That same summer my father hired a new foreman to run the Hillspring Place. I think between my endless drinking and playing with my new found love, Tamara, I was over looked for the position. Probably a good thing.
Jerry and Echo were an interesting couple. They just showed up with 3 teenage kids looking for work. Jerry was shorter than me, but much wider across the chest and had fire red hair. Jerry had been in the oilfield and I don't think had much ranch experience, or at least not nearly as much as he was claiming. One thing was immediately apparent - Jerry wasn't a horse guy. He was terrible with horses, not to mention scared to death of cattle. Two things that aren't that endearing to the life a cowboy. It seemed to me with all my wisdom that the old man had completely lost his mind hiring this rhinestone cowboy. Hell - he wasn't even a beer drinker.
Jerry wasn't, and never had been a cowboy. Jerry was builder, a craftsman, and a genius. What he lacked in horsemanship skills, he more than made up for with his building skills. Jerry could weld like no other person I've ever met. He could construct amazing things out of his head with nothing more than a grinder, cutting torch, and stick welder. He was truly amazing. I immediately made myself a student and soaked up as much information as I could. Jerry is the reason I can build anything with a welder.
Luckily I didn't learn everything from Jerry. Jerry was a little psycho. He had rules that no one could move around the house unless they asked permission and that minor to some of the other things he had implemented. He worked his kids like slaves and was constantly tearing them down. It was a very sad thing to witness. I'm sure there was much physical abuse, all though I never did see it.
Jerry's son was 15 at the time - Harley. He was a cool kid but very messed up for obvious reasons. I told my dad that I was going to offer Harley a place to live at the bunkhouse. He would be able to go to school and I thought I could be a positive influence in his life. Pretty naive of me... I was only 18 years old and about the only thing I probably would have taught Harley was how to drink beer but I didn't see that then. My father said it would be a "bad idea" and left it at that.
The next time I saw Harley, I casually asked him if he wanted to move away. He just smiled and said he would think about it. The next day my dad went down to do something at Hillspring and he called back to the home ranch and left a message for me to "get your ass down here..... you have something that needs to be ironed out". It never occured to me as I was driving down there that Harley had told his folks about my offer.
When I pulled in the yard I could see Jerry and my dad standing by the Barn yelling at each other. I got out of the pickup and approached cautiously. Jerry was so angry he was shaking. He started yelling all sorts of obscenities at me. I had no reply.... I was shocked by the entire thing. My father stood by with his arms crossed. That scared me more than anything else. I wasn't worried about Jerry - it was my dad I worried about. Jerry carried on with the shouting until I got about 6 feet away from him. I recall Jerry screaming at me "WHAT THE FUCK???? WHAT THE FUCK YOU GOT TO SAY SIDE TALKING MOTHER FUCKER????". He lunged at me from 6 feet away. Jerry was in really good shape, as was I - but I wasn't ready for his attack. Luckily, I didn't need to be. The only time in my entire life my father intervened was that moment. Dad was large, quick, and very tough. Like lightning he intercepted Jerry in the middle of the lunge. Dad moved so quick, I didn't even know that he had moved except that he caught Jerry with his left hand and punched him in the head with his right hand. In a split second he had Jerry on the ground with one hand around his neck and was propped on Jerry's chest. The only thing he said was "If you got something to say to Ryan, you better fucking say it - or yell it - but when I let you up, if you touch him - I will kill you quicker than you will blink. Understand?" Jerry croaked out an "OK". When dad let him up, he whirled around and cussed his wife. He told her to pack their stuff - they were leaving.
I never saw any of them again after that afternoon. My dad and I never mentioned the incident again. Much like everything else that had happened in our lives - It went without discussion.
Sticky Post - My life
Friday, October 5, 2007
That same summer my father hired a new foreman to run the Hillspring Place. I think between my endless drinking and playing with my new found love, Tamara, I was over looked for the position. Probably a good thing.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Conveniently, I've failed to mention anything about the women in my life until this point. There was a good reason - there wasn't any. I attribute that too many reasons. The school that I attended on a not so regular basis was comprised of mostly mormons. I went out on a few dates with some girls but unfortunately my reputation preceded me. When the dates dad found out who his daughter was about to go on a date with, he would either demand she went with a group or not at all. It was all bullshit. I wasn't that bad.... not really.
