or telling her a word about her face.  I couldn't believe it! I could barely look at her without laughing, and the old foreman didn't even seem to notice!

By mid-afternoon, she decided to put her strange hat on, and it completed the look.

I had lots of time to think that day, and my conscience started to really bother me. I felt terribly convicted for  letting her look ridiculous all day without telling her.  I felt even worse for secretly laughing at her misfortune!!

Who was I becoming? I'd really let her get under my skin, and it was making me bitter.

Before we drove back to headquarters, I decided to fess up to her. "You've got black smudges on your face and I wanted to tell you before anyone else sees you."

She didn't take me seriously.

"No really! You've got a mustache and goatee thing going on. You should probably wash your face off."

She wiped her face with the inside of her shirt.

She drove home, and I drove to the shop to unload our supplies.  I could see the foreman driving up the road. He pulled up next to me and shut off his truck.  

He looked me straight in the eye...
and in the most serious tone he asked, " How did it feel to work with a bearded lady all day?"  

Then he cracked up laughing and sped off down the road leaving a cloud of dust behind him.

To be Continued....

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