I am rural raised, my writing is contemporary laced with injections of western culture, heritage and tradition. And like working with cattle, sorting stories into their respective corrals can have its advantages. My favourite round-pens to hold words in is the one that is fit for sharing around a campfire and the one where the story did happen.
As a young person, I found it annoyingly and funny how people reacted to stories they heard. While listening with the usual deer in the headlight look, their comments would range from “Really?” or “Did that happen?” to any form of disbelief that dribbled from their lips. Yes, it sometimes made me sassy, and I might counter with, “What do you think?” or “You know, you really can’t make this shit up.” But, as any storyteller knows, you can make it up.
I learned uncouth, unprofessional, and inappropriate responses do not educate readers about your passion. I have matured, which I might add is questioned by some; however, it has guided me to make a point to take time to explain the stories. I have found when I add a back story or insider memento while at personal appearances, the aha moments come to life.
In preparing for this column, I took liberties with my ‘chore’ time and revisited several pieces I’d like to share with you. I am interested in your thoughts. Are these true stories, or are they campfire worthy – a product of my imagination?
Throughout February, I will add some back story notes and personal thoughts for each of these stories. The link to their truth or fiction verdict will be on my Facebook Author Page.
The rodeo always had something for everyone: Rough stock, roping events, calf riding for the kids, barrel and stake racing, and for added enjoyment during intermission, the cowhide race.
At the last minute, her brother said she would be his partner, and since he was a lot older than her, she knew it wasn’t up for discussion. Besides, she had wanted to ride in the cowhide race for as long as her eleven-year-old mind could remember.
The bonus was—well there were a few— but the one that she was most excited about was being able to ride her brother’s sorrel horse. She had ridden him before, but she was fairly sure her brother did not know about those times. Maybe this would show him she could handle the animal and be given permission to ride him whenever she wanted rather than on the sly.
At the starting line, a strong arm around her waist tossed her up onto the saddle. She looked down at the stirrups dangling a good foot below her boots.
“You don’t need them,” he said, handing her the reins. He jogged back to the cowhide, sliding his hand down the lariat which he’d tied hard to the saddle horn. Keeping the gelding standing in line with the other teams, she watched over her shoulder as her brother got settled on the hide. He grabbed hold of a jagged, dried edge with one hand and the knotted rope with the other.
When the klaxon blew announcing the start of the race, the sorrel catapulted forward. Leaning over the saddle horn, reaching along his neck to give the gelding his head, she felt the slack rope snap tight across her leg.
They were at the other end of the arena in seconds. Her brother raced from his place on the hide, took hold of the reins, drug her off the horse, and swung into the saddle in one motion. She ran as hard as she could towards the hide. Stumbling, she somehow landed where she was supposed to before finding the end of the rope to hang onto. The gelding was already at a dead run when the rope tightened, swinging the cowhide with the little girl on it through the air in the direction of finish the line.
It was a good day to check the fence line damage. He loaded the tools and supplies into the side by side and slid his rifle into the scabbard. A few hours into his day, he noticed something dark lying on the other side of the fence not that far from where he was working. Thinking it might be the neighbours’ missing bull, he started down the fence line to check.
It happened faster than he could think. The roar. The screeching sound of barbed wire stretching to the max before it snapped. The grizzly bear charging. One shot from the hip, the bear dropped. The second shot was lost in the trees. Six feet from the toe of his boot to the nose of the old boar was the distance between life and death. Why he had decided to take his rifle to check on the possible bull sighting, he will never know
Man of the House
She busied herself stoking the fire, topping up the water reservoir, and filling the kettle and large canning pot with water to get them heated and boiling. She had already put the extra bedding, scissors, and thread on the chair beside the bed.
The pains had started through the night. It wasn’t the first time she had birthed a child, and it wasn’t the first time her husband had been away when it was time. She would get everything prepared before sending the boy across the frozen lake to their nearest neighbours. The neighbour lady had experience in helping in these situations. It was the way of life.
When his dad was home, the little boy spent all his time shadowing the man he looked up to. His young mind knew more about surviving, hunting, and horses than some of the men his dad knew. His dad was proud of him and the man he would become.
The boy knew there was something not right with his mother but didn’t ask. His dad had taught him that was women’s stuff and not to worry. But today, he was worried. She was doing things he’d never seen her do before. His mind told him something was going to happen, and since his dad was away, he was the man of the house and would look after her.
It had started to snow by the time the boy finished his chores. At his young age, his daily responsibility was to gather the eggs, feed the chickens and dogs, and make his bed. Arriving at the house, his mother met him at the door. Taking the basket of eggs from him, she leaned on the counter, rubbing her back.
