[[ Most recent Update: 28 September 2012. ]]
MY DAD WAS A COWBOY . . .
. . . a real cowboy, the kind of cowboy that did the work on a ranch: mending barbed-wire fences, rounding up cattle on horseback, branding calves, and all the other dozens of chores required to do ranching. Dad’s pay was $25 per month, and the house we lived in was rent-free. He also made a few extra dollars “breaking” horses and training them to be “cow ponies”.
Dad loved the life of a cowboy. After riding the fence lines for several days, he would return home smelling of sweat and leather, bone tired, and with a big smile on his face.
My earliest memories are of living in a small two-room house set on the West Texas prairie, about five miles from our nearest neighbor. The house had no indoor plumbing, and lighting was provided by kerosene lamps. A windmill supplied water for the family, the vegetable garden, and for the animals that we kept near the house: three horses, a cow for milk, a few chickens, a couple of pigs, and a calf. I had a dog, named “Pal” and a hoarse named “Baldy”. Pal and Baldy were treated as part of the family. There were also some cats that lived in the barn. Their job was to keep the rodent population in check.
This photo is the only one I could find that looks anything like my memory of Pal. I don’t recall what, exactly, Baldy looked like, except that he seemed huge, and I enjoyed riding him as Pal tagged along, sniffing cow pies and chasing prairie dogs.
Pal was my constant companion, and we sort of took care of each other. Pal, of course, did most of the taking care, and I just went along for the fun.
The only motorized vehicle we had was a one-cylinder John Deer tractor, similar to the one in the photo, below.
Dad used the tractor to cultivate a small plot where we grew some grain & fodder for the horses and the cow. About four or five times a year, Dad, Mom and I would ‘hitch’ a ride with a neighbor who had an old pick-up truck and go into town where Mom would buy salt, sugar, flour, and other stuff that we could not grow for ourselves.
When I started to school, I would ride Baldy about a mile to a dirt road where a school bus would pick me up and take me to school. The bus was similar to the one shown below.
In the afternoon, the school bus would deposit me at the same spot, and I would ride Baldy back to the house. Did Baldy stay there at the gate all day? I think not, but he was always there when I got off the bus in the afternoon. That’s the way things were, and I never questioned it. I suspect Mom and/or Dad had something to do with Baldy being there to greet me after school.
Occasionally, Baldy would be out on the prairie with dad, serving as a pack horse to carry tools and supplies required to mend the fences, and I would then walk the mile to catch the school bus.
That’s about all I remember of ranch life. There are a few other snippets of memory that come to mind once in a while, but not a lot of detail. My brain, having spent almost eight decades remembering and forgetting, seems to have become best at forgetting.
After WW II started, Dad moved us to Quitaque, Texas, a small town just under the CapRock where the prairie ended and canyon country began. I’m not sure what Dad did for a paycheck in Quitaque, but I think he worked at a lumberyard. His occupation is listed as “carpenter” on my birth certificate. I remember playing in the stacks of lumber with my cousin, Carl. Betty, Carl’s little sister, came along once in a while, but since she was a girl, Carl and I considered her a pest and avoided her whenever possible. She always brought her doll, and we thought girls and dolls simply didn’t belong in lumberyards.
After several months in Quitaque, we moved to an old house at an abandoned gravel pit a few miles south of town. I suspect the rent was cheaper there, or, maybe it was free. Dad spent a lot of time doing repairs and building cabinets in the kitchen.
I had an idyllic boyhood at the gravel pit: catching bugs, tarantulas, minnows, and learning to swim & catch fish. There was a year-round stream running near the house, and a water reservoir with a rickety old wooden pier leading out to a pump house in the middle of the reservoir. The reservoir was just a small pond, but it seemed large to me. I spent countless hours in and around the pond. I recall a large catfish that would sun himself (herself?) in the shallows where the stream fed into the pond. My greatest ambition was to catch that catfish and have it for dinner. Alas, the catfish was much more clever than I, and I never caught it. I did, however, catch some of its smaller cousins using grasshoppers and minnows for bait. I used a hand line and rusty old hooks that I found in the tool shed. It wasn’t a very fancy fishing rig, but it did the job while fishing off the pier or through a hole in the floor of the pump house. I was forbidden to go into the pump house because it was dangerously close to collapsing, but that made it all the more attractive.
The time we spent living at the gravel pit was, fairly short; about a year, or so. This relatively short stay at the gravel pit produced the best of my childhood memories.
Eventually, Dad purchased a house in Quitaque, and we moved back into town. I recall Dad discussing the finances with Mom. It seems Dad didn’t have enough cash to pay for the house, and he was agonizing over having to borrow money. It was the first time he had ever been in debt, and he was very uncomfortable with the idea of being a debtor.
Cowboys dislike owin’ to anybody.
The house was a big improvement over the one on the prairie. It had indoor hot and cold water available in the kitchen, but no indoor bathroom.
World War II brought good paying jobs to big cities like Amarillo, and we eventually moved there so Dad could find work as a carpenter in the “war effort”.
Pal and Baldy were left behind with a neighbor because dad thought we could not afford renting a place big enough to keep them.
That was the end of my carefree boyhood, and Dad didn’t smile much after we moved to the “big city”.
For quite a while, neither did I.
NOTE: I have no photos of this time in my childhood. The photos you see here, I borrowed from Google Images. I notice that Google has “borrowed” several of my images from other places on the web, so I figure it is OK if I borrow some of theirs.