Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Just Like Johnny

Last weekend in Greens Fork we celebrated Johnny Ringo Days. That’s right folks, one of the West’s wildest gun-slingers was born right here in this (now) sleepy town. While I’d like to tell you he learned to be tough the same way we did, out in a pasture playing chicken with a bull, I’m pretty sure those infamous boys of the rangy plains acquired their pistol tricks somewhere west of the Mississippi.  

(I’d like to think) Ringo and I have a lot things in common. 
  • We both spent our primitive years in Greens Fork. He moved West and never came home. I moved East...And returned. 
  • He got his kicks out of shooting a pistol and rustling cattle. I get my kicks out of shooting a camera and looking at cattle. 
  • He kept company like Wyatt Earp. I keep company like Katie Thomas. 
  • He rode a horse into town packing heat, I ride a Focus into town with a 6th generation feral dog in the passenger seat. 

Let's not fool anyone. We’re basically brother and sister. 

Can you imagine walking out of the old general store, minding your own business, and coming face to face with someone as mean and ready to fight as Johnny boy (I can call him that; he’s six feet under somewhere in Arizona)?

I can. 
It happened to me once. 
I got home late one Thursday night last summer. It was late-season and I had spent the evening around a bonfire with friends, catching up and enjoying one of the last reasonable nights of the year. I turned my car around in the driveway to find Copernicus, the neighbor goat, in my yard. I parked on the street, set my purse on the trunk, and called the friendly old pet. 

He met me on the street. 

I put my hand in his collar and began leading him down the street just few yards to his driveway. Copernicus was not impressed. Before I knew it he turned around, I lost my grip and...... 
Wait, did I mention Copernicus wasn’t a pygmy goat? 

Cappy (pet name) was a full size billy goat. The family didn’t want a dog like everyone else; they wanted a goat. I remember the first time I saw Cappy, long before I knew who he was. I was home from Washington, DC and sitting in the Greens Fork diner having breakfast with Dad and Luke after feeding cows. I saw a goat walk by the diner window; I rubbed my eyes and wondered if anyone one else had seen what I did?! Dad and Luke agreed; there was a goat walking up the highway. Funny thing about small towns; Dixie can be a gypsy for approximately 17 minutes before someone reports a “dog running down the street...Wait! My son said it was a fox!”. ‘Ol Copernicus could roam all over town, as long as he made it back to his pen by sundown. Have you ever seen a full-size goat roaming town in the middle of the day? No? Well, you haven’t been to Greens Fork. 

Back to the modern day street fight.....
I lost my grip on that old goat and he bucked me with his horns right into the thigh. I was shocked. “Cappy! You jerk!,” I scorned, fairly certain I heard the goat laugh. Before I knew it, the goat was on his hind legs pawing in the air at me. I’m almost embarrassed to say, I was petrified. I grabbed ahold of his collar once again and tried to pet him and calm him down. That didn't work. With out warning, Cappy rammed his horns into my abdomen twice. It was a really horrible feeling. I knew exactly why he did it; he was farm animal who had been domesticated for a couple years. He found a way out of his elaborate pen and felt a little rambunctious. 
He put his head down and started pawing at the ground; I was at the point where I really felt like I was going to be sick because of the pain, and I knew he meant business.  He rammed towards me; before he broke more skin, I grabbed that goat’s horns and gave this head the toughest twist I could give it. 

My only thought, “If I the middle of Greens Fork.....during a street fight.......with a GOAT......I'm going to be really, realllllly ticked...”
The super snap to the neck didn’t work...didn’t tug hard enough. 
Cappy came back with a vengeance. Like an idiot, I ran to the nearest street light and stood against it. Cappy reared up on two legs and penned me again the wooden light pole. All I could see where his sharp hooves coming right at me. I ducked and ran to my car and grabbed my phone from the purse. I called the goat’s owner, who happened to be working nights then. He thought I was prank calling him when I said I was in the middle of Maple Street and scared that Cappy was going to kill me. While Cappy was still nailing my legs with his horns, I screamed out the names of my closest neighbors, trying to wake them. They slept through the whole deal. 