“I need you to go get Mrs. Brant. Catch one of the workhorses and bridle him. Come back to the house and bring the horse with you. Before leaving, I’ll help you put on extra socks and gloves and your dad’s scarf.”
The boy nodded, leaving the house without saying a word. He pulled his wool hat down over his ears. He would take the big roan horse called Ginger.
His mother gave him last minute words of encouragement, a sandwich she had made, and asked him to do his best to hurry. He had been across the lake to the Brant homestead in the sleigh with his dad. Going by horseback wouldn’t be any different in his mind. His mother reminded him he needed to go out to the point, on the lake past the beach, and turn toward where the sun would set.
It was still snowing when he left, but every so often, the clouds would brighten, showing him the direction of the sun and his way. He wrapped the rein around a hand and hung onto the main, urging Ginger into a ground-covering trot across the snow-covered ice. The sound of horses whinnying welcomed them before the shoreline came into view, letting the boy and his trusty stead know they were close to their destination.
Ginger needed no guidance. He seemed to know the importance of their mission. He didn’t go to the corrals. He went to the house and stood still while the little boy slid off his back, dropping the rein to remind him not to go anywhere.
Mr. Brant hooked up his team to the sleigh, tying Ginger to the back while the youngster warmed up and ate his sandwich before the return trip. Wrapped in a quilt, sitting between Mr. and Mrs. Brant, they started back across the frozen lake in the fading afternoon light.
Gin in the Jockey Box
It was New Year’s Eve and forty below outside. Still, it was a given that the party at the lodge would not, and could not be missed. In this weather, any kind of travel required a certain amount of planning. In the long run, it was unanimously decided the trip would be worth it.
After I had finished the morning chores, the Mrs. had coals from the wood stove put into two buckets for me. I put them under the motor of the car to keep a small fire burning all day. We always had a stock of shaving sticks we used to start the fires in the house. These, along with sawdust, were used to fuel the coals throughout the day to get the oil warmed and the motor primed to turn over when it was time for us to leave.
Now the Mrs., she had things to do as well. The women supplied the midnight supper and My Mrs. was always asked to bring a few of her desserts and her pickled beets. We took the beets from our supply in the cold room, and she had spent a few days baking up a storm. Just because there was a bunch of women cooking didn’t mean we only needed to take a little bit of food. Each woman had to make enough to help feed about sixty people.
I loaded the car with extra quilts and blankets. In this weather, you never know what you’ll be faced with. The Mrs. wrapped the beets in towels to help keep them from freezing, and layered her baked goods in a box. She’ll put the her baking in the warming oven to take any cold off of it when we get to the lodge.
Now you’re probably thinking, why go to so much trouble when we can turn on the heater? And I bet you think we didn’t have far to go either. That isn’t quite how it works in our part of the world. Driving to the lodge is not a ten-minute jaunt down the street. It takes us the better part of two hours in the winter, sometimes longer if we are the ones breaking trail in a fresh fall of snow.
The car we had is a good one. She’s reliable. I do all my own mechanic work, so I know her sweet spots and what has to be teased and tickled to make her hum. We had a little trouble convincing her that the heater should work all the time and not just when she felt like it. But we’re used to that.
The Mrs., she wore her big, fir coat and wrapped a quilt around her legs. I chose a less ritzy look with coveralls and a winter parka. Most important was that we stay warm.
But even when the heater did decide to work, we were faced with the problem of keeping the window clear so I can see if we are still on the road. It is sometimes hard for me to tell when the ground flattens out and trees have been logged off. That’s where the Mrs. comes in. She keeps a mickey of gin and some pieces of an old flannel sheet in the jockey box. Before we leave, she wets a rag with gin and gives the inside of the windshield a good wipe down in front of where I need to see out. It keeps the glass crystal clear for a little while, and when it starts to freeze up again, my Mrs. works her magic once more.
When we get to the lodge, the men’ll help us carry in the food and drink. Oh, I guess I forgot to mention that we bring our own liquor. We put it on a big table sharing with anyone who wanted some. There was always a good variety of homemade and store-bought. I like the potato champagne the Mrs. always makes. We usually take extra for anyone who wants to take a bottle home.
I’ll put the bucket of coals we brought along under the car and check on it every so often to make sure it keeps things warm and ready for our return trip home. Sometimes we stay for breakfast before heading out, but that’s a story for another time.
It’s good to see our friends and neighbours again. Happy New Year.
You can’t make this stuff up?
I have no idea what the cowhide race is, but it sounds like it just might be based on a true story with a little embellishment thrown in – especially at the end.
Grizzly is a bit scary. Would one shot really be enough to drop a raging bear? And what’s a side by side? (I’m an Aussie city girl.)
The boy shows himself to be equal to the man of the house.
