Sunday, April 17, 2016
The half-horse town nearest to where I grew up was about two-miles distant. It consisted of a Church, under a dozen homes, an old store, a cotton gin and a feed yard. I caught the school bus there. At various times I arrived at said bus stop by means of walking, bicycle, a-horseback, or driving—depending upon what was available and general weather conditions.
The next town of any significance was another ten miles and consisted of a school, three churches, a store/post office combination and about a couple-dozen homes (this is where I went to school). I rode the bus for an hour, traveling from farm to ranch, in order to pick up enough kids to make a load. FFA was required curriculum. There were only about eight to ten kids in my grade each year.
Because of my upbringing, I gained useful knowledge, such as what it’s like to milk a cow by hand twice-a-day (taught me about regularity and responsibility). I know how to butcher my own meat, what it’s like to mend fences, assist an animal with birthing, tromp in muck up to your knees to doctor a sick animal during a storm, get bucked off in a sticker patch, be kicked by a horse or cow protecting their “personal space,” hooked by a bull (whose “personal space” is usually much larger), how to entertain yourself without the aide of “electronic gadgets,” dress in layers so you can bear being outside in a day that starts off in the 30s at daybreak and winds up in the 80’s by afternoon, be both wind-burned and sunburned from working outside all day. I know all that and more—and I love it.
I love it because I also know what it’s like to see mountain views ten, twenty or even fifty miles off on a clear day. I know what it’s like to stare up at the stars with an unobstructed view while hearing crickets chirping on a clear, still night. I know what it’s like to have a special bond with animals—even if you plan to eat them later. The sight of a colt taking its first suckle, what it’s like to actually know your neighbors, the feeling of independence you get surviving in the country, the pride of raising your own food and yes, me being a male, the freedom to “do my business” outdoors, with worrying about neighbors being around.
Things weren’t always easy growing up this way. Being poor and rural, you had to be tough to survive. If you have ever chopped your own wood because it’s your only source of heat, had to gather a meal before eating it, lived in a house where you could see your breath in un-heated bedrooms during winter, chopped weeds in a field for minimum wage (daylight till dark on a hot summer day), spent a full day in the saddle (working – not pleasure riding), had blisters on your hands (and butt), or had to choose between buying gas or groceries with your last twenty-dollars because the “harvest check” is not in yet, then you know what I’m talking about.
Growing up country taught me many things. It’s a way of life like no other and I’m glad for it. I learned to respect God and country, the true value of a dollar (one you earned yourself), how to be responsible (not only for yourself but for animals and others), how to be independent, to really appreciate and respect nature, to work hard, to speak another language (Spanish), to change my own tires, fix a vehicle good enough to get back home with bailing wire and duct tape, basic veterinary skills, to be diplomatic when dealing with animals (and people), horticulture and the difference between beast of burden, meat animals and pets (and know they all have their own special place in the world), the value of a friend you could count on when you really need a hand, and, well, you get the picture.
I have a lot of fond memories of grow up this way. If you have ever “bobbed for apples” at a “Country Jamboree,” rolled your bedroll out and slept under the stars, known the satisfaction of doing a job few others could, watched an animal being born, smelled fresh-cut hay, danced a jig in the high school gymnasium at the yearly social, seen a sunrise or sunset a-horseback with no obstructions around, eaten “rocky mountain oysters” over a branding fire or a ripe tomato fresh off the vine, spent a Saturday night riding around in a four-wheel drive with a twelve pack and a spot light and thought it was the time of your life, listened to the same Chris Ledoux tape over and over on the way to a rodeo in the middle of nowhere, ate the best food ever at a “potluck” gathering, or if you have ever tasted home-made ice cream, made with cream you personally strained from milk, gotten from your own cow, then you know what I’m talking about.
A lot of folks think that growing up country is a handicap, but pardner, I’m here to tell you, it’s not! Great men like Abraham Lincoln grew up very country (and poor). Dale Carnegie, arguably one of the greatest writers and speakers of the 20th century grew up on a farm in Missouri. Canadian songstress, Shania Twain, grew up poor, in the rugged wilderness near Timmins, Ontario. As a boy, Johnny Cash worked along side his family in an Arkansas cotton field. Writer, Max Evans, once trailed a herd of horses from Jal, New Mexico to Guymon, Oklahoma when he was a young boy. They later made movies from books he’d written about his experiences! There are thousands of other examples. I could go on and on about great folk (well-known and unknown) who were raised “country.”
Personally, I wear “growing up country,” like a badge of honor. I would not have had it any other way!
Jim Olson © 2016
Jim Olson is a ranch-raised cowboy, author and entrepreneur. Growing up on the high plains of eastern New Mexico he learned to ride young colts, tend to cattle and drive heavy farm equipment at an early age.
Jim spent a few years competing in the calf roping event at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association level, qualifying for the circuit finals a few times. He lives on and operates a ranch near Stanfield, Arizona, once a part of John Wayne’s Red River Ranch, and also owns Western Trading Post, dealing in Cowboy and Indian collectibles.
These great life experiences Jim now uses in his writing career. He writes stories about interesting and extraordinary people of the west including short stories of both fiction and nonfiction. He has a monthly column titled “Cowboy Heroes,” published by several Southwestern and national magazines. Jim has written three books and is working on other projects as well. He can be reached via the web: www.JimOlsonAuthor.com