Within minutes, Cappy’s “mom” came out of her house and down the driveway screaming, “ Copernicus!! Come here right now!!” And just like that, that mean-as-a-snake old goat lowered his head and walked calmly down the street to his driveway. She unlatched his pen and he went and laid down. 
It didn’t take long for my sympathetic neighbor to feel feel really bad about the street fight that had just taken place. She was a little confused in the beginning, but as soon as I showed her my abdomen and legs, she was furious. 
Within a week, Greens Fork was one less resident/goat. He didn’t die. He went to a farm in the country. 
There are very few times in my life I felt like I was legitimately in danger. One was leaving an event in Washington, DC, walking home across the city alone and having a strange encounter; one was getting my rental car stuck on a wet gravel road/path just 25 miles west of Nowhere, Wyoming with nothing but a camera  and cell phone with out service; and one involved a mangy goat with horns the size of elephant tusks in Greens Fork, Indiana.

I learned one thing that night. Just like Johnny Ringo, if you want to acquire the reputation of a real, rough outlaw, you've got to be fearless and prepared to face anything, anywhere, anytime....Goats included. 

I'm barely prepared for the trash man, who comes to town every Tuesday at 7:03 a.m. on the dot. And I've never been much of a fighter. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

'Tis the Season

I’m starting to hear rumblings about family vacation plans from co-workers. Virginia beaches, California coasts, Florida sand, Idaho fly-fishing and even Australian adventures. Families set out on these well-planned trips and come home with tan lines, trophy catches or surf boards. 
Weird. We always came home with frost bite, 13 shampoo and conditioner sets and about 20 lbs. of continental breakfast fruit from the Three Rivers Holiday Inn. 

We rarely took vacations off the farm growing up; any child of agriculture reading this blog understands where I’m coming from. It certainly wasn’t a bad thing, but it sure made you thankful that most families vacationed in the summer when school was out. Can you imagine coming into class and having to look at a classmate’s jar of seashells and sand when you just got done cleaning out and bedding pens?!
I remember one summer when Mom kept on Dad for never taking us anywhere exciting.  Boy, did she come to regret that. Dad asked her to pack a change of clothes for everyone, frisbees, hola-hoops and a couple meals to travel. Within an hour my well-organized Momma had us all ready to go. 
Smoky Mountains, you ask? 
Nope. Dad drove us to I-70 (1 mile from home) and took us to the rest-stop that was just off the next exit - 2 miles from our home. We “vacationed” in a rest area we could have seen from our farm, had the leaves been off the trees. 
It’s the little things. 
And I know you’re wondering. We didn’t spend the night. 

No questions asked, we did take one snowy, numb vacation a year. We drove to Pittsburgh and watched the mighty Steelers dominate the opponent annually. This was back in the Neil O’Donnell days...

14 may or may not have been my lucky number for 5ish years. 
These were great vacations. We usually had fantastic seats and loved being able to hear the player profanity in real life; much like getting an education without having to step foot in the classroom. It was always frigid and Mom spent the majority of the games in the women’s restroom under the hand dryer. Us kids always stuck it out with Dad, who loved the jumbo pretzels but was always too numb to notice he had a tablespoon of spicy mustard stuck in his mustache. Ahhhh, the good old days. 

I remember those trips pretty well. Except for the one where there were only four football tickets for the five of us. Wanna guess which kid stayed home and didn’t get to go watch the Steelers play?
The one blamed for breaking the family symmetry. 

Young Jean
I guess my parents thought they’d leave me home because I would be too young to remember it. False. I don’t remember who watched me that week, but I do remember rebelling by hiding under my bed every evening and brushing my teeth with Kool-Aid before I went to bed. I also remember the “gift” my siblings returned with to compensate for leaving me at home: a picture of Laura and Luke with the a few of the Steelers players. 

