Stories and More
Lariat Laureate runner up Barbara Bockleman lives in the eastern end of the Oklahoma Panhandle, on the same ranch where she lived with her grandparents during the Depression and Dust Bowl Days. She says "My husband came to the ranch following our marriage at the end of WWII and we've raised a family of four children here and now have expanded to 21 grandchildren and 5 greats." (Maybe more since she told us that!)
Her book, On Kiowa Creek, includes many poems and her art that honors her grandparents and their ranching life.
Barbara sent us this story:
NOTE: This is a story of love between two people and a gift that has been kept over fifty years in my family. In fact, it is still usable and has traveled around with me as I tell this story in programs. THE TOASTER tells of a gift that really wasn't given at Christmas but it shows a "Christmas" love beyond measure.
My grandmother and step-grandfather were generous beyond belief with others, but they never gave each other gifts. Married in middle age after unhappy first marriages, they would say, "Just being together is all the gift we need from each other." I was included in that "together" for I had lived with them since I was two years old, coming to their ranch home two months after their marriage.
We had shared ranch life carrying water from a pitcher pump, filling kerosene lamps and reading by their flickering light, heating with wood and coping with all the other inconveniences of a non-electric life. Grandmother had come to ranch life from the city where she flicked a switch for light and turned a faucet for water.
However, she baked perfectly browned biscuits in those non-thermostatically controlled ovens fired by kerosene (coal oil) in summer and cottonwood chunks cut by Grandad after the finish of day's work in winter. (I never understood how she always knew the right oven temperature by putting her fist into the over to test it.) Baking those biscuits entailed rising early, stirring up the biscuits and cooking a huge breakfast
of oatmeal, meat and gravy before helping milk cows and separating the milk.
As she grew older, Grandmother dreamed of ways to make her labors easier. My husband came home from service and eased the ranch work, especially for Grandad. When rural electricity finally arrive in the early "50's, the first labor saver Grandmother wanted was a toaster. Grandad wasn't quite so eager (for he loved those hot biscuits), but if that would please her, then it would please him. They'd still have biscuits occasionally. The easily made toast in a new toaster would do.
Christmas approached and my mother sent her Christmas packages. Grandmother's was toaster size. She began to look forward to a toaster and even considered opening the package early, but we talked her out of that. We all could wait for the nicely (and easily) browned pieces of toast. (It also meant we could enjoy her biscuits a little longer!)
Finally, Christmas morning came. Grandmother hadn't made any biscuits. She and Grandad were having toast!
She tore off the paper and I could see the brand lettering on the end of the box. It surely was a toaster. Grandmother popped the top and pulled out--no! a coffee pot! With the best of intentions my mother had sent a shiny, skinny electric percolator-the latest model.
Grandmother's face fell before she could control her expression. My mother never knew of Grandmother's disappointment, but no one that Christmas ever really enjoyed the brew from that pot, seldom used except when my mother visited the ranch.
But, in early spring on Grandmother's birthday, Grandad and I went shopping. I helped him choose a toaster with creamy white plastic handles. He had it carefully gift wrapped before he took the package home and tenderly gave it to her. It's the only present I ever saw him give her.
He repeated their philosophy to me on the way back to the ranch that day, "Your grandmother and I have always said we didn't need to give each other gifts because the happiness we share is enough gift. But she looked so disappointed when she opened that package with the coffee pot that I just couldn't stand the look on her face."
They have been gone for many years, but the toaster still works. Over fifty years later it symbolizes their love and the love they gave me with a secure home for a lonely child. That gift has given me and my family Christmas all year long.
We told Barbara how touched we were by this story, and she wrote:
My grandmother--called Doe--was a real lady. Incidentally, I still use her recipe for biscuits.
A little side story about those biscuits--when I was thirty-two years old with four children, my husband and I decided I could go back to college and pick up where I had quit to marry him in WWII. The two younger children and I stayed in Alva, Oklahoma, during the week coming home every weekend. I posted the recipe on the side of the refrigerator and my husband made biscuits every morning for our two teen age daughters who were at home with him. He got pretty good at making those biscuits, but the minute I graduated two years later, his biscuit making days were OVER! I think he was ready for toast!
Of course we asked if we could reprint the biscuit recipe from On Kiowa Creek, and Barbara kindly said yes:
Kiowa Creek Biscuits
2 cups flour 1/4 cup shortening
1 teaspoon salt 3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
Cut shortening into dry ingredients with pastry cutter. (Doe used her hands.) Add milk, using more if needed to make dough sticky. Turn it out on floured surface, work a few times with palm of the hand. Then pat in a circle. Cut biscuits with biscuit cutter, bake at 350 degrees until brown. (Doe cut them out with a cut-down soup can.)
