While I’m sure the phrase “forty miles of dirt road” for some will recall its use to describe someone’s “weathered and wizened” face, it is also truly a geographical destination.
Across the cattle guard somewhere, a long way from the pavement, is a cowboy’s bride marveling over her practical Christmas gifts and dreading the next oncoming storm because the water pipes are still frozen from the last one.
Ranch wives have different phobias than their city counterparts. No need for the common city phobias such as “claustro” and “agora.” The wide open spaces prevent the former and the latter, said to be caused by social anxiety problems, would require a whole lot more “social” in her life than does actually happen.
The more common phobias experienced by ranch wives include fear of gifts and invitations.
This year’s winner of the “practical Christmas gift” from the cowboy husband was the “new stock tank so she only had to fill it once instead of three times to water the bulls.” It came with an option for a new solar electric fence energizer to better keep the bulls where they belonged. Recent years recall the stellar gift of a new cattle guard so the little wife didn’t have to open and close the gate several times a day on her way to check waters, deliver the mail and other assorted chores requiring driving down the dirt road.
Second place in the “practical gift” category is the 2-year-old colt he had been eyeing for himself but sacrificed his desires to make it her gift. That sacrifice came with the expectation she would break the colt and a start with the practical training in the spring. Oddly, the colt came with a new saddle that fits him but not her.
Big ticket items are as common as her phobia for them. Gifts like the new mud grips for her “personal” feed pickup, or a new battery for it, so that he does not have to come rescue her in the back pasture when the truck dies.
The very thoughtful love of her life has been known to give her new horn wraps for the roping steers because she was always complaining that the old ones were hard to put on and take off. Past years have yielded new shotguns, new hotshots, new fence stretchers and the ever-popular new wood splitting maul in a bright red color for the seasonal touch.
And then there are those “invitations” from her loving partner.
“Honey, how would you like to go with me to check the grass and new calves all over the ranch?”
While this innocent and thoughtful invitation is a city girl’s dream to be a “cowboy” for a day, the seasoned ranch wife knows that this invite will involve making burritos for the saddlebags, opening 35 gates, tallying up everything seen and making the list of whatever needs to be fixed encountered along this “pleasant” tour.
It also involves riding that half-broke colt that needs the miles and to date, has not quite grasped the concept of standing still while being mounted. Her cowboy has that pesky bad knee from an old roping injury making gate duty her job forever.
The upside is that a refined skill is learned by the cowboy’s bride. While maybe never actually consciously yearning to be an actress, out of necessity she becomes one of Oscar quality. Expressing enthusiasm for his newly brainstormed project, gratitude for those practical gifts, and excitement for yet another round of “Come go with me. We’ll be right back,” continually improves her smiling techniques.
One early morning the cowboy was lollygagging around, delaying his promise to help her with a project that required his stature and strength. Her encouragement for progress pushed him to the limit. Agitated, he barked at her, “You know I’m a slow starter.”
Her reply was a sincere attempt to give him a compliment. “But you’re a real quick finisher.” For some reason, he was mad at her for days. Hard to figure.
So goes life behind the cattle guard and down 40 miles of dirt road.
Julie, with first-hand knowledge of behind-the-cattleguard living, can be reached for comment email@example.com.