Yeah, I’m not gonna be able to keep this one to 100 words. And the story is a few weeks old. Still, I want to share it because it paints such a picture of our comically bizarre life.
I’ve mentioned here before that the fella who owns the PV (where we live) — Mr. K. — owns several other ranches too, and a couple years ago purchased the storied Waggoner Ranch in Texas. The same general manager — Mr. C. — oversees all of Mr. K.’s ranches from the corporate office in Bozeman, so all the ranches are somewhat interconnected.
You can bet we cowhands at the PV have heard a lot about the Waggoner in the last couple years: judging by its dramatic history of oil and big-money family ranching, I’m pretty sure the Waggoner inspired that old TV show Dallas. The Waggoner enjoys its standing as the largest contiguous piece of deeded land in the United States. The main news we in Montana hear about it, through the grapevine of course, has to do with all the work it’s taking to pick the top-heavy Waggoner up and get it on its feet and behaving like a productive cow outfit ought to here in the 21st Century.
Like the jealous older sister, we in the Frozen North have eyed the goings-on at the Waggoner with mixed emotions… a little bit of pride, as in We’re associated with the Waggoner! — and a little bit of jealousy, as in Nobody cares about the PV and the Waggoner is getting all the attention!
So there’s a little bit of background to my December story. Here’s what happened:
One day my dad was eating lunch at our house and took a phone call. He hung up and told me to mark on the calendar that Mr. C. (the general manager, remember?) would be visiting in mid-December. This news was interesting for a couple reasons: 1) Mr. C. rarely visits the PV. Like, maybe twice a year, and then he only sticks around for a couple hours. 2) Mr. C. rarely calls. Like, maybe once a month. He is definitely not a micro-manager. He has just completely trusted my folks with running the PV since Mr. K. bought the ranch 17 years ago, which is an honor for sure, but which has at times bordered on neglectful of the place and its people.
So Mr. C. was coming for a visit. And even bigger news: he was bringing with him managers from the Waggoner Ranch in Texas! Mr. C. likes to present the PV as the economy standard of all Mr. K.’s ranches — kinda like the Oldsmobile: out of style and close to a million miles, but low input and great fuel mileage — and I was betting that the Texans were being introduced to the PV to learn a little lesson in how tough we Montanans really have it. No oil wells, no million-dollar homes, no six-figure stallions around this outfit!
The actual details of the coming visit, though, were blurry. Mr. C. is a man who answers to nobody but Mr. K. It’s not like a gal could call him back and say, “By the way, we were just curious… what day do you think you might show up with the Texans? About what time? And will you have coffee with us? How ’bout lunch?”
The thing was, I had a couple weeks to prepare. I could’ve had the house camera-ready every day leading up to the visit. I could’ve had a lunch at the ready in the frig, and fresh-baked cookies waiting in the freezer. Yet preparedness and common sense largely escape me these days, so by the time Beau burst into the house at about 9 a.m. on Saturday the 16th of December, I had kinda convinced myself that Mr. C. and the Texans weren’t coming after all; it was probably a big misunderstanding.
“They’re in Roundup!” Beau exclaimed. “They’ll be here in an hour and a half!”
Beau helped me whip our definitely-not-camera-ready home into our own personal idea of cleanliness: we shut doors to some rooms and stuffed random items into closets and under the couch. We brushed the little girls’ hair. The whole time, that old country song — “They want to see my Fairlane up on blocks, the holes in all our socks, talkin’ ’bout the lifestyles of the not-so-rich-and-famous!” — was on repeat in my head. When Beau headed outside, under my command, to hide some of the bones the dog continually drags into the yard, I turned my attention to the issue of lunch v. coffee. It was close to noon, and I’m accustomed to feeding anyone who walks through the door, yet Mr. C. usually doesn’t slow down long enough to eat with us when he’s here. He might not even come into our house, which is the main ranch house at the PV; a simple cruise through the feedlot might be his complete agenda. Still, it would be impolite to not invite Mr. C. and the Texans inside… and what kind of ranch wife would not have coffee and cookies at the ready with a hardy lunch just around the corner?
So I peeled potatoes. I started frying hamburger. I took bread out of the freezer. Never mind that I was about two hours behind the ideal schedule for having lunch for six men close-to-ready. I was just about to whip out some no-bake cookies when I decided I really ought to give the bathroom a quick polish.
So I was scrubbing the toilet when the Texans came into the house. With surreal speed Beau ushered them into the dining room, which is adjacent to the bathroom, and I was trapped in mid-toilet-bowl-scrub. There was nothing to do but come out of the bathroom without washing my hands and explain that I’d been cleaning the bathroom in honor of their visit.
