Monday, July 25, 2011

The Cowboy in Me

I am indeed aware that I haven't posted in nearly a week. It's hot, my laptop is on the fritz, I'm busy, blah, blah, blah. Mostly, I'm feeling quiet. Actually, I think I'm making myself feel quiet so I don't spout a whole bunch of negativity. It's cyclical for me, these times of introspection. I can't lie, and so I don't write. But I'm fine, really. I'm functioning. My motherhood is prime, my citizenship a bit subpar. But I'm in it to win it, and this, too, shall pass.

I have found myself reflecting on my days and days in the hot tomato and pepper patches of my youth. It is absolutely amazing to think of those endless hours in the heat, working like a dog for a sliver of what I make per hour now. Those days took discipline not easily found in young people. There were days of solidarity with my fellow workers and days of solitude, where I could only know myself.

Those days were precious. Because I can still see my grandpa, the man of my life, leaning on the tractor and wheezing, plagued with so many breathing complications, but still right there joking with us in the heat. I can still remember the joy of lying in the TV room with the window air conditioner unit blasting, Matlock soapboxing on the TV in the background, on our fleeting lunch hour. I can still remember the feeling of the muscles in my arms, shoulders and back burning as I quickly and repetitively lifted two ten-pound baskets of tomatoes at a time from the rollers of the truck bed floor to the waiting hands of my male counterparts packing the night truck just as high and as tight as possible for those incredible height-of-the-harvest loads to Pittsburgh. I can both see and smell the oil of the basket wires and the green tomato plant residue on my fingers and palms.

Those were hot, sweaty, difficult, amazing days. And Lord, am I ever thankful to have been brought up that way. It was an active, respectful, passionate way to make a living, and I yearn for that in my work now. I long to find the purposefulness that I knew then, to work hard and to see the fruits of my labor, to believe I've earned what I sow.

A young cousin who remembers the atmosphere of those days but didn't have the privilege to live them as a teenager has been harping on me to share a story I wrote more than ten years ago. It's a 4,000-word magazine feature on our grandpa, and it's got legs. It's going to be published somewhere, someday.

As I'm preparing to finally do something about my dreams, to root out those elusive boot straps I talked about last week, to pull them as hard as I possibly can, I thought it might be fitting to share a couple grafs of that story, the "grandpa story." Here's a quick sketch of a man who was anything but, a tribute to one of the last great American cowboys.

A common man in appearance, Bernard's typical outift on a summer day would include a blue chambray work shirt, dark blue cotton workpants, dirt-caked boots and an ever-present package of Red Man peaking out of his breast pocket. His muddy brownish gray hair was usually tucked under a hat, and his skin remained brown year-round and had the appearance and feel of worn leather. Bernard was most often seen with an ornery look on his face, as if he were still processing the last joke spoken. He teased people mercilessly, especially those who he cared about most.

Bernard lived in only two different houses, which sat adjacent to each other, his entire life. His regular trips away from the farm included church, high school basketball games and the local feed store. Bernard was not a verbal messenger of any sort. His greatest gifts to others were simple and subtle. He was not a leader, a lecturer or an officeholder, yet throughout his life he somehow managed to impact hundreds in his community...

And so, tomorrow is a new, hot day. I'm going to channel Bernard, work hard and positively impact those around me.

I guess that's just the cowboy in me.

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