No questions asked, I got my sense of adventure from Dad. While Mom swore she heard banjos playing if she didn’t know the exact milage to the nearest hospital, Dad was the one who lead us out on great adventures. Days before the trip he’d pull out an atlas, ask one of us kids to close our eyes, and do the ‘ol swirl and stop trick on the map. Where ever our finger stopped, we went.
Grand Canyon, you ask? 
Nope - Turnip Hole, Pennsylvania

It’s a real bad feeling when you drive around on winding roads for 45 minutes and can’t find the town that the toothless old man at the last gas station said should have There was no GPS. There was no cell phone. Just one confused father, one nervous mother and three impatient kids. 
Dad broke down and stopped at a house; the only house we saw in 10 miles. 

On the porch was an old man; as I remember it he had to have been 173 years old and 450 lbs, wearing bib overalls with no shirt underneath. He sat in a recliner out on his front porch next to the washer and dryer, which his foamy-mouth grey dog was sitting on. He had approximately 7 strands of white hair combed over from one ear to the other and was chewing a soggy cigar.
“We’re looking for Turnip Hole - did we miss it?” Dad yelled from the car window. Heck no, he didn’t get out. 
The old man howled. “Miss is it?! Hell, ya’lls in it! This hea is Turnip Hole, Pensi-vana and I have been the Maya of this village for long nea 59 yeas - since I was long ‘bout 19! Born en raised in dees hills en I don’t suppose I’ll eva be leavin’”

Ohhhhh my. 
While Dad laughed about the the whole deal, the three of us kids, who expected to see a pretty deep hole with tons of turnips in it, were thoroughly confused and highly disappointed. There was nothing in the burg except for one jolly old man hopped up on soggy tobbacco and his dog, which I’m fairly certain was half wolf. 
To make up for it, Dad changed the plan and drove us north to Niagara Falls. 

Ahhhh, nothing like riding along a major waterfall with a Momma who hates water....

Some look back at our family vacations and wonder how we lived through them. We made it through pretty easily, I’ve always thought. We didn’t have a luxury SUV or XM radio. We had each other, the alphabet game, a car that had room for a middle passenger in the front seat, should matters in back get too rambunctious and continental breakfast fruit that always held us over until the next meal. We never went anywhere that sold postcards or keychains, but we sure had fun getting carsick together amongst those American backroads. Made for really great memories. 

Stop in Mars, Pennsylvania

Generally speaking, we spent more time in any given Mom-n-Pop shop learning about the the local culture than we ever spent in any museum. I guess that is why the three of us have no problem talking to anyone with any background these days. I will admit, we went to Disney World one year; it wasn’t quite what any of us expected and I suppose one day I’ll tell you all why. 

I have a good friend who remembers her "last family vacation"; the one where the kids forgot to speak to the parents because cell phones had arrived and it took a month after they got home to even realize they'd been to the Grand Canyon and back. That trip ended their vacation time together. 

I don't know. I guess I'm such a traditionalist that I still believe one day we'll load up the crew, from grandparents to grandkids and set off on the next big adventure to.....
maybe Jungle Jim's in Cincinnati?

Guess that's why they say, "The family that survives vacations together in podunk America, will happily survive anything"

 They do say that, right?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Coral Lipstick and Broken Fences

We are nearing that time again. 

Though I just unpacked a suitcase last night, I can hardly wait to re-pack my carry-on in just a few days. Coming up is the annual trip Momma and I take with her best friend and her daughter....a Girls' Weekend Off the Farm. Momma works so hard for BSG year-around; I know she looks forward to this relaxing girls' weekend, just as I do. 

Speaking of her work ethic...

