|The crew. With one small addition.|
When I was 10, my dad had the opportunity to buy a second small ranch just over an hour from the home spread. Near the town of Coaldale, Alberta.
It would have been a logistical nightmare for one man to run both places, so he had two choices.
A - put a foreman and workers on the second place, or B - park some of his children and one cousin there.
Because Dad was a frugal man, he went with plan B and, at the beginning of the summer, myself and my three older siblings and our cousin, Michael, found ourselves in a tidy little ranch house nestled in a fold of the prairie.
My eldest sister, age 17 served as chief cook and bottle-washer.
My two older brother, ages 15 and 12, as general cow hands.
My cousin, wherever he was needed.
And me, as ballast.
Our jobs were properly delineated and we went to them with a will.
Jerry and George brought in the hay crop and tended the cattle.
Michael moved between them.
And I read and showed up for meals.
Oh, and rode my horse.
It was a learning, growing experience for all of us.
Simply managing such an operation would have been challenge, but this ranch was unique.
It was also infested with rattlesnakes.
One day, while stacking hay, my oldest brother sat down on a bale to rest. There was a sudden buzz at his feet. Without even thinking, he simply pitched sideways off the stack, neatly avoiding being bitten. Then he and his younger brother hunted down the culprit and disposed of it.
Can’t have rattlesnakes in the hay . . .
Then they coiled up the remains on the front step of the house and rang the doorbell.
Okay, I served two purposes on the ranch. Ballast and victim.
After that experience, I mostly remained inside the house. Only going outside to ride. Walking slowly and carefully and observantly.
The technique must have worked because my only other experience with anything slithery was during a ride to check the cows, when my mount leaped suddenly and nimbly into the air and I saw, beneath us in the grass, something long and skinny and very, very mobile.
Another memory from that summer was of my sister, busy in the kitchen.
Chris was making stew for supper. For a few minutes, she hunted around in the cupboards. Finally, she sighed. I asked her what was wrong.
“I don’t have any more flour,” she said. “Well, I’ll try . . .”
By this time I had lost interest and gone back to my reading.
I’ll never forget the stew she served that evening.
It was absolutely delicious.
Better than anything I had ever eaten.
I overheard her conversation with Jerry as I worked my way through a third helping.
Chris: I couldn’t find any flour for thickener.
Jerry: This is great. What did you do?
Chris: I used pancake mix.
Resourceful. And maybe a secret ingredient for delicious-ness?
It was a wonderful summer. Days of being cared for by older siblings. And cousin. (Sometime, I’ll tell you about my brother chasing off a mischievous bull using a bucket and a shovel.) Evenings spent playing five-handed solitaire. (It can be done.)
Learning that, if left on our own, we could succeed.
Our Coaldale summer.
I’ll never forget it.