Ranch life is hard work and it is the company that comes to your door that makes the burden lighter.
One of the biggest social occasions of the Spring on a ranch was Branding Day. Everyone worked hard, had a great dinner and then went out to work some more.
I had three "honorary" Aunts who were technically my cousins. Their names were Edna, Elva and Chloe. My Aunt Edna and Elva always wore dresses with a strand of pearls; thick stockings and sensible sturdy shoes. Aunt Chloe wore pantsuits which I think always bothered the other sisters a little bit.
Aunt Edna was somewhat gruff and intimidating. She always brought some type of crocheting or knitting to pass the day away. She didn't talk much but she was a familiar and dear face to us all.
My Aunt Elva was the sweet and gentle sister , she had a warm, friendly smile. I don't think I ever saw her in pants, but she told me once in a confidential tone that she had considered it a couple times while camping when the weather got cold.
My Aunt Chloe was interesting. She was a long-time subscriber to the Reader's Digest and so she fussed and worried about everything particularly her health.
If she was talking about her husband, Tom, her sentences ended with "the Poor Little Guy". To say the least, my Uncle Tom was long-suffering. He would listen to her fussing and with a twinkle in his eye and respond in a soft tone, "Now Mother"
In the 70's, I-84 was being built close by to our home. They blasted a lot of rock and consequently the road crew would flag you down to stop until the charges went off and it was safe to proceed. One afternoon when Aunt Chloe came to visit us, it was clear that she was very shook up about something. With one hand on her heart, she told us that a dirty and scruffy looking man tried to flag her down on the road. Thinking that he was going to rob her, Aunt Chloe refused to stop and went on through the blast zone, narrowly escaping injury from flying rocks.
The best fun of being with the three sisters was that they would talk about their childhood or some family member and if one of them did not agree with the exact account, they would attempt to correct each other with a "No, Sister Dear, I don't believe that is right". They would start out pretty sweet but after a few minutes of constrained conversation, you would begin to detect, a little edge in their voices, but they NEVER lost their tempers.
My Uncle Tom always came to help us with the branding in the spring bring Chloe, his wife and sister-in-laws. Poor Little Guy was always surrounded by women. But there was never a better cowboy with his genteel manners and roping skills. He was a skilled craftsman with rawhide and braiding lariats.
My Uncle Frank always came Branding Day too. He had a raspy, breathless voice and loved to tease in a hard sort of way. He had a theory that there must be a shortage of cats if you happened to have a beard or mustache. My brothers and cousins would try to keep a distance when he arrived, in order not to be traumatized by his brand of humor.
My Aunt Rita was Uncle Frank's wife. She was a big woman and very strong. She raised rabbits, cows, chickens, peacocks and anything else that needed a home. Their yard was always full of dogs and cats and various wildlife.
They were both hard of hearing and would shout at each other in conversation. He always called her "old woman" and she called him "old" man. They would bicker back and forth about most everything, but they loved each other dearly.
Many of my other uncles and aunts would drop by or attend one of the annual events. Neighbors were always on hand also. I think it the promise of my mother's homemade bread or huge table of great food that made people eager to help out.
For the cows and calves, Branding Day is anything but fun or pleasant and they are sure to let you know by the amount of noise they make or the amount of manure that they produce over the stretch of the day.
You would never be able to tell that they had been through a difficult day by supper time. The cows had mothered up with their calves and grazed peacefully in the pastures again. The horses were unsaddled and fed and the many "cowboys of the day" had said their goodbyes and went back to their perspective homes.
My Aunts and Uncles have been gone a long time, but the memories of their visits are precious ones to me. Each one of them occupy a corner of my heart. Just thinking about their individual antics and personalities brings another smile to my face.
My Dad is gone too. My memories of him overseeing the ground crew or roping the calves will never fade. I can still see that big smile his face and hear his delighted laughter at the dinner table when we had company.
I miss my dad most of all. He was able to gather people into his circle in a special way. A year ago, the five of us kids mounted our horses again and said a final goodbye to Dad. We scattered his ashes at his favorite cow camp. It was the first time that I had ridden a horse in over 20 years, but I didn't disgrace myself.
Each of us have had to say goodbye to a loved one in our lifetime. Their impact on our lives should make us want to honor their memories with more than a flower arrangement or a fancy gravestone. I am trying to honor my own loved ones memories by sharing them with you.