The three Waggoner managers — one the cowboss, one the farm foreman, and one the horse program manager — sidled to the west side of our dining room table to sit down. The farm manager, really not that big of a guy, sat in the middle chair. And for reasons I’ll never grasp, the chair he chose to sit in immediately splintered into about five pieces underneath him. The poor guy crashed to my dining room floor very suddenly and very loudly! I felt so bad for him… and for myself. The other Texans roared with delight at his misfortune, the chair pieces were carried outside, and we got the fella settled in another chair. Off to a great start!
Thank goodness I had at least had the foresight to start the coffee maker. The coffee was ready; the no-bake cookies, about 15 minutes out. Beau nervously served coffee in the dining room while I paced the kitchen. Should I focus on cookies? Should I finish the lunch? This is when Mr. C. — who is always friendly to visit with but perhaps a little naive about what everyday life is like for us at the PV — wandered into the kitchen wondering if I knew how to make my mom’s oatmeal raisin cookies. (Mom lived in this house until her retirement from ranch work last year.)
“Well, yes… … … I do. I have the recipe here somewhere,” I ventured.
“No, I don’t need the recipe,” he said. “Just the cookies. You know, like your mom always had. What I mean is, do you have any crumpets we could enjoy with our coffee?”
“Well… … I don’t have any crumpets. How about some no-bake cookies?” I replied meekly. I eyed the potatoes boiling on the stove and wondered if I should offer a lunch that was nowhere near to ready.
“Those would be fine,” he agreed.
So while the Montanans and the Texans visited in the Dining Room of Danger, I set to work on the no-bake cookies and rifled through the freezer. In the freezer I found the chocolate-covered cherries I’d hidden from myself and my sweet tooth, so I arranged those on a Christmas plate and set them on the table, reasoning that they’d thaw quickly. Dad, in mid-conversation with the horse program manager from the Waggoner, waved me over. He was really wanting to show the Texans an article I’d written on the history of the PV Ranch and its original owners. An article I’d written at least 10 years and 5 moves ago.
Despite my best intentions, I do not have all the important pieces I’ve ever written catalogued and organized in a portfolio. And if I did, I probably wouldn’t be able to find the portfolio.
Back in the kitchen I discovered that I had over-boiled the syrup for the no-bake cookies, which always results in a dry cookie, which is a pet peeve of mine. No matter; life must move forward; these men needed crumpets! As I shaped the crumbling and scalding hot dough into cookie-like bricks, I decided to call on my mom for assistance with the newspaper article.
I tried her house phone. Next, her cell phone. And then, because Dad sometimes accidentally gets her cell phone mixed up with his, I tried his cell phone.
A phone rang in my dining room. Dad answered from the table where he sat with the Texans. “Hello?”
“Oh, hi Dad,” I said sheepishly. “It’s Tam. Just me, out here in the kitchen. I was trying to get ahold of Mom.”
Dad and I hung up from 10 feet apart. And I did eventually manage to get ahold of Mom. The aforementioned article from my newspaper days is framed and hanging at her house, so she was able to give me the date on the paper it printed in. From there, I headed back to my bedroom, passing through the dining room on the way. (I could only hope our three kids weren’t doing anything too weird in front of Mr. C. and the Texans — and that they weren’t keeping Beau from engaging in conversation with our visitors.) In the bedroom, from the depths of the closet, I drug out the giant bound books of Agri-News newspapers that I earned during my years as editor there; in the 2006 book, thanks to Mom, I found the correct issue and the exact article Dad was thinking of. I lugged the big book out to Dad and he proceeded to take the Texans through a crash-course in Eastern Montana ranching history.
That day was a great one for my dad. Many times in front of the young Texans Mr. C. praised Dad as his ideal prototype of a ranch manager, and Dad was absolutely glowing with pride for a week afterward.
A half-hour later, as the Texans shuffled back out the door and I alternately wished them a merry Christmas, apologized about the chair incident, and expressed my regret over the non-existent lunch, I could only hope that the frozen, store-bought chocolate-covered cherries were so good that everyone would completely forget about the dry no-bake cookies.
The next week, as Beau attended a budget meeting with Mr. C. at the corporate office in Bozeman, Mr. C. mentioned that we Blakes should maybe start drawing up plans for expanding the house we live in. I’m not sure if an expansion would serve as a reward for Beau’s hard work, as an incentive for keeping him around, or as a lifeline tossed out to Beau’s frazzled wife.
That said, Beau did offer up an appreciated compliment as the Texans waved goodbye. He muttered to me, “You’re holding it together really well.”
Still, from now on (ideally of course), I resolve to always have crumpets on hand in the freezer.
© Tami Blake