Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cowgirl Sass & Savvy

Survival when it wasn’t a game

by Julie Carter

The family stories are still out there, floating around the holiday dinner table or written in diaries or letters.

They depict a way of life most of us couldn’t survive today and can only wonder how they did.

The names change from tale to tale, but the hardships endured do not. I sat often at a faded oil-cloth covered table and listened to my grandmother tell of the early days of her marriage to my grandfather. I find so many similarities in her stories with those I’ve heard since. One could be used for an outline for another.

This is one of those “other” stories.

They married young and honeymooned in a tent. It was the middle of the 1930s when a dime was a fortune and work was what you made it.

He cut several thousand cedar posts with an axe to sell to make a living. She peeled the posts with a draw knife and cooked their meals over a campfire. They delivered them to town with a team of horses pulling a wagon.

He walked miles daily to run his trap line and she walked with him. He skinned out anything he caught so they’d only have to carry the hides. She helped him trim and stretch the hides so they would dry and be ready to sell.

They lived in a tiny board house and water was dipped from a cistern with a bucket.

The children began arriving one after the other and she washed diapers and clothes on a rub board. An old, used gas-powered washing machine came later seemingly like a gift from heaven.

When the kids got big enough to help with the outside work, she was able to spend her time keeping food prepared for winter. Some of that involved canning anything and everything that could be canned, including meat.

They milked extra cows and sold cream. They raised chickens and pigs and sold fresh eggs and meat.

This particular story includes the humorous memory of a pig grabbing a baby sister and running off. Mama chased it down and saved the sister, an act that was debated in the family forever after as questionably the right thing to do.

When the kid count hit six, she was still dipping water from the cistern and washing with that gas-powered washer, hanging clothes on a clothes line to dry. When 1950 brought electricity to the ranch, she had time to have a couple more kids with the elder ones in her brood able to help with much of the heavy work.

As a couple, they worked every side job there was to be had from driving school bus routes to selling fire wood and rattlesnakes. It wasn’t an option, it was survival.

Their marriage lasted more than 50 years until he went home to glory. At the time, they never gave it thought, but they were part of a generation that saw more changes in the world than any other since. They started out on the edge of a pioneering era that in time gave way to modern ways with the basics of life we take for granted – running water, electricity, phone communications and so much more.

When you flip the light switch on tonight, be thankful. It’s really a bigger deal than we give it credit to be.

Julie, loving lights, running water and Wi-Fi, can be reached for comment a

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