By Tami Blake, copyright October 2015
Here I am again, doing a job that no one who matters will ever know or care or appreciate I did.
My husband is the real employee here at this ranch. But there are tasks he needs help with. Things he doesn’t have the time (or the feminine touch) to tackle.
So like my mother before me, I am a cowboy’s wife who helps him so much in his work that I pretty much work here too. There are lots of little jobs I do that no one tells me to do. But I feel my efforts make a difference:
Mowing. Feeding bum calves. Cleaning the toilet in the bunkhouse. Cleaning outbuildings. Sorting through the plunder left by previous owners. Ferrying vehicles around.
Our corporate employer does pay wives like me for meals fed to crew members. And I used to be paid as day labor when I rode with the crew.
But it’s the day-to-day details, the caring for this place like it’s our own, that escape reward around here. No manager is here on a regular basis to notice things are looking tidy. And anyhow, tidiness might be somewhat under the scope of the corporate mindset.
These are little things I do because I want to help my husband with tasks I can actually tackle with three kids tagging along. Because I want our kids to grasp that our work is a team, a family, effort. I want to teach them that we take care of things not because we’re paid to but because that’s just what a person ought to do. Because I personally like it when things look nice.
And because I do enjoy working. I enjoy getting out of the house and firing up the mower. But I get along best with my boss if I’m self-employed, so it’s just as well I volunteer my efforts here — makes it hard to get fired.
I was raised to work. My folks — career corporate ranch employees — taught me that they were thankful to have a job. The idea that their employer might be thankful to have them was NOT a thought to think. My parents drove it home that if a person didn’t like her job, a person could be easily replaced with someone who needed the job. Their diehard allegiance to their employer doesn’t rest as easy with me as it does them, but they surely taught me to love this land… and to work hard. And so it’s been natural for me to follow in my mother’s footsteps of picking up loose ends.
There’s a new generation of cowboys’ wives out there, my age and a little younger, who approach their roles differently than we used to. These gals aren’t content to sit back and hope someone takes notice of them eventually. Instead, they’ve demanded what they believe to be basic human rights: improved housing, pasture for milk cows and chickens, ownership of the bum calves they themselves raised up, and on some outfits even payment for daily chores.
I grew up right here on this ranch. When I was a kid, a family that had been working for the ranch for 10 years asked if they could pasture their own milk cow at their camp. Permission was granted, and for years following the cowboys joked that the big benefit on this outfit was staying 10 years so you could have your own milk cow.
But this new generation of ranch ladies doesn’t know the history of how we all got to where we are today. Though I love so many of my fellow cowboys’ wives, I’ll admit it’s hard for me to like them sometimes. Because they negate everything I thought I knew and, in fact, make the age-old doctrines I’ve stuck to seem kind of ridiculous. Because they’ve won battles I didn’t know were even allowed to be fought. Because they leave me at a crossroads where everything I believed to be true growing up doesn’t necessarily apply anymore.
Why all those years of ranch wives sliding into the silent position at the bottom of the totem pole? Isn’t it obvious that safe housing is a basic right? That a milk cow really doesn’t eat much grass? That a gal ought to be compensated for caring for a passel of bum calves? That an employer ought to appreciate a quality employee’s family?
All true. But in reality none of this changes my day to day. I will continue to do the work I’m doing, very likely without compensation. I won’t be turning in hours for mowing weeds that no one but me cares about. I won’t be such a legalist that I keep track of time spent ferrying vehicles for my husband; I’ll likely just think of it as fair trade for the awesome scenery seen along the way.
But I will also do my best to support my sisters who march on in their assumption that ranch life equality is an obvious goal.
There’s a fine line to be walked — and I will probably continue to walk it, stuck somewhere between the 1980s and the 2010s, not too sure of where I belong… other than on a ranch, beside my husband, with three little kids trailing behind.
We are the ones who matter.