Reprinted with permission from On Kiowa Creek, © 1990, Barbara Bockleman
You can read Barbara Bockleman's poetry here at the BAR-D.
Right after Thanksgivin' we happened on a letter that Charlie Camden wrote to a pard. We thought it was so full of fine writin' and the spirit of the season that we asked his permission to share it with you:
Well here it is again. That time of year when I finally get time to reflect on the months gone by. As I sit here looking out the window, light and dark colored clouds churn their way over the rolling prairie to the North. There is a trace of new fallen snow on green grass in the yard, and a lonely robin sits in a bare tree seemingly confused at the weather. Logging trucks roll down the highway along the river carrying their loads to some distant mill that is still in operation.
Thanksgiving Day is over and this year there were no leftovers to fill the refrigerator. We had dinner at Kathy's sister's house, and left all the goodies there. You will never know how hard it was to walk away from that Banana Creme Pie. Thanksgiving Day also marked the end of the Big Game Season for the year 2001. We had a great time, and yet there are plenty of animals left in the woods that are chuckling to themselves about the inept hunters they encountered in the area we were hunting.
Last night I turned on the TV and watched our Service men and women in their jobs in Afghanistan. What a difference 35 years has made. It was that long ago that I was in Viet Nam. Now we have women fighter pilots that are flying combat missions. Not amazing, just somewhat surprising to someone who has not been exposed to change in policy. I wish them all the best, and they have my 100% support in everything they do.
On the other hand, there is Bin Laden. Contrary to my desire to maintain a joyous Christmas Spirit, I find instead a deep yearning to inflict some sort of retribution that would be fitting for such an abomination as this creature that would pose as a man. I suppose that it is best for me to remain quiet about this for now.
I much prefer to step outside, take a deep breath, and smell the fresh-cut Christmas trees, the sweet smoke of pine drifting on the breeze from someone's woodstove, and perhaps the aroma of fresh pies in the oven. To listen to the excited voices of children on the playground just across the way as the first snowballs of the year find their running targets. Not enough snow for a snowman yet, perhaps tomorrow.
The buildings in our little town are all decked out in their seasonal lights, and Christmas Carols from a scratchy player attempt to bring cheer to shoppers. In Lewiston the ringing of bells draw attention to metal pots where contributions to the less fortunate can be made. A cheery Thank You, and Merry Christmas mark the end of the transaction, and you pass on your way.
Driving home the wind swirls the snow across the road, and several deer dart across between cars. Kathy is driving and I am wide awake, and yet in sort of a trance (normal for me) as I recall the many miles covered this past year going to gatherings where friends meet, recite poetry, laugh, sing, exchange pleasantries, and once again part ways. I think of the way things are done now, and the way we were only a few years back, and I marvel at the progress everyone has made.
Yet somehow those old days always bring a special feeling. I guess that that is what makes The Christmas Season something we all look forward to with great anticipation. The greatest gift we can give is friendship, but it must be given with love and without restrictions.
So with that said I wish all of you the most Joyous and Happy Christmas Season yet. May all your dreams be fulfilled, and as you sit around the table this Special time, Give Thanks for your Family, The Special Time with Your Children, and smile when you remember all of those who went before and left you with all the Blessings you enjoy today. And Pray for our Brothers and Sisters in a Far Away Land.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Look forward to a regular series of articles from Charlie Camden here at the BAR-D, starting in 2002.
Kathy and Charlie Camden run the annual Lewis and Clark Cowboy Poetry, Music and Western Arts Festival in Lewiston, Idaho (February 8-10, 2002).
Lariat Laureate runner up Rusty Calhoun has contributed to the Cowboy Memories Project here at the BAR-D, and this fine addition is one of her Christmas memories:
Lost in the Snow
The winter had set in hard in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. It was Christmas Week, and one of the coldest years on record. Daddy had been laid up for over ten days with broken ribs, spittin' up blood. He'd been busted up in a wreck with a green broke colt, and could barely move around. Our ranch was snowed in tight and our cowboys were at line camp feeding cattle.
When the ranch hands headed out, our ramrod, Red, hired me on to watch the horses at the homeplace. It was my first workin' cowboy assignment. I was pretty excited when Red took me aside and said, "You feed them hosses, li'l gal, and make sure they have plenty of fresh water. It's worth $1.00 a day in wages."
Gettin' paid wages at only twelve years old! I was determined to prove up, and do good job. I was to water and hay the horses that had been driven down into the big sorting corral, near the lodge, until the weather broke. They needed twice daily feedings, and water three times a day. I had to carry the water in buckets, because the little creek that ran through the lower end of the corral was frozen over.
