Most every morning in my lifetime, Dad has pulled away from the barn in what we call “Car Forty” — an old 4-door flatbed diesel pickup pulling an old gooseneck trailer — with a load of cowboys and horses headed for a day’s work on another part of the ranch.
I’d guess that this routine has become comfortable habit for Dad, an old-fashioned horseman who’s never wanted to do anything other than his work, and that with untiring determination and quiet confidence.
There’s a new routine on the ol’ PV these days, though. Dad’s horse wreck this past summer resulted in a concussion, and that concussion brought about some changes in Dad’s mind. Though his clarity of thought has improved quite a lot since the day of the concussion, a few finer points still remain blurry for him — and by this time, given his age, it’s possible that those finer points won’t be recovered in his brain.
All the change around here lately would be a lot for anybody to keep up with, much less somebody recovering from a head injury. You see, not too long after the concussion, Mom moved her own and Dad’s stuff into their new house, which is about 5 miles from the ranch.
Then, a month ago, my husband and I moved into the old ranch house where Mom and Dad had lived for nigh on 40 years.
It’s been hard for Dad to remember on a daily basis where we all live these days. More than once he has expressed surprise that all the Blake “stuff” is in the Arvik house. More than once he has wondered when I will be taking my family back to the VX. Or the crew will come into the house here for lunch and he’ll say with some amount of alarm, “Tam, where is your mom?”
No doubt, it’s a lot of change to process for an old creature of habit. We all just gently remind him that he and Mom live at their new house now, that I’m a grown girl with a family of my own, and that we Blakes live in the ranch house these days. And the crew, God bless the crew… for patiently going along with us on this ride and for always showing Dad the respect his tenure and experience deserve.
We’ve all noted with some amount of surprise that Dad has quite willingly slipped from his previous role in management and reverted to the cowboss position he enjoyed for many years before he was the manager here. As cowboss, he does what comes as natural to him as breathing: he rides. He organizes the cowboy crew. He leads circle. He follows the cow trails and the traditions he knows by heart. And he is satisfied with only that. It’s like he’s accepted his limitations and decided to stick with what’s easiest and most enjoyable for him here in his golden years. It’s exactly what I’ve prayed for.
As such, the biggest change that Dad is noting right now is that, whereas he previously could walk out his front door and across the yard to the barn, he now has to get in a vehicle and drive 5 miles between his bed and the barn. It’s a task he’s quite up to once he’s in the vehicle, but the necessity of it is still completely alien to him.
Last night I took this picture of Dad as he was wrangling the geldings out of the horse pasture. A few minutes later, I headed to the barn with my kids. The other guys, including my husband, were still working in the feedlot, checking for sick calves, and the kids wanted to ride down to the feedlot to find their daddy. As I went through the process of saddling 3 horses with the help of a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a 1-year-old, Dad finished unsaddling his own horse and was preparing to go to the new house for the night.
We visited as Dad shuffled about tying up loose ends at the barn. Mom’s little red SUV was parked near the barn, right near Car 40, and Dad spent some amount of time transferring coats and coffee thermoses from the pickup to his car. He confirmed that he would be driving the red SUV home.
A few minutes later, as I was in the middle of catching Kid Horse No. 2, Car 40’s diesel engine suddenly came to life with the roar that is as familiar to me as Dad’s own voice. I ascertained that my kids were not under any tires and watched with some amount of interest as Dad pulled away from the barn with the pickup and trailer.
I figured that maybe he had one last chore to do before he headed home. Or that maybe he was taking Car 40 down to fuel it for tomorrow’s work. I stepped into the barn to saddle the boy’s palomino.
A minute later, Car 40 rumbled back up to the barn, trailer rattling in its place behind. Dad had driven in a circle through the ranch yard. He cut the engine. I poked my head out of the barn as Dad leaned over the hay manger fence. “The reason I came back is that I forgot a few things in the car,” Dad said, somewhat sheepishly. I nodded, and Dad wandered around for a few minutes like he was trying to remember what he needed to remember. Then, suddenly, he said with a goofy grin, “Well, Tam, I guess I’ll head home with the car.”
And he got in the car and drove away.
And I was left at the barn with my own goofy grin. This imperfection in my dad? It’s new to me. This humor in my dad? It’s new, too. He’s never been one to make light of limitations — his own or anyone else’s. A very serious individual, he has never seen anything funny about things operating less than efficiently. In fact, throughout my lifetime he has presented himself as a little more than human. I mean, the Dad I know doesn’t get cold. He has little need for food. He exhibits supreme self-control in any challenging situation. He works through pain. He can put in a longer day than anyone else.
Or, at least, he could.
But things are changing here on the ol’ PV, and to my delighted surprise, Dad is taking it all in stride. Now that his mind is self-limiting and things are a little bit out of his control… well, he’s responding with a helplessly gentle, goofy grin.
He’s making mistakes. And he’s making a tiny bit of fun of himself. And, for some reason, this new humanness makes me like him all the more.
© Tami Blake