The New Year story is a good one. I can just imagine how important it is to everyone living in places like that to make sure they get to celebrate these events. But a ‘mickey’ of gin in a ‘jockey’ box. These are terms I hadn’t heard before.
I enjoyed your stories, Ann.
Thanks for your comments and the questions, Norah.
“You can’t make this up” left city slickers or greenhorns or dudes, as we called them back in the day, hanging in the wind as to whether they had been told a tall tale or one that had happened. They would go home and re-tell the story as if they had personally been a part of it. It gave them something to validate their trip to the ‘wild west’ and once again, the job of a wrangler on a dude ranch was complete.
1. Cowhide Race – Oh it happened, believe me. .
2. Grizzly – Not too much has been left out of this one shot story. A side by side is another name for an all terrain vehicle (ATV).
3. Man of the House – Story passed down through the family. Dad’s and grandmother’s don’t lie, do they?
4. Gin in the Jockey Box – A true story if there ever was one. A mickey of gin is equivalent to about a 375 ml bottle. A Jockey Box is an old term for glove compartment.
I am glad you enjoyed the stories.
Thanks for bringing this city girl up to date, Ann. I didn’t think stuff like that could be made up. 🤣
One thing I believe is that you could be sassy. Before you matured of course.
Good for our city slicker friend Norah for questioning the one shot drop for the bear. I wondered too, but placement is everything. The line in that that makes me think maybe it really happened is the last one, the wondering that he’d thought to pick up the rifle.
That girl in the cowhide race sure sounds like you.
The last two stories are too old to be yours directly but maybe you got the stories from a relative.
I know you make shift up, that’s why I keep the fire going for you.
Thanks for keeping the fire going for me D. It’s good to know there is a place to sit back and …. Ha! Apparently maturity has its merits. And, for the record, every so often I find it is a good thing to have sassy in ones resume.
I think there is a kernel of truth whether it is our memory or a retelling of another’s. Since I am one to make ‘shift’ up – I can’t even begin to question what is more truthful or not. I just enjoyed the reading.
Thanks for sharing… and sassy is good. 😉
You’re right, Jules. Sassy is good and if played right, it can be made to look classy. Thanks for stopping by to read the stories.
What fun stories, Ann! Makes me want to sit around the campfire with you (again). You have that western storyteller’s rhythm and the punch of surprise. I was wondering why we didn’t have cowhide races south of your border, but I could feel you reliving that earlier flight. I was skeptical about the one-shot drop, but I see it’s true. Dang. The other two stories are well caught. You are the family story catcher!
I laughed at your lessons in maturity: “I learned uncouth, unprofessional, and inappropriate responses do not educate readers about your passion.”
So, when are you arranging a short story anthology Fact or Fiction? 😉
Maybe we need to plan a COVID Campfire zoom night this spring when the snow and ice are gone and the mosquitos are nipping at bare skin. Zoom under the stars telling stories and swapping lies while we sip a cool one.
Being the keeper of the words for our family is a lot of fun. I think nothing of turning my phone recorder on when some of us get together. Snippets of our history often filter through the chatter to be added to the archives (and write about).
In my opinion, there are times that the maturity plug should be pulled to allow the incorporation of a little of the past’s shock factor to get the needed attention to accomplish one’s goals they are passionate about. A classy sassy moment!
Is that an anthology gauntlet I see being thrown? Hahaha! We’ll see…
Yes! I love that idea, Ann! Ha, ha! You own “classy sassy.” And yes, I there an anthology gauntlet — not because you need another iron in the fire but because I can tell that there was pure joy behind writing these stories.
A Zoom campfire night sounds good to me.
Some fine observations of rural times past, Ann. “Man of the House” conjured up some images…not mine…but my paternal grandmother passed away three months after my father’s birth in the spring of 1915. Southern Alberta farm wife. Mormon world. His serving siblings would have been 8, 6, and 4 so the 8-year-old would have had huge demands placed on him I suspect. Anyways, fine tales of rustic times.
Thank you. Preserving through writing. A place to tell stories and keep history in the now.
make that his “surviving” siblings…
Got some tall tales, here! Love the vivid life you put into them. 🙂
Thank you. Glad you enjoyed them.
Because you introduced Rich Hobson’s trilogy to me I figured your stories were all based on fact. A way of life I can only know about through reading.
I too hadn’t heard of a cowhide race, but what exhilarating fun for a younger sister. I hope they won.
Thanks for sharing.
Ahh yes, I had forgotten I had shared the Hobson trilogy in a previous article. Busted!
[…] ya did couple weeks back in yer Quiet Spirits column. Had folks guessin’ whether yer stories was truth er fiction. How much does thet blurry border matter ta story […]
Thank you for including the link back to this article.