I had lots of friends that were girls.... just not girlfriends. My first summer in the bunkhouse found myself hosting many, many parties. My dad and stepmother didn't have much to say about it.... or anything else for that matter. My grandparents also lived on the same ranch in the same yard. I'm sure they had thoughts, but never expressed them. It was a busy bunkhouse the first summer.
During one of the parties, a girl named Tamara showed up. I knew her a little from school. She was tall, blonde, and gorgeous. She didn't really understand me, or what I did.... but then again - no one did. She was a lot of fun, and I could make her laugh. Tamara ended up being my very first girl friend. She spent a lot of time with me that summer. We would ride, talk, and dream about the future. It was an amazing time.
This probably shouldn't be included but..... all the truths need to be told. Tamara was my first. We had never slept together the entire summer.... looking back I'm not sure why. It's not like we each had a pact to save ourselves for marriage. I think I was just scared.... I wasn't sure what was supposed to happen. It's not like I was totally skilled in the art of initiating love making. I knew how to open beer cans and saddle horses. This is where my skills ended.
One night the following spring, I came in from checking cows. It was dark when I was putting my horse away, but I could see the lights on the bunkhouse were on. I was hoping it was Tamara. Sometimes she would just show up like that. Sure enough, as I neared the house I could see her car. I kicked the snow off as I entered the house and doing so, I could smell dinner. Tamara was wearing some faded wrangler jeans and a white sweater. She looked beautiful. I didn't even get the word hello out of my cold mouth when she came running across the kitchen and threw herself at me. I was a little shocked but went with it. Keep in mind, I am wearing icey cold chaps, leather coat, and there is icicles hanging off everything. As she was kissing me, she whispered in my ear "It's time to get you warmed up". She took my frozen hand and led me into the living room.
It was the beginning of an amazing experience. We were underneath the blankets on a bed that was set up in the living room. I was right in the middle of experiencing something I had never experienced before when I heard the door open. In walked my Dad. He kicked the snow off his boots and came into the living room and sat down in a chair at the end of the bed. He was smiling from ear to ear when he said "well..... hmmm - I just wanted to see how the heavy cows were - but ummm - well, I'm going to go home. Sleep tight, both of you". And with that, he wandered out of the house and back home. We never talked about it again. It was so strange.
Tamara continued on with my education, and my life was never the same after that. It was amazing.
Friday, September 14, 2007
Working for my father full time wasn't a huge change from the normal. I'd already been doing this all my life, but not getting paid. Looking back now, it wasn't much different working full time for him either. I started out making 800 dollars a month plus my room and board. I had a pickup that was paid for, so all that money was pretty much free and clear. I had never had that much money to buy beer with. I may have ran out of food, clothes, and gas.... but I never ran out of beer. I kept about a 2 month supply stockpiled in case I was snowed in or got busy and couldn't go anywhere. I lived life grand.
For the first few months we put up hay. There was another ranch at Hillspring owned by my father that had the hay meadows and feedlot. It was about 20 miles away and I would spend most of time there either cutting, baling, or hauling hay. When I wasn't there putting up hay, I was at the home ranch working cows. My dad had 'breeding herds' of purebred Hereford cattle. Keeping these cattle separated into the proper 'groups' wasn't trivial. Keeping up fences is a big job, and in the mountains it's almost impossible. Every cattle rancher has a choice - either fix fence or ride more. We rode A LOT. Every morning we would saddle up at 4:00 am and be out riding by 5:00 am. It was easier on the horses, cattle and us to ride before it got hot. I spent many a miserable morning sorting bulls in trees so thick I could barely see in front of my face. It was pretty crazy.
