Dude Ranch

By the time I wandered from my bed, everyone else had been up working for hours. I heard the wringer washer humming in the basement and remembered that it was washday Monday. Finding a slice of Mom’s home baked bread in a bag on the kitchen counter, I slathered butter and jelly on it and went to sit on one of the basement steps.

When I sat down, Mom looked up from feeding soggy clothing to the washing machine’s rollers. She said, “So, you finally decided to get up?” I grinned at her and continued to nibble on the bread. Eyeing my summertime uniform, shorts and a sun top, Mom said, “Good. You dressed for the day.”

I popped the last bite of bread into my mouth and frowned.  Last summer my big sisters made a fuss about how I wore my nightgown well into the day and refused to comb my own hair. Pictures that they took showed a fluffy tangled rat’s nest of hair on the back of my head. Now that I was eight and a half I dressed when I got out of bed and even combed my hair.

After Mom put the sudsy clothing through the wringer, she rinsed it in tubs of clean hot water and reintroduced them to the wringer. Picking up a basket of wet clothing to hang on the backyard clothes line, Mom said as she passed me on the stairway, “There’s a kettle of potato peels and pea shells next to the kitchen sink that you can give to the chickens.”

I loved watching the chickens eat garden scraps. The hen house was on the backside of our yard. Except for one or two nasty tall weeds, all vegetation in the chicken pen was pecked down to the dirt. After dumping the kettle over the fence, I leaned against it to watch the old white biddies cluck and fight over pea pods. They bobbed their heads, making red combs flop this way and that, and scratched at their dusty, pot-holed yard. When I moved, the hens followed me with their strangely emotionless round yellow eyes.

Sunshine on my head and back felt hot and the sweet smell of freshly dried hay hung in the air. I slowly trailed back to the house with the empty kettle in hand. Mom said, “Daddy and the boys won’t be stopping for dinner. Rain is on the way and they’re in a hurry to get in the hay. When they pull the next wagon into the barn, we’ll bring sandwiches and Kool Aide to them.

We heard the “put-put-put” of Daddy’s tractor before it chugged into our yard. Mom picked up a plate of sandwiches and a stack of plastic glasses. I carried the sweating jar of green Kool Aide and followed her up the barn hill where my brothers were getting ready to unload the wagon. They stopped and gulped down the food, but enjoyed the sweet, wet drink more. I glanced around and noticed a bank of clouds on the horizon.

When the empty wagon lumbered out of the yard, Mom discovered that the wash was dry and had me carry in a basket of wind and sunshine scented linen.

Thunderheads boiled up from the west, blotting out the afternoon sun, but the rain held off. From time to time we heard a tractor pull into the yard with a load of hay and a short time later hear it leave again. As Mom started supper preparations she sniffed and said, “Can’t you just SMELL the rain in the air?” I sniffed the rich, earthy scent and felt a sense of anticipation and excitement. Thunder growled menacingly in the distance. The sound of more than one tractor made us look into the backyard. Both of our tractors and both of our wagons fully loaded with hay were there. Warm drops of rain began to fall and the wagons were quickly pulled into sheds out of the weather.

The happy smell of wet trees and grass drifted in through the window screens as we relaxed at the supper table. Everyone was in a good mood. Milking had to be done before the day was over, so we didn’t get to sit around the table for long. Mom and my sisters did the dishes. I was assigned the job of taking table scraps to the barn for the dog and the cats.

I happily skipped through mud puddles on my way to the barn, looking forward to playing with the animals and enjoying the friendly smells and sounds as Daddy milked the cows. Little did I realize what an ideal life I had been given. By the Grace of God, not only had I landed in America’s Midwest, but as the baby of my family.

Several years ago I heard about places called Dude Ranches. They are places where City Folk vacation to get the feel of what it would be like to live out in the country. At Dude Ranches visitors are given small chores, allowed to mingle with the cattle, and go on trail rides to smell the mesquite, but are never given hard work or great responsibilities.  When I first understood the concept of such a place, I was amazed! It perfectly described my childhood!

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