Monsanto held a contest this Spring honoring America's Farm Moms. Not only did I receive emails asking me to submit an entry on behalf of Momma, I actually received in the mail a cut-out newspaper article outlining the contest from a fellow Hoosier - asking me to nominate her. If that doesn't speak volumes about what people think of her character, I'm not sure what will. Below is my nomination. Win or lose, it's nice to know I'm not the only person who thinks Linda Bowman is one hell of a lady....

I nearly fell off my porch swing when I read that Monsanto was taking nominations for America's Farmers Mom of the Year Award. It was my understanding that my mother, Linda Bowman, already held that title...consecutively, for many years. 
Mom left her nursing career 26 years ago to be a homemaker for three toeheads. Since then, a life-long dream of my father’s, to own a purebred Shorthorn operation, has come true. 

Instead of wearing white hose, a white cap and white nursing uniform, Mom now drains hoses so they won’t freeze, sees that caps are securely fastened onto vaccine syringes and dresses in Mucks and hooded sweatshirts. 

Though it’s quite handy for us grown children to still live close to our family operation come calving season and weaning week, each of us, including my father, have jobs off the farm. 

Everyone, except for Mom. 

She reads her daily devotions while watching for heat and watching the sun rise across the Indiana sky. She plans her meals by leafing through cookbooks as she waits for water tanks to fill in the hot July heat. Mom brings freezing calves into her warm home, wrapping them in blankets, checking them throughout the night. She told me once that as much as she hates the thought of hooves scraping up her (once clean) linoleum floor, there’s no better sound than the shuffle a new calf does when she finally finds her feet after surviving a questionable night. 
Mom stays home alone, managing everything, while the rest of us travel to Denver and Canada annually to promote our operation. We’re thankful to have a strong mother that isn’t afraid to drive through snow drifts to get to the cattle, run an auger or call the vet when one person simply isn’t enough. All with coral lipstick on. 

Mom serves the community by volunteering at the county fair and sitting on township committees, as well spending a week in our county seat teaching local urban elementary students about the dire importance of animal agriculture; during this week she loads up a young calf to show the students. Through that experience she’s learned that many local third graders know little about beef....
Mom: Ok, let’s talk about the products we use everyday that come from cattle. Who knows what almost all of us wear daily, that comes from cattle?
Student 1: Cotton!
Mom: No, cotton is a plant; it is grown in soil. What I’m thinking of is on your shoes. 
Student 2: NIKE!
Mom: No, Nike does not come from cows. 
Student 3: Hey farmer lady, is that a Rottweiler?!
Mom: WHAT?? No, this is not a Rottweiler - it's not even dog! This is a baby calf.
Student 4: Wait, cows make the rubber on our shoes?!
Before she had a coronary, Mom revealed to the kids that leather is actually a byproduct of cattle.
Through the close calls, late nights and intense frustrations that go into raising cattle, Mom never gives up. While I was out living the life in Washington, DC, I heard her heart break through the telephone line as she told me the calf she had been checking on every hour didn’t make it through the night. I’ve seen her miss Homemaker Extension club meetings because the cows got out. I’ve watched Mom shower and get ready for a dinner with her best friends in 23 minutes because we asked her to  stick around and help tag calves.  If Mom wasn’t so selflessly dedicated, I say confidently that we wouldn’t have the farm today.
I remember following Mom down a worn, dusty cowpath when I was a young girl. In true Jean fashion, I was very careful not to step directly in her footsteps, but rather stepping a bit in hers while also making a new track of my own. I knew I wanted to be involved in agriculture my whole life, but I didn’t know if I could care for a husband, children and a herd of cattle in the way she did: by sacrificing so much with such grace, unrest and irreplaceable determination. At that age, I liked the thought of lavish vacations to Disney World. 