On one of these particular mornings, I was gathering a bull up that was in the wrong place with the wrong cows when he got a little on the fight. He bluffed at my horse, ducked off and started running towards a river bottom. I was riding a green (unbroke) colt at the time, and we started after him. The bull ran straight down into the river, crossed, and then jumped up on the river bank on the other side. We were right behind him and as he scrambled up the bank I thought "Shit, that's pretty steep". The bull made it so I thought we would too. The colt I was riding was on the verge of having a runaway anyhow, so I gave him his head and let him go. We started lunging up the creek bank and just as the colt was pawing his way over the top, I seen the bull. He had stopped and waited for us. Just before we got on top, the bull put his head down and rammed the front of the colt head on flipping us over backwards. I could tell immediately that in the saddle was a bad place to be, so I tried to kick out and get out of the way. I was mostly successful. When all the dust settled, the horse was standing below me in the river, I was laying on the river bank - and the bull was gone. I was sure I had been killed, or at least that's how it felt. I got up and stumbled around a little and realized I might live after all, caught my horse, and went hunting for the son-of-bitch bull that tried to kill me.
I didn't find him again that day.
Later that day my dad asked me how things went with the bull. I told him that I had almost been mortally wounded. He shrugged and said "Hopefully you'll have better luck tomorrow" I didn't have scars and no blood running out of me at the moment, so he didn't really believe me. From that point on I quit telling him about all the close calls I had (there were many).
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
I graduated from school with honors. No one, not even me, is really sure how that happened. I didn't really attend school all that often, and I had a "no homework" policy that I strictly adhered to. Graduating with honors meant that I automatically received an academic scholarship that didn't fully cover the cost of going to university, but It would have been a good chunk of change. The thought crossed my mind to go to school in Wyoming, but then I heard that people in WY slept with sheep so I kicked that thought out. In reality, I had no intention of going to any school. The little bit of school that I had attended soured me from ever wanting to further my education via the traditional routes. I was a worker and not really a great student. When the time came for the SAT's Mitch and I conveniently loaded up my camper with enough beer for one night and left early that morning after chores were done. I sealed my fate that day. Looking back now, even if I wasn't a worker I sort of burned one of the bridges that might have been useful.
Mitch had no intention of going to school at all. Everyone was wildly amused that he even graduated and I think if someone was to dig back into the school records they would find that he probably didn't pass - they just didn't want him back. For the few days he attended school, he was the holy terror of the classroom. I'm sure the teachers thought good riddance and rubber stamped his diploma just to have him gone. He left for a 4 year hitch in the Marine Corps right after school ended.
I never asked my dad for a job. It was assumed that after school, that's what I would do - and I did. No break, no travel, no nothing. On the last day of testing, I packed what shit I had in my camper and drove up to the ranch. No one was around that day so I unpacked my stuff and put what little tack I had in the horse barn and the rest of my belongings in the bunk house. This was real life and I was ready to live it.
I drove across the border to Cutbank MT and did some shopping. I'm sure there was a lot of shit that I needed, but I ended up buying a whole bunch of beer and cheese, and a carton of eggs that were shorted because someone had dropped them. I thought I was king as I packed 90% of my fridge with beer and put the eggs and cheese in the remaining 10% that was left.
No one else was working for my dad at that time so the bunk house was all mine. I moved everything around, cleaned a little, and then set my stuff up outside. I didn't have a TV, stereo, or anything that plugged into an electrical outlet. I read when ever I had spare time, which wasn't often. I fell in love with Stephen King, Clive Barker, and any other horror writer that could put fear into me. I also read classics like Shakespeare. I hated Shakespeare, but someone left his entire collection in the bunkhouse and they beat reading old Western Horseman mags. Ironically, there was also an assortment of Bibles. I read them too, many times over. I'm not a religious person and never will be. A lot of that came from what I read. I prefer to believe in myself and some of those around me. I quit asking questions about Jesus and the bible shortly after people couldn't come up with answers that made any sense. I hate when my faith is put into question by others. I have more faith than most - I have faith in myself. On the other side of that, I never question anyone else's faith or spirituality. Everyone has to do what's right for them.
