Bite Size Memoir No. 6

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

June 9, 2014

Peeing Like a CowgirlWhat surprises me weekly in pursuing Bite Size Memoir, is that the memories of others opens a pathway for my own. The prompt has me going, then I read Lisa Reiter’s responses and several new memories intrude. I see her picture and a different set of memories flicker to mind. When I read other responses, still more memories churn to be noticed.

Where do I keep all of these? Suddenly I renew respect for my mind that files all these clips as if it were my internal “cloud.”

To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled to try memoir, even in bites. Lots of memories taste bitter and others I doubt. But you know what? They are mine, and I’ve found a safe release valve of sorts where I can let them steam to mind and it’s my choice what I share.

This week, Lisa prompts us to remember “First Jobs.” Her prose touches upon what it’s like to be a woman at a man’s job. She even relives the triumph of surviving the first day among men who tell the women to “pee in the trenches.”

That certainly brought to mind a similar situation that I faced at age 19. Working road construction was its own special hell, but the money was triple anything else available. But before that job, the first one I held outside of the forced labor for my parents, I had already learned to go when you had to go.

Peeing Like a Cowgirl

From the time I was 12 until 18 the local ranch paid me to push cattle to summer pastures. That first fall round-up when I rode with the other ranch hands, peeing posed a problem.

I could pee outside, just not in front of a bunch of lanky men in Wranglers and boots. Whispering my dilemma to the foreman, he shouted at the cowpokes, “Don’t watch!”

Thus I did. And no one watched. Cowboy code of dignity. But such codes didn’t exist off range. At 19 my first labor union job was flagging for road construction crews; mostly men. “Flaggers” were the token females.

When it came time for our union pee-break, our boss laughed and pointed at the sagebrush. The other men, knowing we wouldn’t dare, jeered at us, crossing their legs in fun of our discomfort. So I walked out to the sagebrush and peed like a cowgirl.

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24 Comments

  1. Lisa Reiter

    Go cowgirl! I shoulda just peed in that trench!
    My only ‘regrets’ with this exercise is that I have to go first because you’re so right. Every time I read someone else’s memories it does spark more of my own. That just shows us how important chatter and dialogue if for keeping our neurons firing, I guess!
    On the other hand, perhaps if I hadn’t mentioned the trench you wouldn’t have been led to this particular memory? There’s a danger my ‘example’ skews everything – certainly wouldn’t pass ‘experimental design’ in psychology!
    But thanks for this in particular. It’s great to record what some of us female pioneers had to get up to to be ‘equal’.

    • Charli Mills

      Perhaps it wouldn’t pass experimental design, but on the other hand it helps to illicit buried memories that would just stay in the dirt. I believe there’s power in discourse and while it may confound a psychologist trying to study a clean slate, I like all the messy memories that ensue collectively. We all still need to take a stand (or squat) for equality! 🙂

  2. TanGental

    It’s in the heading, isn’t it? I shouldn’t have read it over breakfast though. Excellent flash; you might be uplifted to know that it still happens. The Vet, doing her animal husbandry training, spent two weeks working with the pig whisperers on a 10,000 head farm in Suffolk last Easter and found she had to ‘pee like a cowgirl’. But, good on her, she just got on with it.

    • Charli Mills

      The heading is fair warning! Perhaps the Vet needs to pen some prose on how to pee like a pig-whisperer! A 10,000 head farm of pigs? That’s a lot of bacon! 🙂

  3. Norah

    Great work Charli and Lisa. You are made of strong stuff.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Norah! I think at age 19 I was pretty sassy in that I didn’t like being told “my place.” Proud to say I have two daughters sassy enough to do the same and a son sassy enough to declare his favorite color is pink. 🙂

      • Norah

        What a sassy family. Good on you all!