Today was Christmas Eve and the cowboys would be home late in the day to join in the two day B-V Christmas celebration that included the cowboys from the adjoining Singin' River Ranch. The -SR boys would be coming in anytime in their big flatbed sleigh along the stage coach trail that connected our two ranches.
Mama and Cookie had been fixing goodies for a couple days, and had two big pots of elk stew cooking for tonight's dinner. As I bundled up to go tend to the horses I could smell that rich stew, and couldn't wait to get back to the lodge and tie into a big, hot bowl of it. Mama came to the kitchen door as I was heading out with the water buckets.
"Don't be long" she said, "I can smell more snow coming in." Mama could always tell when a big storm was about to arrive. I sniffed the air, and it seemed no different than it had earlier in the day. I closed the kitchen door with a "yes'm." and turned toward the pump house.
After drawing water, I slogged to the corral. My going was so slow that by the time I tromped the three hundred feet or so, a skim of ice had formed on the rim of the metal buckets. My mittened hands were frozen to the wire handles, and my arms felt as though they had been pulled from their sockets. I reached the barn and poured the water into the wooden troughs.
The horses, with their stiffly frozen whiskers, snuffled and pushed against me. I loved the warmth of their breath, and the rich strong smell of their winter coats.
Watering finished, I climbed into the loft of the barn, and snipped the twine from a big round bale of hay. I drove hayhooks solidly into one end, dragged the bale to the loft opening, then rolled it out. I gave it enough of a shove so it would break up some, making it easier to scatter.
That done, I scampered down the ladder to spread the bale for the hungry horses who were pawing the snow and snorting great big clouds of steam as they gathered around.
I kicked apart the bale and spread it for them to eat, they nuzzled me and bumped their big sides against my body. Their snorting and grinding, as they ate, told me they liked their meal as much as I was going to like mine.
I was glad I could give them a good dinner after their long day of foraging for blades of grass buried deep in the snow. Picking up my empty buckets, I realized I must have taken longer than I thought because it was almost dark. I climbed over the bottom wire of the fence and started toward home. A tremendous, chill wind struck me. Huge snowflakes were coming down so thick that it caused a complete white-out.
"Plop, plop," they landed on my face and stuck in my eyelashes. Big, fluffy snowflakes so dry it would have been impossible to form a snowball with them. As I trudged between the trees I felt a shift in the wind. I was leaning into it now trying to make my way when the snow began striking me horizontally and stinging my face. I was having trouble breathing, so I stopped to pull my muffler up around my nose and mouth, and pull my wool cap down to just above my eyes. Better. I would be home any minute. I could
still make out the trees. They looked shadowy in the dimming light.
By now, the snow was nearly to my hips, and I could no longer find the little path I had made. I could barely feel my legs. I became aware of a peculiar crunchy "thump" sound in my ears when I took a step. I couldn't tell when my feet were striking the ground. I dropped the buckets, my hands were too cold to hold them, and shoved my hands into my coat pockets.
"I'd better get to the house pretty quick," I thought. I'd heard stories of people lost in the snow, but I knew my way along this slope blindfolded! "I should already be there," I thought as I heard the wind swooshing 'round me.
Just then I struck something hard and reached out. I ran my numb hands and arms over what I suddenly realized was a log structure. "Oh, Where am I?" I thought. I flailed my arms up and down, and felt smooth logs and chinks. I was at one of the cabins far up the hill from the lodge, on the stagecoach trail! I'd have had to walk along the edge of a steep ridge where the trail connected to the back of our ranch road. My heart started to race and I gulped for breath. Where was the air? It was being sucked out of my
lungs instead of filling them. My mouth felt like I had a wad of cotton in it and I tried to scream, but nothing would come out.
Suddenly, I bumped into a thick icicle which hung from an unseen eave.
With a cracking sound it came crashing down around me. Unhurt, I felt my way down the wall and rounded the end of the building. I'd find a door any second! My legs suddenly slid out from under me, I was on a sloping sheet of ice probably caused by previously melting snow coming off the eaves. My slide was stopped abruptly as I caught my jacket against a barbed wire strand. It ripped as I stood up. I felt a cold draft slither up my back, but kept clinging to the wire and began to shriek like a banshee! "Eeeeeeeeeeeeeee!"
That's when I I heard it! The sound of sleigh bells! "Halloooo, halloooo," the voices rang out as they came closer and closer. The crunching of horses hooves in the snow, the shouts of men, the swishing sounds of a sled, and harness bells were coming near!
"I'm here, hereeeee!" I shouted again and again.
Suddenly, I was plucked from the snow, pulled into the sled, wrapped in a wool blanket, and held tight in strong arms.
