So is everyone all ready for Christmas – the gifts bought, wrapped, mailed, the cooking almost done…??
One of the joys – and drawbacks – of living alone is that there is not much point to Christmas, apart from the actual, real reason for celebrating it. But for me, gone the days when the Grapevine tree, a humongous 7 footer, had to be lugged into the Longhorn Room, decorated, the cookies baked – luckily, for many years, none of that was my purview any longer, being done much more capably by the wonderful people who shared Grapevine with me.
I do remember one year, though, one of the very earliest years, when I decorated a big Christmas tree in the Longhorn Room, and one of the decorations was something I had read about and thought rather inventive and worthwhile – and this was popcorn, popped and strung onto thread, an twined around the tree. It looked lovely – white and festive, most attractive, quite unique, and, importantly in those days, relatively inexpensive. Those were the early days – before we even heard of tiresome people like health inspectors bristling with county regulations – and we still let the doggies share the Longhorn Room with us all. Of course, it didn’t take them long to discover the Christmas tree and its delectable fruit – and it was gone, thread and all, in very short time! That may have been one of the reasons for banning the canine residents from the public buildings, come to think of it … or it may have been the Health Inspector!
In the very early days of Grapevine, when it could hardly be called a guest ranch, some of the visiting residents of the four-legged variety were not only dogs and cats, though. There was a time when I had adopted an orphaned lamb, of the Barbado breed. These sheep don’t look like normal sheep – they are short haired, quite independent, and are mainly raised for meat. They are also very intelligent and not given to other sheepy behavior like huddling together in flocks- they are quite happy to be doing their own thing, apart from the herd. In any case, there came a time when one baby was unwanted by his mother, so of course I adopted it. It was the greatest fun – he bonded to me instantly, and followed me around like a dog. I named him Lambchop (he was the original Lambchop – there was another one to follow, years later) and he would lie in the office by my feet, doing his little lamby things like chewing up important papers, uttering little bleats from time to time, and when someone came to the front door, he would trot alongside me to see who was there. People are used to dogs accompanying those who answer the door, so they generally assumed it was a dog down there….. until they looked down, to encounter a sturdy little woolly body and a quizzical sheepy look … the doubletake was quite comic.
However, there came an evil moment on a cold winter’s day when Lambchop fell into the pool, which wasn’t fenced off in those days. Luckily he fell in at the deep end, opposite the step, and was able to swim across and clamber out. The first I knew of it was the vision of a frantically bleating, dripping wet bundle of wool speedily trundling up the path to the Cook Shack door. What could I do?? Let him in, of course, into the warmth. This was the time before the Longhorn Room was added on, and so the dining room served as both dining room and sitting room, with the potbelly stove in the southeast corner, about where the bar was later built. Behind the stove there was a dog basket belonging to my beloved Dachshund, Pistol, who liked to snooze there on a cold winter’s evening, but who was, at the time, out somewhere terrorizing the countryside. Lambchop was no fool – naturally he headed right for the stove, and, dripping wet, installed himself in Pistol’s basket. He snuggled in there, contentedly steaming away, idly picking at bits of grass that Pistol had dragged in there, enjoying the moment – until Pistol himself came in. The standoff was quite comic – Pistol knew the interloper, had spent lots of time playing with him out in the yard, but this was too much! He stared icily at the illegal invader of his basket, he circled it threateningly, he growled – but to no avail. Apparently sheep lack the social conscience that would make the rest of us say, “I do beg your pardon, I am in your basket! I will remove myself forthwith….” Sheep don’t do social niceties. Lambchop sat on placidly, steaming in the heat, and surveying Pistol with the blank look of one who fails to see, much less recognize, any social blunder. It was funny to watch – but a second basket was installed next day, and after that evening, the normal turn of events would be to see the two of them, side by side, enjoying the companionship and the warmth. I would like to have those days back!
Anyway, to return to my theme of Christmas trees – the one I had used for years, handily decorated and left decorated from year to year, finally fell apart – last Christmas proved to be its final one. It was probably no wonder – after Christmas, I would pick it up by its little head, carry it upstairs into the storage room where it would languish, decorations and all, until the following Christmas, when it would be again rudely grabbed by its little head, trundled downstairs and installed on the coffee table. Eventually, after about ten years of this cavalier treatment, it had enough and its head fell off – actually not only its head, but all its branches disintegrated, so that I could see there was no hope for it, and sadly disposed of it. So this year I decided that, seeing I would be alone for Christmas, as my daughter and son-in-law and friends arrive from Australia on New Year’s Day, I would just do without. The living room looked kind of sad, I must say, but I stuck to my resolution – and then some wonderful good friends from the UK sent a lovely flower arrangement. I installed it on the round table by the window in the living room and somehow, it seemed, in all its festive, Christmassy glory, to cry out for more. So yesterday I succumbed to temptation and came home with a miniature make-believe Christmas tree, with all the glitter and spangles one could want- and my living room is, after all, festive looking. I installed it next to a fabulous horse statue given me recently by a good friend from the UK and it seems to me that the horses make a good complement to it – classier than a donkey and a camel!