      • Charli Mills

        Thanks, Norah! 🙂

  4. Connie Koster

    I had to learn to pee like a truck driver when I went out on the road with my husband! The biggest difference for me? He wouldn’t stop! “Hit the bucket momma” he would holler! OOPS! Bump in the road! 😉

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! That’s my new favorite phrase: “Hit the bucket momma”! Much more challenging to pee like a truck-driver! Darn bumps in the road, anyhow…

  5. Morgan Dragonwillow

    I love that you “Pee like a cowgirl”! I have many memories, like most of us I think, of being treated differently for being a girl/woman. I think that as these spark memories, even if it is after we have posted our 150, we should write them down either in our journal or our word processor as it is great to get all of our memories down for our future memoirs.

    Peace,
    Morgan Dragonwillow

    • Charli Mills

      When things happen it often seems insignificant. I don’t think I’d give the outdoor peeing among working men a second thought if Lisa hadn’t brought up her trenches moment. And yes, we read each other’s bites and recall more memories. For you, great fodder for memoir; for me details for fiction!

  6. Annecdotist

    Sorry for my naivety – does it just mean peeing outside or is there another level to doing it as a cowgirl?
    Sore point for me, I’m afraid, as I think I lost my map yesterday while taking a pee in the woods.
    Even so, enjoyed your memory. You’ve certainly done some tough jobs.

    • Charli Mills

      I think the only difference as a cowgirl is that you have to hop off your horse and hang onto the lead as the cattle press on. Otherwise peeing outdoors is peeing outdoors–a greater taboo for women, I think than for men. Sorry about your map though!

      • Annecdotist

        Thnaks, Charli, I can see how that adds another layer of difficulty. Still grieving for my lost map!

  7. Gina Stoneheart

    Charli, you were more fearless than I was back at that age. Good for you! I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to work in such conditions but if the money was better than most jobs, why the hell not?
    My first gig was working as a cashier and drive-thru girl at McDonalds. The pay was minimum wage.. I believe a little over 6 bucks an hour at the time. Our family was less than middle class so if we wanted gas money for the week and clothes we preferred other than the ones which were provided for us, we had to work. So Mickey D’s drive thru girl… this is who I once was!

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, yeah, Mac and Don’s Steak House. 🙂 I understand what you’re saying–if you wanted something you had to work for it. Road construction, logging, mining, aviation, fishing, house construction–they all pay big but are boom and bust cycles. Education provides the steadier route. It’s hard to pull out of impoverished roots when all your family knows is back-breaking work or agrarian cycles.

      Gina, you should join in on Bite Size Memoir when you have a chance! It’s weekly over on Lisa Reiter’s blog (http://sharingthestoryblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/bite-size-memoir-no-6-first-jobs/). A Mickey D’s story would be great!

  8. lorilschafer

    I love the way you describe whispering your dilemma to the foreman and having him shout it out to everyone. Classic.

    • Charli Mills

      Right!? So much for discretion! But those cowboys were much more respectful at least while on the job.

  9. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    Great first job Charli. You display the difference in men’s behaviour towards women beautifully. Also loved all the memories that came flashing back for me. The difficulties peeing when riding with all other riders being men on a motorbike trip, losing my husbands wallet when I just had to go, and travelling in Europe with no toilets to be found anywhere. I became so bold I just opened both car doors to act as a cubicle and went on the side of the road in full view – well the men did it so why couldn’t I.

    • Charli Mills

      Out of necessity we go forth boldly, peeing where no woman hath peed before! Ah, yes, those difficult moments. I always wonder about pioneer women or certain situations–what did they do? I love the bite size memoirs for triggering and sharing memories.

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        I saw the other day a female urinal used for coach travel in the 1800s. I don’t think I would have fancied that at all but my husband is threatening to get one to decrease the number of stops whilst we are travelling.

      • Annecdotist

        Ha, ha, I still do that with the two car doors when pressed for time on a long drive! Actually, Irene I think you can get an up-to-date female urinal for peeing standing up – not tried it though.
        We don’t often see anyone going to the toilet in fiction, but in Charlotte Rogan’s novel, The Lifeboat, we get an interesting description of how the women managed it in 1914 in cramped conditions and long dresses: http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/annecdotal/3-ways-to-make-life-harder-for-your-protagonists

      • Charli Mills

        What an awful situation to be cramped in a lifeboat in long skirts, nonetheless, and troubling over pee breaks. Great review and tips for antagonizing protagonists!

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