January 30: Story Challenge in 99-words

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.

January 30, 2024

Four generations of Millses, Wolfs, and Humphreys gather around a table set for fifteen on land settled, farmed, and ranched since 1905. “Fallon, Nevada didn’t even get electricity until 1935,” my husband’s father tells me as he digs into the apricot jam my husband’s sister made. The table buzzes loudly with conversation.

I’m the quiet one; the story-catcher.

The Wolfs are in the middle of receiving calves from Nebraska. They have a feedlot on their ranch and take weaned calves to raise for beef. It’s a lot of work, involving all hands, horses, and dogs. Today my husband’s sister processed 150 calves, tagging their ears, inoculating and branding them, and doctoring any injuries. She also baked a ham.

My day was far less strenuous. I made a pot of pinto beans, the kind ranchers appreciate — thick, seasoned, and simmered all day in a roux made of tomato paste, red onion, and bacon. I found some bourbon maple BBQ sauce in my SIL’s fridge and added some for a sweet zing of flavor. It felt good to make ranch beans from a recipe my great-grandmother used to make as a ranch cook in California. Lately, she’s been on my mind because she was half Scotts and half Basque. She was a McNab, a type of guardian dog developed in California from Scots border collies and Basque sheep dogs. More on that next week.

Back to the dinner table conversation.

There’s a loud discussion over padded saddles. The older (but not the oldest) generation laughingly admits the desire for a cushy seat when riding a horse. Someone has recently purchased a roughout padded saddle, and someone else says the problem occurs when you park two horses next to each other. Apparently, horses like to bite padded saddles. I did not know that, having only ridden slick seats. But I’ve known horses ornery enough to do such a thing.

The oldest generation, my MIL, begins telling me about a horse they had on the Mills Dairy Farm. She was sweet, not a biter of people, other horses, or their saddles. To ride Hope, the horse, my MIL would lower the stirrups to get a leg over but once in the saddle, the stirrups would be too long. I doubt I could mount from the ground the way I used to spring up back in my younger days. Someone asks me if I’ve ridden lately. It’s been decades, I say. But I can still feel the thrill of sitting tall in a saddle, padded or not. It’s not?something you forget, as Todd’s 84-year-old mom can attest to.

From saddles, the conversation shifts to stirrups. One SIL tells us about her stirrups made from walnut. I’ve seen them and they are stunning. The table erupts with stories. Todd is telling one about a gunstock made of walnut. His sister has another about her eldest daughter who works wood. She turned a bowl from a piece of walnut that came from a tree her great-grandmother, Anna Mills, planted. She farmed and did taxidermy at the same time my great-grandmother cooked ranch beans. My FIL adds that the tree was an English walnut.

It’s funny to see ranchers pull out their phones to show pictures, the modern enhancement to storytelling. It can be disturbing, too. As someone’s scrolling their photos to show an item made of walnut there are pictures of calves killed by mountain lions or shots of afterbirth and open wounds taken for documentation. A rancher’s phone photo album is not for the faint of heart. There are also cute photos of grandkids, horses, and good food. My niece shows me a photo from a Farm Bureau trip out east where her two young sons cracked open lobster for the first time. We laugh and call them boujee buckaroos, although, I know those boys would be as thrilled to catch the lobster as to eat it.

Returning to Nevada has been healing to my psyche. As I mentioned last week, I’ve found peace in seeing this hard land through the eyes of my husband’s family who love it. My family. My Millses, Wolfs, and Humphreys. A sense of belonging. My MIL has always told me that I remind her of her Grandma Jones, a Welsh woman whose father was a Mason. Grandma Jones was born in the US while her father worked his trade. She moved back to Wales at the age of three and returned to America as a young woman.

On this trip, I sat down with my MIL and looked at her mother’s black photo album of photos from the 1920s-1960s. I saw several photos of Grandma Jones whose round face does resemble mine. But I also listened to my MIL’s stories and realized she sees something more in me that reminds her of her beloved grandmother. I took a photo of a photo from my MIL’s wedding day in 1959. The love of a granddaughter shines through. I want to be remembered by my own granddaughter in this way. In the way my great-nephews take to Todd’s growly hugs — “Hug Uncle Todd so tight he growls” — something he continues with adult children.

The love around the dinner table is the kind that sticks to your ribs long after the meal is over. And it has me pondering what we can make from walnut; what we can make from a tree grown by an ancestor in the hands of a young descendant.

January 30, 2024, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about something made of walnut. How can the object expand a story? Who is the maker? How old is the object? What is its significance? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by February 5, 2024. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Thursday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
  3. A website or social media presence is not required to submit. A blog or social media link will be included in the title of any story submitted with one.
  4. Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

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7 Comments

  1. restlessjo

    A heart warmer, Charli. Wonderful to see your family in this perspective.

  2. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Shorty went right fer the Juglans with this one.”
    “What’re ya talkin ‘bout Kid?”
    “Walnuts, Pal. Juglans.”
    “Oh. Meanin, the walnut fam’ly?”
    “Actually, Juglans is the genus. Family name’s Juglandaceae.”
    “Guess yer bein specific.”
    “Ta be specific, I’d prob’ly say Juglans nigra, the eastern black walnut. They grow wild. But it sounds like Shorty’s family grew a Juglans regia, English walnut. Easier eatin.”
    “Gittin recipes off the beavers now?”
    “Thinkin ‘bout harvestin the nuts.”
    “Ya are what ya eat, Kid. But thinkin Shorty means ta write ‘bout the wood of a walnut tree.”
    “That’s pretty hard.”
    “Knot fer you.”

  3. pedometergeek

    Happy Dishes Done Day, Charli!
    ~Nan

  4. Colleen Chesebro

    This trip has been so good for the two of you. It always feels good to embrace your roots again. It strengthens bonds and makes your heart swell with a sense of belonging. We all need that sometimes.

  5. Sue Spitulnik

    I’m happy to hear you feel a part of the family and your visit is going well. I have hand turned apple, cherry and maple in my home, but no walnut. I’ll have to do some investigating. Safe travels home, whenever that might happen.

  6. Jules

    Charli,
    Glad you are having a good visit. Part of my story is something I remembered my MIL (she should rest) relating to me – I really don’t recall what the wood was, but Walnut could work. Hope you enjoy it; The Walnut Dresser

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