And so what is new here – there may be some of you who remember my pet cow Clementine’s first calf, whom we named Ginger, after a staff member and good friend who worked here at the time. Ginger became a range cow, and a very good one – she produced a calf year after year, and her only sin was a tendency to crawl the fence and go visit a neighbor who had the bad judgment to keep some alfalfa hay in an open shed. I mean, can you blame a cow once she finds such treasures? We had several mini-gathers getting Ginger and her current calf rounded up and inside the ranch fence again, until the neighbor gave up and either stopped buying alfalfa or enclosed it, and Ginger’s excursions ceased. Ginger turned 14 years old this year – quite a venerable age for a range cow – and we decided last year that she had had her last calf. She was honorably retired into the South Cochise Pasture, along with her mom, Clementine, and I hope she enjoyed her retirement. Yesterday morning we found her dead – she had been grazing on that rocky little hill by the Middle Gate, the one dividing the North Cochise from the South Cochise Pastures, and it looked as if she had just dropped dead – no fuss, no sign of a struggle. I thought that was just like her – apart from the alfalfa episodes, she never caused us any trouble – and she died the same way – quietly, suddenly, maybe of a heart attack. We buried her just a bit east of the gate, not far from where we found her. It looks as if her mom, Clementine, now a venerable 16 years old, will outlive her by many years, as she still looks quite chipper. Sad, really – one by one my old friends are leaving me – there is only one goat left of my herd of 13, but, like Clementine, she looks remarkably well for her age, which is almost 15 – again, unheard of, I think! Just shows that there is good health in the water and feed here – let’s just hope that this geriatric good luck carries over to the human population and that I am still sitting here, blabbing away, in fifteen years or so!
Otherwise we continue as normal – the weather provides our usual pleasant, sunny days, until, it seems to me, the weekends, when I and Jimmy do the feeding as Danny is enjoying his well deserved days of rest. The feeding would be a snip, if it wasn’t for two things – first of all, the last load of hay we bought, while excellent in quality, green and fresh and succulent, is very short stemmed and so loosely baled that when you cut the string the whole bale explodes. Not for it to remain in civilized flakes like normal hay is supposed to do – it fluffs itself up and spreads itself around so that you have to take an armful instead of a flake, and throwing armfuls of loose hay across 6 ft. high fences into the feeders is no mean feat, especially for a height challenged person like me. I come home with hay on my clothes, in my hair, inside my shirt, and have to shake myself like a wet dog before coming in the door. The other drawback is that the Polaris can only accommodate two bales, so a re-stocking is required generally at the end of the first day. Gone are the days, for me, when I could pick up a 100 lb. bale of hay and lump it up on a truck – I’m happy these days if I can drag the damn thing along the haystack and down into the Polaris bed. Awful what age does to you.
I may have told this story once before, so if I have, bear with me, and put it down to advancing age and feeble memory – but once upon a time, about 40 years ago, my then husband, Pete, and I, went to buy some alfalfa hay. The farmer was out, but his wife told us we could load up and when he returned, he would weigh us out. So we pulled up to the hay pile – I climbed on top and threw the bales down to Pete, who stacked them up into the truck. About halfway through, as a matter of interest, I asked him what did he think those bales weighed? “About 80 lbs,” he grunted, and we worked on till the truck was loaded. We were almost done when the farmer came back, weighed us out, and we settled up. “What do these bales weigh?” I asked him. “130 lbs” he said. We drove home, and came time to unload. I climbed up on top and began struggling with a bale. “Well, come on” said Pete, “throw them down to me!” “I can’t”, I whined….. “they’re too heavy…. they weigh 130 lbs!!” Amazing what your mind does to you, isn’t it??
Anyway, back to my current whining – lest there are some among you who think that pitching hay is the only thing that needs to be done when feeding around here these days, let me disillusion you further. We are the happy home of several geriatric horses, whose teeth aren’t the best, and they have to get a special diet of alfalfa pellets soaked overnight in water, so here’s the drill with that. First of all, if it is the afternoon feeding, you have to capture and corral Miss Katie, the donkey, who has the run of the place during the day – she is very useful there, as she cleans up some of that darn loose hay that blew away in the morning feeding. However, Miss Katie knows very well that inside the shed are goodies beyond the wildest of donkey dreams, and that if she can just get herself into the feed shed, there is no way on God’s earth that anyone can get her out without the bribery of a bucket full of the goodies stuff. So if you’re careless enough to open the feed room door without corralling her first, with the speed of light she hops up the two steps and inserts herself inside and then there is no way of moving her. We have tried pushing her from behind – she just humps up like a caterpillar, walking her back feet up against her front feet, but she ain’t goin’ nowhere, no ma’am! If you try to drag her out by the head, she plants those front feet like steel spikes into the floor and – good luck! The only thing that works – and even then, not always – is bribery in the form of some feed. However, we have found that a simple handful of goodies doesn’t do it, either – it had better be a substantial container full of the good stuff before Miss Katie condescends to depart the shed. So, at afternoon feeding time, the drill is first of all, to remember to get a small bucket of oats and sweet feed and entice her into her pen, and firmly lock the gate. Then you can go and drag out the bucket of alfalfa pellets that had been soaking in water through the day – add a ration of oats and sweet feed, and dump it out into Tequila’s feeder, in front of the feed room. He doesn’t like it if you’re late, either – much stomping around the corral gate, and huffing and puffing, like an elderly hotel guest who demands better service. Then there is the rest of the special feed to several other impatiently waiting customers – and then the famous hay, with it flying around doing its best to work its way down your shirt and up your sleeves.
But, with all that – I wouldn’t change this life for another – and I am so glad that I can still get to do this ! I must add that most of the year when Chris and Steve are here, what with them and Danny I don’t get to do a darn thing, so I’m happy that for at least some of the time I can feel a little bit useful still. And I am sure that it’s very good for me – you know the old saying – use it or lose it!!
So with this bit of philosophy, let me wish you a wonderful Christmas, with all the goodies Santa promised you, and a safe, happy and prosperous New Year!