My life was good. I understood what work was, how to get it done, get it done properly, and then play hard after. I didn't do much unless Mitch was involved and vice-versa. It's funny how two people that are complete opposite can be such good friends. Somehow we understood each other. On the surface we were opposite... we didn't act the same, talk the same, or even try to agree on anything. I suppose it was what made us who we were that mattered. Respect, courage, integrity, and having some manners were ingrained into both of us at a young age. I think I have learned later on in life that those qualities are what really matter and everything else is insignificant in the larger picture. Most people that ran across us could never figure out how or why we were friends. I never questioned - it just was.
Every event that happened, Mitch was part of. Even though he lived within 10 miles (as the crow flies) of the south side of the ranch, he was still a long ways away because of the US/CAN border. The port of entry that he had to cross closed at night, so Mitch spent most of his childhood with me. My Mom and Erics living room is a "shrine to Mitch" as it contains mostly pictures of him and little artifacts that he created for my folks. My mom and Eric think of him as a son, even today. Mitch still keeps in close contact with them. Mitch still thinks he was the favorite child. He might have been right about that.
I had a lot of responsibility, but obviously, lots of freedom too. Mitch and I had a lot of fun, but we also were around to help all the time too. Spring time and branding is a huge time in the area where we lived. We had lots of requests for our services helping brand and with any type of cattle work. Being that we were both ranch kids, we were both naturally handy at that type of stuff - and we both liked to work. We never asked to be paid in cash, but it was known among everyone in our area that if they wanted us to help - they better have beer. I wouldn't say we were lured to these events like flys to shit, but something very similar. We not only became known in the general area we lived in - we became known far and wide as one of the best branding crews around. We had everyone wanting our services. We obliged.
Looking back, we were very good at what we did. We showed up ready to work all day and got done what needed to be done. There was no such thing as too much work, or work too hard, but I think some of the invitations came because of Mitch. He was naturally funny, an entertainer. He would unconscionably draw people to him and within minutes would have them rolling on the ground laughing. Mitch always said it like it was, and normally interlaced most of his conversations with a lot of curse words. I find most people that do this in public very ignorant and rude. It's different with Mitch. Somehow the curse words get worked into his speech seamlessly and truly add to the conversation he is having. It's hard to explain. He never came across as rude - in all the years I have known him, he never offended one person. He almost killed a few by making them laugh themselves to death. He could take the most mundane thing - tell you about it, and make you laugh. To this day, he still doesn't realize he is doing that. I suppose that's what makes him funny.
I feel I should add a quick disclaimer. I'm not sure why I was hugging Mitch, other than it seemed like a good thing to do for the camera. Anyways - that pic was taken at the ranch when we were a little older - like about 25. We were working cattle. That is one of the few photos I have of both of us.
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
I had a lot of friends growing up. Most of my friends were never my age, they were always much older - like my parents age. However, I did manage to find and keep one very best friend and this is probably the most ideal spot to introduce him.
I met Mitch in grade school. We hated each other.... with a passion. I'm not sure what prompted all the hatred, other than we were mostly opposite in everything we did. The only one thing we had in common was we both lived in very isolated places on ranches.
Mitch was a ranch kid from across the border in MT. He was very muscular, athletic, but probably his most defining feature was he almost an albino. His skin was silver white with his thick hair not contrasting much from his skin color. In the midst of all the pale shades of white and silver, he had piercing blue eyes. I think the first time I seen him in grade school, I almost shit my pants he was so scary. Everyone sort of gave him space where ever he went. Later on, before junior high, he started to become more popular. I suppose everyone figured out he wasn't a demon after all, and in fact a very down to earth, but extremely comical sort of guy. I still hated him....
I hated Mitch until later on Junior high. One day I got into a real bad fight with an Indian. I wouldn't say I lost the fight, but I was pretty banged up. Fighting and scraping were two pretty normal things were I was from. Being that half the population of the school was Mormon, and the other half Blood Indian - for those that didn't fit into either of those groups, they either fought, or died. It was simple. Mitch was one of the few, along with me, that didn't fit into the appropriate group. I think he scared the Indians a little with his ghostly appearance.... I did nothing to cause any fear - at least not to start with.
