Don't Bother Wiping Your Shoes

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Beloved Red Dirt

Last month we went down to my grandmother's ranch in western Oklahoma. I think, and I hope, it is everything my papa had dreamed it would be. This place is where my heart always was and always will be. I was born near there, when it was only the 55 acres. A few purchases by my grandparents here and there and now it sums up to be several hundred acres. Before my papa died, he bought one last track, sight unseen. He had dreams for it. Then he passed. But God knew what He was doing. Roughly a year after my papa died my cousin Joshua was born. I believe God sent us Joshua to carry out my papas vision for the place I call "NeeNaw's Place." I always spelled it that way. Joshua and his brother spell it Nena. I don't know that any of us care how it's spelled, so I'll just say NeeNaw. I was the first of 4 grandchildren. While learning to say grandma it just came out Neenaw. Now, most kids of Elk City (who are now becoming adults) call her NeeNaw. My own father calls his mom NeeNaw. My aunt calls her NeeNaw. My papa even called her Neenaw. Here's My Neenaw holding Tekoah when she was a few weeks old.

I wanted to live there my whole life, for that was where my heart belonged and my soul longed to dwell there. It still does, and it always will and I will continue to get to that place as often as I can for the rest of my life. The memories abound of me and my cousin Jeremy (Josh's older brother) of running out the door of NeeNaw's yelling "goodbye" and not returning for hours. Playing explorers, hunters, running through ravines and pastures seeing what we could find. Our adventures usually found us seeing how far we could get into holes and trees that stretched out over the ponds, shooting pop cans on a log across the pond, fishing, pretending, and looking for turkey feathers and skeletons of cattle long deceased. We were 2 very small children, turned out, trusted, and left to explore at our own ravenous pace. There weren't cell phones and nobody worried about where 2 young adventures were or what they were doing out in the middle of a 300-400 acre ranch, and we journeyed back to the house only when our stomachs told us it was time to eat. We'd scarf down NeeNaw's macaroni and cheese and then head out again until the sun was going down. Occasionally, we'd take a family hike or toss fishin' poles over our shoulders and the lay of the land became ground into our memory. We knew it like the back of our hand by the age of 10...every ravine, farm implement, vine, dead tree, fox hole, trail, and many other discoveries we chose not to tell anyone we found...like the old homestead across a fence line that had been destroyed by a tornado possibly in the 40's or 50's. Woops! Sorry Jeremy! Now they all know we jumped that barbed wire fence! One time we took a piece of wood and nailed it to a couple pieces of styrofoam and attempted to float across the pond, knowing that if the adults caught us, we would be toast. But they let us go, spread our wings and realize things that one could only learn by experience in God's green wilderness. As we got older, these memories became like a drug...always searching for the first time high of what it felt like to discover something new and exciting. Deer, open gates that were forgotten to be closed, newborn calves, killing snapping turtles, and night fishing. It was everything that made me who I am and for that I will be forever grateful. When my sister was born, then there were 3. She tried so hard to keep up with us, running through the woods, trying to teach her how to unhook a fish, showing her the rope and tire swing that had been there for tens of years...and then when Joshua was born, we were all older. Jeremy joined the Navy, I got married, my sister Kacy got married and the memories became more precious than ever. Jeremy, my forever partner in crime is located on a Naval base so now when I go to Neenaw's my escapades are now with Joshua, 15 years younger than I, although sometimes I presume he may be wiser than I. My memories with Joshua include fishing with my daughter and Jeremy's daughter Kendyl. The two 5 year olds like playing with all the fish caught, screaming and giggling at the top of their lungs. They like to touch the fish eyes. They were so caught up with themselves they didn't notice us untie ourselves from their raft and leave them in the middle of the pond to discover that first realm
of bittersweet independence.
Joshua. He is everything any boy should long to be. He's going to be a sophomore, varsity football player (I heard his nickname was "the tank.") He has a perfected curveball and pitches varsity. He was ranked 47th (or something like that) in the state of Oklahoma his freshman year of high school. He invests his money in cattle because he sees more dollar signs and common sense than alot of adults in America. He's a redblooded american kid that every boy should model their lives on. He's humble, respectful, hardworking, responsible, can cook a killer steak on the grill and wears boots to protect his feet from getting crushed under several hundred pounds of cow hooves.

Joshua now runs cattle with Justin, a family member on the ranch, and NeeNaw, I think, is living out her beloved's dream. Joshua is the vehicle and the blood of the wonder of life is the fuel that keeps it going. Joshua will perhaps go to college, more than likely on sports scholarships. I sit back and wonder what the master plan for his life is and wonder if he will continue running cattle. Joshua and I have alot in common. We both have an artistic side, we both love to hunt and fish (he's way better at it than I am) and we both love cows. We love to eat them. We love to take care of them and we both have alot of compassion for hurt animals. When we went down to NeeNaw's place last, I'm sure I drove him crazy wanting to get in on the action counting the heads of the livestock and I really wanted to get in on the action of tagging a calf that had yet to be caught. To me, it was amazing the way he caught the calf by the hind leg, laid him over and while trying to keep the cow under control, pinned to the ground, he attempted to talk me through piercing the little guys ear. Later on that trip, we came across a calf stuck in a ravine, evidence of afterbirth and a scared mama cow told us he was a newborn and had fallen into the deep hole under a downed cedar tree. I pulled the front legs, Joshua picked up his back end and we got him out. We then realized this little guy was blind. I nursed him with a bottle and Joshua called his cousin while they decided the little guys fate. He wouldn't last in the pasture. Nobody wanted to keep him. I couldn't take him, for he wasn't mine to take.

Then reality set in that "Stevie" would go to the slaughter house with his momma cow who didn't prove to make good calves. In the end, I probably made Joshua's job a whole lot harder but he would never let on. He has more patience, respect, and self-control and he is the wisest almost 16 year old I've ever known. He's a cowboy through and through. He is my papa's grandson whom he never met. They share a spirit I long to be around.

One day, I suspect, Jeremy and Joshua, Kacy and I will all be together...someday. Who knows when that will ever be. But when I step foot on that land, everything I was, everything I am, and everything I long to be comes to surface and I am where I belong. The cattle, the hunts, the trot lines, hooking myself with fish hooks, the boots and the cow patties, the grasshoppers and the turkeys, the red dirt....these are all the reasons I can't stand a man who is afraid to get his hands dirty. These are the reasons it drives me crazy when a healthy, young person complains because they are sweating or it's "too hot." These are the reasons vegens have an ignorant and worthless lifestyle. These are the reasons I can never again surround myself with the pavement of the city and the tall buildings that fence you in away from the horizon like a prison. These are the reasons I have a passion for growing my own food just for the taste of it and the wonderment of being self-sufficient. These are the reasons that I could survive in a terrible time. These are the reasons I am every ounce of who I am. And now, I share it with my children, hoping it will make them compassionate and tough. Hoping they will understand the importance of getting out into the yonder so they can find themselves. Hoping they will look at my memories and share some with me.