The Singin' River Ranch cowboys had found me alongside the stagecoach trail!
Within minutes we pulled up in front of the lodge. "Whooooooooa."
I was home!
One of the cowboys quickly carried me into the house. Mama was there with a warmed blanket and before I knew it I was in my pajamas, wrapped in a cozy blanket, sitting before the blazing fireplace. My little sister, Darley, snuggled against me on the couch and told me that Daddy had gotten out of bed and come looking for me when Mama told him I wasn't back from the corral. Mama and Cookie stood on the porch, taking turns clanging the dinner bell while Daddy and our cowboys, who had arrived back at the lodge while I was wandering around in the snowstorm, had been out looking for me. The
wind had come in with such a fury they were afraid I'd been lost. They had stood
in the snow "yoohooing" but I never heard them because of the howling wind.
Red, and the boys all came 'longside the couch, and gave me pats or a chuck under the chin. Then Daddy, in his long johns and a warm robe, shuffled into the room holding his ribs. He joined Darley and me on the couch. He tossled my hair with his big hand, and just kept looking at me like he couldn't believe I was really there. Ramrod stoked the fire, then big bowls of stew were ladled out of the dutch ovens and everyone ate heartily.
Soon, guitars and harmonicas came out, and the stories, songs and poems began! It was going to be two days of Cowboy Christmas with something special to celebrate: the finding of the little lost "workin' cowgirl" in the snowstorm.
© 2000, Rusty Calhoun
You can read more of Rusty's Cowboy Memories here and read her
poetry here at the BAR-D.
The above photo is Rusty Calhoun's father, Doc Emerson, in about 1911. Rusty says "My dad cowboyed right along side our hands 'til the day he died and I took over."
The family's Upper Bear Creek Canyon ranch house served at one time as the Butterfield Stage Coach's last stop before its Denver terminus.
Bret Harte's Christmas story, "Dick Spindler's Family Christmas," was published in 1894 as a part of Mr. Jack Hamlin's Mediation. The entire story is posted here, with a minimum of decoration, so it can be printed out and enjoyed.
You can read some of Bret Harte's poetry here at the BAR-D.
Yeah, That too
I was raised on a cattle ranch with cowboys for my mentors, and I rarely
heard words containing more than six letters, with four-letter cuss words
the standard for most adjectives. However, the one room country school I
attended had a wonderful library full of the old classics. By the third
grade I was self-educating myself on the Odessy and Kipling. The result was
a mind filled with English literature, but not a clue about how to pronounce
In later years, like most men, I dreaded the annual ritual of having to buy
a Christmas present for my wife. But, honor driven, I tried. On my first
attempt I wandered around the local department store with a desperate look
on my face until a kindly sales clerk spotted me and asked if she could
"Yeah, I want to get some of that ly-nagger-ee," I responded gratefully, "My
wife likes stuff like that."
"Some---Oh, you mean lingerie!"
"Yeah, that too," I grunted. She led me to a department where tables were
piled with stuff that embarrassed me just look at.
"Now, what would you like to see?" she asked brightly.
"How about a nag-lease-shee?" That stopped her for a moment, then she
grinned, "Ah! A negligee!"
"Yeah, that too," I agreed.
"What size is your wife?" I held out my hands, indicating the height, width
and depth of Millie. She eyed the dimensions critically and announced, "A
size 10, I think." I could only agree, not having a clue of what she was
talking about. She held up various things that were made out of spider
webs, and just about as functional, until I finally chose one at random.
She folded it, saying, " A nice choice, she will love it, and it's only
$56.00." I gulped, since that represented a fourth of my monthly paycheck.
Will that be all, Sir?"
"Naw, I'd like to get'er some lipstick, too."
"Oh, how sweet of you! What kind of lips does your wife have?"
I was on firmer ground here. "Well, they're real lasa-vicious," I replied
confidently. That stopped her in her tracks, and her eyes crossed as she
"Do you mean lascivious?" she asked cautiously.
"Yeah, that too. They're a real important part of her female fac-aid."
She held her breath, not moving a muscle. "Would that be her façade?"
"Yeah, that too." We were really communicating now. After I paid for the
stuff and turned to leave, I decided to give her one last dose of my
swaddyvive. I turned at the door to wave, saying, "Ahvoice!"
She smiled and waved back, "Au Vois, to you too, Cowboy!"
Needless to say, my wife was very pleased with my one foray into the world
of women, and seems to be content with the hand tools I buy her for
© Frank Jordan
Frank Jordan is a retired Oregon cattle rancher who spends his spare time writing about the funny things that happened on the ranch. His work has appeared in American Cowboy, Heartland, USA and elsewhere. Visit his American Cowboy Humor web site.
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