Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Mail Box Part II: Excerpt from, "At Home in the Elk River Valley"

Bill and Cynthia worked hard on their place, although people often thought Cynthia worked harder than Bill. The story in the valley goes that Bill drove the tractor while Cynthia pitched hay off the back of the hay sled at feeding time. Bill rode the horse, and Cynthia walked while they gathered cattle. And Cynthia drove to town, and Bill got a ride with her. Whatever the arrangement, it was evident the two shared the love and the labor on their place.

It’s not surprising however, that Cynthia always wore pants. Cynthia worked on the ranch and that meant pants not dresses. Only once did I see her in a dress. That was for an annual 4-H awards gathering. She looked beautiful in her soft lavender gown. Her work day wear included large men’s shirts, roomy pants with elastic waistbands, and comfortable shoes. I never saw her in a pair of cowboy boots. Contrary to what many believe, wearing cowboy boots doesn’t make a rancher or a cowboy. Cynthia went for functional, comfortable shoes while she worked all day on her feet.

Cynthia had other trademarks, too. I could always tell that it was Cynthia who was waving her hand out of the truck to slow the traffic when they drove their cattle down the road. Her hats and bandanas, varying with the seasons, gave her away: wool hats with flaps for winter feeding, sunhats tied under her chin for spring branding, and ball caps for riding the summer range. Cynthia wore bandanas around her neck for warmth in the winter and to absorb the sweat in the summer.

I followed the seasons watching the Mays’ mailbox too, Cynthia used to put a wreath on the wagon wheels in December. Sometimes she’d add an old boot or two. On the fourth of July, a flag signaled a certain pride found so often in rural settings. And when the children and grandchildren started getting married on the ranch, a poster board sign was tacked onto the wagon wheels with balloons. The wagon wheel mailbox acted as a message board to the passersby; little reminders of the season and announcements of celebrations to the neighborhood. We knew the S Bar S Ranch was alive, even though it was hard to catch a glimpse of it tucked behind the cottonwoods.

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