Friends on Valentines
I started ranching by working for a cattle rancher on the Utah-Nevada border. The high mountain desert taught me a lot, but not as much as the people who lived there.
I worked for the ranch owner when he ran about 300 cows on an area that was roughly 30 miles by 10 miles, along with some rented pasture about 75 miles away.
I worked for $35 a day when other hired help earned $50. I was probably overpaid. I didn’t know anything.
I did learn, though. While I worked at Davies Ranch, I internalized the mantra that a person does her share. In fact, we made lots of disparaging remarks about those who didn’t.
We counted on everyone doing their fair share. That was how those fiercely rugged individualists thrived in a land where most people feared to even step foot.
It was a far cry from the South, where my maternal grandmother offered examples of making her venomous point subtly, with a smile on her face and a fine supper on the table.
I worked by the day so I could hire out to help the neighbors sometimes.
One day, a neighbor asked if I would help him move water troughs to a new place on the desert. Desert allotments have few natural watering holes and fewer fences so ranchers rotate their grazing areas by moving the water. A typical trough is 8 feet across so it can be hauled on a semi-trailer and holds about 1000 gallons unless a person fills it right to the brim.
We climbed into his semi and pulled the flatbed out the dirt two-track road to the 20 or so aluminum troughs. A few still had some water in them, but together we managed to tilt the troughs and dump the water. We were glad the wind was not blowing too hard that day. Wind on the Utah desert is a lot like wind in north-central Montana: consistent gusts.
The flatbed trailer stood about five feet tall. As Brian and I lifted the first trough on to the trailer, I knew I didn’t have the leverage to lift half of the tank.
“I’m sorry I can’t do my part,” I apologized.
Brian stopped and looked right at me.
“My grand-dad had a saying about that. He said ‘if I can lift 999 pounds, but I need to lift 1000 pounds, I need your help. You don’t have to do half the work to make a difference.’”
We moved those troughs and then I invited him to a fine supper.
Now I’m the beneficiary of my friends and family who are lifting a pound or two for me. Or 20. Or 1000.
Since my husband, Steve, died in October, my kids and I have been figuring out what our lives will be like. We will get that water trough moved, but my friends sure make it a lot easier.
The childhood lessons from my gracious southern grandmother and my western independence collide head-on with their generosity.
They help even when I don’t ask. They help anyway, even after I say I don’t need it.
They refuse my efforts to reciprocate, to do my fair share.
“Let me give you a gift,” they say. My southern grandmother in my head demands I give a gift in return, but they won’t accept my offer.
“A gift isn’t a gift if you pay for it,” they say.
What goes around comes around. One of these days, I’ll be in a position to do a favor for the people who are looking out for me. In the meantime, Valentine’s Day has a whole new meaning.
Goodbye hot and heavy, passionate, fleeting romance that dissipates like a cloud.
Hello down in the trenches, willing to get wet and cold, stand by me even when I don’t come close to deserving it, rock-solid friendship.
They all are carrying me right now, lifting the heavy load while I pick up what I can.
This Valentine’s Day, I say a huge thank you to the people who carry that last pound for me. Or 20 or 1000.
My southern grandmother and my western independence insist on it.
I hope you have several of those same types of valentines.