I’ve grown now and realized, not only that Disney World is more like Misery World for a girl like me, but because of the work ethic and values she’s instilled in me, there is no other Farm Mom I’d rather fall into the footsteps of than Linda Bowman herself. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Momma Gets Email

There are certain events that teach patience in one’s life:
1. Waiting at the top of the stairs Christmas morning
2. Running twenty minutes late and waiting in the check-in line behind a family of five with three children under the age of eight, all of whom checked a bag, two of which have the flu
3. Teaching a fifty-something homemaker how to use the internet
Last night I spent three hours of my life convincing Mom that setting up an email account does not mean she has to sell all of her postage stamps at the "Antiques/Collectables" booth during the next community garage sale. 
Mom’s resistance to internet was expected. For two straight Christmases, we made her a certificate for a cell phone at the local wireless store. Each year, she refused to go have anything activated. We knew Mom enjoyed her simple country life on the farm. She hadn't let today's world of constant communication take over, and she was quite content with that. She always said enjoyed being able to sit outside and watch for heat and have no one try to disturb her “peaceful moments”; we were always convinced she liked to be able to go to Elder-Beerman and have no one know where she was.
I sat down with Mom last night and reminded her that we had wireless internet installed as her Christmas gift over four months ago. With out her logging on, it’s useless. 
Lesson Learned: There is no better way to kick Momma into gear than to tell her that her stubborn ways are wasting money. 
Having gone to school during the 90’s, I took for granted how little Mom knew about the internet, and computers for that matter. We went over the basics of starting and restarting the computer. And restarting again because she had forgot that she had already started. 
Acclimating herself to the computer was a big deal for Mom. And don’t get me started on her loud reaction when I told her to, “Now, Mom, just put your hand on the mouse....” 
Perhaps the biggest trial for Momma was double clicking. It was either a single click or a triple click. Never a double click. In her words, “Jean, I don’t do double click!” Oh my. 
Finally it was time for Mom to log-in; I’d love to share her email address here, but I think at this point, she would have a nervous break down if she found more that 10 emails in her inbox in a week. And her password, well it is one for the ages. I’ll give Mom credit. When we told her to come up with something that she would think of every time she logged on, I never thought she’d be so creative...or honest:
Momma was shocked to see so many emails already in her inbox, from family and friends. “Who ARE these people and how do they know how to find me?!” she cried out. I think she felt a wee bit violated that 16 people already knew her email address before she did. read the emails. She was thrilled that so many folks took the time to sit down and write to her.
“Aren’t you going to respond?” I asked, as she deleted one from a dear friend. 
“Respond?? Is this a pen-pal deal where I have to write back every time or I never find the love of my life and I lose all my friends? If so, count me out. I already married your father and the friends thing is what Christmas cards are for.” Oh my. 
So, if you sent Momma an inaugural email, please don’t be offended if you didn’t get a response. Now, if you don’t get a Christmas card from her, I’d raise an eyebrow. 
Mom sent a few responses that included classic one-liners such as, “How did you find me?” and “Did you lose the weight?” and “The rain is making me crazy, so I got email.”
At the end of the evening I asked Momma what she thought the best part of email was. The ease of it? The quick communication? The way you could send an email to anyone, for free, no matter where they lived?
Momma thought for a while.
“Mostly,” she said, “I’m just glad I don’t have to hunt down the last place your father left the letter opener. Oh! And I don’t have to lick the envelop.” Oh my.
Mom’s first night of email was both monumental and encouraging; she texted me very early this morning asking if it was necessary to check email once a week or once a day. Perhaps most exciting is Mom has much to learn about the possibilities of the world wide web, and she is eager to do so. 

I told her about, the American Shorthorn Association online registration opportunities and Facebook. Of course, she informed me she already has well over 100 never-been-tried family recipes from previous generations and she didn't need to collect anymore. And she said if she registered the cattle online she worried about how she would keep in touch with her favorite ASA friends in Omaha. 

And Facebook. Well, she calls it Spacebook and she thinks it's an online dating service and is very confused as to why her happily-married sister has an account.

Don't look for a friend request from Momma anytime soon.