After one of the fights, Mitch met me at my locker. Everyone was trying to pretend like nothing had happened, including me. I didn't know that most of fingers on my right hand were broken, along with my nose. I may not have realized these things because my eyes were swelling shut. I felt a hand touch me from behind, and as I went to step sideways to get a good punch off I heard a very calm and raspy whiskey voice "Whooooaaaaa Pardner..... you need to clean your face up." I'm not sure if he felt sorry for me, or was just trying to help - but he had a handful of paper towels.
We were very best friends ever since that day. I'll be talking alot more about Mitch in future posts.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Part of my chores consisted of taking care of the bulls Eric had contracted out. They needed to be fed early in the morning and evenings every day.
I had a system in the morning where I would back the pickup up to the square bale haystack and throw 10 bales on. I had done this same routine every day for years..... it's not that tricky. The pickup that I used to do this was a '68 ford half ton, with no parking brake. It had a manual choke that once you figured it out, would keep it running while it was resting against the stack. I never shut the pickup off, because it was always cold in the morning and..... well I just never shut it off. It could be a little tricky to get started again.
It was always dark when I did this. I knew where the pickup was, and if you have thrown as many square bales as I have, you know exactly how and where to throw them to make them all line up in the truck below. Even though it was always dark, when the bale lands correctly, it makes a 'flat' sound that unmistakeably tells the thrower the bale has not only landed correctly, but also in the right spot in the pickup. It's an art that I took very seriously.
Early one morning, before school, I was loading up bales and on about the 5th bale, it made a very different sound after I threw it. It was supposed to make that cool 'flat' sound in the pickup bed. Instead, it made the sound a bale does when it hits the ground. Instantly my stomach tightened up because I knew I threw the bale where the pickup was supposed to be....
I went to the side of the haystack, and I couldn't see the pickup going down the hill, but I could vaguely hear it. The stack yard was on a hill, and the pickup had decided to drive itself to the bottom. There was a fence at the bottom of the hill.
I was so panic stricken, I don't remember it, but I jumped off the top of the haystack which was a good 20 feet tall and started chasing the noise of the pickup down the hill. It wasn't rolling away very fast, but was picking up speed. About the time I reached my top speed, I was pulling along side the drivers door. I grabbed the handle at about the same time the truck went through the barbwire fence. I remember getting ran over by the rear tire.
I wasn't hurt that bad. I knew the fence was pretty bad, and I could see once I turned the headlights on that the drivers side front fender was pretty smashed. I backed the pickup through the same hole it made, unwrapped the wire off of everything and drove back to the stack. I finished my chores with a knot in my stomach so huge I thought I was going to die.
I wasn't sure how Eric would take the news that not only did I tear up one of his pickups, but I also managed to rip out a large piece of fence and I wasn't going to be able to fix it since it was morning. I walked into the house the best I could, as my ankle and ribs hurt pretty bad and Eric wasn't there. I was making a quick escape to my car when I seen him walking up the driveway. I could feel my legs getting a little shaky, but I went over and told him what happened. He wasn't angry at all. He mentioned that I might want to shut the pickup off in gear next time.... Eric was like that.
I am still reminded of that incident every time I do something bad to my ankle. I didn't want anyone to know that I was hurt, so I never told anyone that I got ran over. My ankle has never been the same since then. I'm not sure if it was the jump off the haystack or the getting ran over that did it in. My right ankle has a tendency to always buckle and get sprained very easily. I wasn't aware of how bad it was until years later when I thought I broke it in a horse accident, and when It was x-rayed the doctor thought it was odd that the ankle had been badly broken sometime earlier and never healed.... I knew exactly what time he was talking about. Someday I'm going to go in and get the operation it needs to re break the ankle, pin it, and let it heal properly.
I may even tell my folks about what actually happened that morning - but probably not.