Raised on a hobby farm where my penchant for furred and feathered creatures was indulged, I spent school holidays at my aunt and uncle's working cattle ranch. Some of my favorite memories are of warm rock buns fresh from the wood-stove oven, or balancing on a tower of hay bales stacked on a horse-drawn sleigh piloted by my uncle, as my dad cut twine and pushed bales off to feed two-hundred-plus cows. My least favorite times were stamping through the "nursery" late at night, slipping on ice and tripping over frozen cow pies, to check the hind-ends of pregnant (and often ornery) cows by flashlight for tiny cloven hoofs pointing in the wrong direction (angled toward the ground was good; the soles facing skyward, not so good, because that meant the calf was backward, a dangerous, and sometimes fatal complication). I especially dreaded going home.
I loved the freedom I found on the ranch. Still do. The fact my stays were short, limited to school breaks, might have helped influence my fond feelings. I'm sure my grandma, and then my aunt who along with her husband bought the ranch in 1971, were never happier than when electricity and modern appliances finally wended down the long drive to take over some of the grunt work. Still, I know the deep respect and love for that period in my life influenced my choice of genre--Historical Romance; and setting--a cattle ranch on the Texas Panhandle.
Through the characters, and early twentieth-century time-period, I relive those good memories--the hand pump my grandma, and then aunt, used to draw water from the well; the wood-stove used to not only warm the kitchen, and cook, but to heat dish and bath water before the wiring was revamped to accommodate a hot water tank; the long bench in the kitchen where my uncle used to stretch out for late-afternoon naps; the musty root cellar grandpa dug into a hillside, replete with cobwebs and spiders the size of goose eggs. I miss those days, helping pick raspberries in the garden or pack wood from the woodshed to the kitchen; standing eye-level at the counter while Auntie rolled and cut baking powder biscuit dough with an upended water glass to make perfect circles; gaping in awe as uncle helped deliver a stuck calf, his shoulder and back muscles bulging with the effort of hauling on the chain hooked to the spindle legs. Good times. Sad times. Real times.
|View of hay barn from horse-drawn wagon. (C) 2008 Copyright Deborah Anderson|
Working ranches are fast becoming extinct. The one I love is not the one of my childhood. It is one of the times, transformed from raising beef cattle to producing hay, most of the land leased, not a cow in sight. Thankfully, the people I love are still there, as familiar and enduring as the land they work.
Aunt and Uncle are in their seventies, look two-decades younger than that, and when I left their home after my last visit, they were headed out to check and repair what equates to an estimated twenty-five miles of fencing after hosting an eighty-plus-person birthday party to celebrate my grandmother's ninety-seventh year of loving and living. Strong, tough, resilient, self-reliant; ranchers. Inspiration for my novels.
And for my life.