Tales from a Texas Ranch from a City Boy with a Cowboy Hat
Once upon a time a long time ago, I was, once again, with the old cowboy, Vic Collett, standing front of his small frame West Texas frame house on my grandmother’s ranch (she was still living at that time).
Maybe I was five or six years old…hard to remember.
It was late afternoon, early summertime and it was dry. Texas was in the midst of the worst drought ever. The wind gusted hard from the west, sending dust all over us as he and I stood by his battered, old green pickup truck in front of the house. Every time the wind gusted, the old truck would rattle, metal on metal. I’d never heard any car or truck rattle that much before.
“Gonna be gone fer awhile?” hollered Ina, Vic’s wife, from inside the small screened porch, wiping her hands on the calico apron that she seemed she wear all the time.
“Just gonna do a small circle with Little Ed (that was me),” Vic hollered back, over the gusting wind.
“Okay…no longer than that,” hollered Ina. “I got supper ready ‘bout then.”
Vic waved; Ina turned back into her kitchen.
“Git in,” Vic ordered.
So, dutifully, I went to the passenger side of the old green truck and pushed as hard as I could on the button on the handle of the door to open it.
Didn’t work, even though I had both my little hands on it; the button wouldn’t push.
“C’mon Ed, git in!” Vic said again, already behind the steering wheel and cranking the engine.
“Can’t,” I said.
“Well, dang!” Vic said and ceased his efforts to start the old truck.
“Come on ‘round here and git in this side…that handle’s not been good fer a long time.”
So he stepped out, I ran around and scurried across the driver’s seat to my place in the passenger seat.
Ready! I had my cowboy hat and my cowboy boots, so I was good to go.
Vic started up the old truck engine and off we went. Where to? I hadn’t a clue.
It was hot but the gusting breeze made it a bit cooler as we bumped along the fence line and Vic pointed at this calf or heifer saying:
“There’s a keeper…but not that one…that’s a good one,” pointing his fat finger at each one, like he was counting, which he was.
The sun was setting behind us but the wind blew strongly, rattling the old truck every time.
The mesquite had grown up in the fence line, which was to my right, every now and then overhanging limbs would brush against my open window. I’d duck away.
Vic would just grin after each brush and glance at me.
Vic was looking at several calves and their mommas off to his left when he ran by a big mesquite in the fence line to the right which swept through my open window and delivered, into my lap and all over me, hundreds… no, thousands…no zillions of small red ants!
“Ahh! Ahhhh! Ahhhhhhh!” I screamed, as the ants scurried all over my hands, shirt, jeans, cowboy boots and who knows where else.
“Ahhhhh!” I screamed, although they weren’t biting or stinging me.
Vic braked hard enough to lurch me forward, almost into the dashboard.
“What the…?” he exclaimed, looking over at me.
I was covered up in little red ants.
“Ahhhh!” I screamed again. “Ahhhhh!”
I was frantically brushing thousands… No! zillions of ants off my body, kicking underneath the truck’s dashboard with my then-short little legs.
“Ed! Git out of the truck!”
I did…through the window, hastily.
Vic met me at the tailgate while I swirled around, sweeping my hands across my clothing, little red ants everywhere.
Vic began to laugh, hands on his hips.
I didn’t think it was funny…I was gonna be eaten alive!
Vic grabbed me in his strong hands.
“Ed!” he shouted. “They’re only Sugar Ants! They ain’t gonna hurtcha!!”
“Ahhhhh!” I screeched, morbidly unconvinced.
But he was right, they weren’t eating me, just scurrying all over me as I jumped up and down and danced right and left, brushing, brushing, brushing at the ants in abject terror.
“Git a grip,” said Vic sternly, his hands, vise-like, on my shoulders.
So, there, by a fence line in West Texas, in a dusty pasture I can’t remember, Vic Collett, an old, sunburned cowboy born in 1884 and who would eventually teach me how to ride a horse, and more, dusted a zillion red Sugar Ants off my body.
When we got back to the house, near dark, amidst the smells of supper, and as she washed a pot at the kitchen sink, Ina asked over her shoulder, “So, how was yer circle?”
“Fine,” I said, as I went to the sink to wash my hands.
I could swear, to this day, that Vic winked at Ina, and chuckled silently.
“City Boy with a Cowboy Hat”
P.S. – As I drive the ranch roads these days, making the inspection circle, I avoid low-hanging mesquite branches in the fence line if they’re on my right…or left for that matter.