By Julie Carter
Gainful employment for ranch kids is not usually much of an option since ranch dads have had them working since they could.
Getting a paycheck wasn't part of the plan. It's always been the original "will work for food" plan.
Every now and then, a kid can find someone needing a strong back and weak mind and a 15-year-old boy fits the bill on both counts.
Clearing the details of filling out a resume and a job application, the boy picked up his report card on Friday and started his summer job at a neighboring ranch on Monday.
The resume said "I don't know anything but I'm willing to listen and learn." The job application said, "Will work for lunch and a little money."
Off he went with the patrón to make the rounds and learn the routine.
The world is round and life is a circle - if you hang with it long enough to make the curve.
He drove off from the home ranch in my old red pickup, 21 years old and still running. It was like sitting him on that solid old saddle horse when he was 2. Somehow passing on this vehicle is as comforting.
The ranch he went to work on was one he's known since birth. His grandfather ran it for 25 years until he passed away, so it, too, was another bend in life's circle.
The enthusiasm in his voice was fun to hear. I tried to remember what it felt like to be headed out to that first paycheck job.
Surely, I was older and more mature. Well maybe not, for like him, I was also just 15.My first paying job was at the ranch that I called home. Dad was the boss and my sidekicks were my younger brother and an Australian shepherd we called Sally.
Dad found himself shorthanded that summer and needed help with the 4,000 yearlings fresh off the cattle trucks to settle in summer pastures.
I was hired on at $5.50 a day and my brother made $5. Age had a 50-cent privilege. It was a veritable fortune for us.
This same brother, just days ago, was spouting some marvelous (he thought) sage wisdom and babble as I sat across the dinner table from him, just looking and listening.
He stopped what he was saying and laughed.
"That look," he said pointing to my face. "That look is the same look you used to give me when we were riding pastures looking for sick yearlings," he said.
I laughed and said, "Then you'll know what the next question is. How many?"
He got the same sheepish look on his face that he did all those years ago. You see, he always forgot to count.
It was our job to give Dad daily headcounts in each pasture while we looked for any cattle that might be sick or getting sick.
He was always busy playing with his rope. Roping sagebrush, fence posts, jackrabbits or anything he could throw a loop at. Catching wasn't the point.
Then finally somewhere in the moment, and knowing he might need to answer Dad if asked, he'd say. "How many?"
When I quit telling him, it got ugly. I was the meanest, worst, sorriest sister in the world and if he could catch me he'd ... fortunately he never did catch me, at least not while he was red hot with anger. Not for lack of trying, mind you.
He'd go back to roping and I'd go back to counting. Our days and the summer faded away in that manner.
The next generation boy that left at daylight in the red truck? I wonder if he'll remember to check the oil in Ol' Red, close the gates and, of course, count the cattle when he should.
Julie can be reached for comment at her NOT first job at www.julie-carter.com
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