Perks of the ranch kid's job
Columnist Jessie Veeder writes about letting her daughters stay home to "help" take calves to the sale barn.
WATFORD CITY, N.D. — “Aren’t you glad you kept them home from school?” my dad said to me, standing in his work boots and Carhartt jacket, looking a little out of place in the middle of the blinking lights and pings of the pizza place arcade.
He had just bought us all supper and he was sort of beaming watching all four of his small granddaughters take their best shot at Skee-ball and Whac-A-Mole and I just couldn’t help but declare, out loud to him and my aunt, that this had been a great day. And they wholeheartedly agreed, our bellies full of carbs and cheese and ice cream, all of us smelling, and looking, a bit like sale barn.
We started the day in the chill of a barely above zero morning watching the guys sort the calves from the cows in the pen. I’d been gone for two days before, across the state singing for my supper and was feeling the repercussions of messing with the weekday schedule and questioning my career path. The evening prior I was still 60 miles from home and my friend called to let me know my 6-year-old was at gymnastics in town and was wondering why I didn’t pack her leotard. And then I had to explain that I didn’t pack her leotard because my darling dear daughter was supposed to be on the bus heading home where her dad was in the tractor moving corrals and watching for her. It’s moments like these when the 30-mile drive to civilization to retrieve a confused kid seems vast and crazy. And it’s moments like these I thank God for friends who have made the same mistakes and help without judgment, and a sister in town for groceries who can pick up the confused kid on her way home.
I bring this up because it sent me reeling a bit. I have a crazy schedule and a set of unconventional jobs, so when something slips with the kids, I find it fair game to beat myself up about it. I wonder if I chose a more 9 to 5 route if it would make me better at schedule keeping. Or if I could have found a way to stay home with them full time if the laundry wouldn’t pile up so high and our meals would be planned out and I would be a better, less distracted mom. I was putting Edie to bed that night trying to sort out how I was going to get the girls to school and be back in time to help get the calves on the truck and make sure the soup was set up and ready for lunch when I was reminded, out of the darkness, that I was in charge here.
And the kids could stay home from school on shipping day.
Of course they could! It’s, as my aunt pointed out, “the perk of a ranch kid’s job.” And to prioritize our children’s involvement in the process of what puts groceries in our cupboards is arguably one of the most important jobs of a rancher. They’re never too young. That’s why we’re here.
Not that it’s easier. Because a 6- and 4-year-old were no help at all in the snow and the chill of the morning sort, but they felt a bit a part of it anyway, even if that part was throwing snow in the air and kicking frost off the fence rails. But if you thought they weren’t helpful there, they really weren’t in the sale barn, strutting in with their purple boots and pink backpack full of coloring projects and plastic ponies, my little sister and her two young daughters right behind us.
But the moment we stepped into that sale barn, the scent hit our nostrils and we were transported back to when we were the kids, getting to pick out an orange pop and a candy bar from the café before finding our place on the sale barn bench. So, first things first, the only place in the world a can of pop still costs $1 and we were all sorts of nostalgic.
And also? We were a spectacle, the four little girls and my sister and me. Add to the crew my dad, husband, my aunt and uncle and our calves had a regular cheering committee in Dickinson that day. When those calves hit the ring and the auctioneer pointed us out, I turned around to my daughters and squealed with nervous excitement “our calves! There’s our calves! Then I hit my sister’s leg and turned around to face the music with a weird and nervous smile while taking pictures."
In case you are wondering, this is not sale-barn protocol.
You’re just supposed to nod. That’s it.
But you know what is sale-barn protocol? Rounding up the kids and their plastic ponies from the far corner of the bench seats where they were using up a little too much of a stranger’s personal space for their make-shift-pasture and heading out for pizza and ice cream to celebrate, smelling like sales barn and smiling, reveling in the perks of the job.
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Greetings from the ranch in western North Dakota and thank you so much for reading. If you're interested in more stories and reflections on rural living, its characters, heartbreaks, triumphs, absurdity and what it means to live, love and parent in the middle of nowhere, check out more of my Coming Home columns below. As always, I love to hear from you! Get in touch at email@example.com.