Once they were safe in catch pen, my younger brother and I would climb up on top of the hog barn that was near the sorting alley, so we’d have a birds eye view (literally!) of the selection process as it unfolded. We’d carve in the old wooden shingles and laugh and play (quietly…there were times when we were reminded of such!). The hog shed was very old, beyond any repair, and it only housed pigs occasionally, so dad never got after us for carving in the shingles. I’d make a mark for each one he sorted off to go to market. Dad would nod and say “In” or “Bye” depending on the market readiness of each animal as they passed by him. The “Byes” got more time on feed before they would head to the stockyard. Dad used a whip to move each calf down the alley. He could make it pop and you could hear it clear as day, though I never saw the end of the whip ever touch an animal. The “crack” of the whip alone was enough to make them go where he wanted them to go. To this day, I have never accomplished the wrist action necessary to pop a whip. Today we use paddles to sort; the end is a plastic piece 11 inches long by 5 inches wide and 1 inch thick, attached to a three-foot sturdy plastic pole. It’s like tapping a calf with a padded mitten.
Back to that vignette of time in my life. The stock racks on the Chevy truck hung down along the outside of the bed. Bolts and wingnuts were used to hold them together once we got them hoisted up off the sides and held at the edges for fastening together. Again, at age six, I probably didn’t hold the racks, but the bolts and nuts were more in my department to hang on to until he needed them.
Those trips are etched in my mind, and I cannot put a price on those memories. Once we’d unload the cattle, we’d walk over to the Hoof ‘N’ Horn café for breakfast. The door opened at a 45-degree angle to the street, don’t ask me why I remember that. A “shortstack” (two little pancakes) and orange juice was my staple. There was a full “Old West” bar along the north wall, and ceramic piggy banks of bulls, owls, you name it, available for sale. Over the years dad bought me an owl bank (It says, “Be Wise, Save” on it), and I have a collection of bull banks. We’d sit in a booth along the south wall opposite each other, close to the door, just me and my dad.
Back at the cattle pen, I’d sometimes get to ride with one of the cowboys, moving cattle up and down the alley. I’m guessing I was never too far out of dad’s sight, even though back then was nothing like it is today with young children leaving their parents’ side. I’d yell “Doobisnhonstwhorst” at the cattle, and the cowboys would laugh. My Grandma Bokern used to call us grandkids that name in a playful way when she was joshing around with us. I’m sure it’s not spelled right (it might have been a phrase, who knows!), and not sure what it ever meant, but it was a fun German word/phrase to shoo the cattle on down the alley.
There was a cattle buyer named Joe Wood who represented the Cecil Baker Livestock Commission Company, who would come to our farm and talk with dad about our offering. I remember him the most of all the men dad ever dealt with when selling fat cattle. He had coal black hair and a deep voice and had a suntanned complexion. I liked him, and I think he liked me. He was usually the man who bought our cattle at the yards. Between the cowboys, the horses, looking at other pens of cattle, and visiting with Joe, the morning always passed too quickly in my little mind.
After the sale handshake and our cattle were heading down the alley to the packinghouse, (The packinghouse always intrigued me as a young girl. Yet another blog post subject.), we'd make our way into the magnificent (from a child's perspective!) Livestock Exchange Building to collect the check and then be on our way home, which was about 80 miles west into Kansas. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy, when skies are gray, you’ll never know dear, how much I love you, please don’t take my sunshine away,” was sung over and over and over, every trip. I can still see the smile on dad’s face.
Harry and I spent some time on January 30, 2015, exploring what we could of the old yards and the Exchange Building. It was still magnificent, though badly in need of repair, if that was even possible. I did a quick Google search a few days ago, and it seems renovation is happening. I intend to study the subject more as time allows.
So there you have it. My first real memories of life with cattle.
Disclaimer: I have failed miserably twice before in my attempt at a day-to-day ranch blog. I also started one back in 2017 or thereabouts and eventually removed the “Blog” button off of our website! Yesterday late afternoon, when I saw so much interest via personal texts and on Facebook encouraging me to continue, my perfectionist brain went into overdrive with thoughts including: 1. How will I organize this? 2. Should it stay in chronological order? 3. Should every post include a mental health message? 4. I’m not a writer. What if I get bogged down and worry about “needing to write something and nothing is happening??” Am I kidding myself to even attempt this? 5. I have hundreds of subjects I can touch on. They were churning in my mind and the more I tried to organize them so I would remember what to write about someday, the more of a jumbled-up mess they became. I took a deep breath - “STOP,” said my heart to my brain-and I walked away from my phone and the computer. Then later last evening, I picked up a little blue book that I occasionally read daily meditations in, and the entry for yesterday included the following:
‘If I do what I should, I will be at peace with myself. If I feel what I am doing is right, I will not be dependent on the admiration or applause of others. It is gratifying, but not essential to my contentment.’
“Labor not as one who is wretched, nor yet as one who would be pitied or admired. Direct yourself to one thing only, to put yourself in motion and to check yourself at all times.” -Marcus Aurelius: Meditations
There is something inside of me urging this blog onward. This attempt at blogging might be different than my previous efforts. We shall see where it leads. The only rule I have is that there are no rules. Posts will be from the past, present, or about the future. Some may be short; some may be long. There will not be something every day, and yet there may be consecutive days when the Spirit moves me. Faith and family have kept me alive, and I intend to tell that story. Communication is the key to faith and to family. (Another subject for a future blog.) I am not doing this for kudos, although I sincerely thank each of you for the initial support of this endeavor. My heart was touched by the outpouring of encouragement! It is my hope that my story of living with depression and anxiety while ranching side-by-side with my husband and family might make it easier, if even for only one person, to share their inner struggles with someone else and to know they are not alone.