Earlier this year, I wrote an op-ed for the American Cowboy magazine about being a ranch wife. The editor subtitled it “The women who love the West.” The text was appropriate for the article, but ever since publication, the phrase has stuck in my mind as not quite right. I don’t store moving boxes under the bed and drive up to new ranches sight unseen towing all my worldly possessions in a 20-foot stock trailer with my two kids strapped into their car seats in the backseat of a three-quarter ton flatbed pickup because I love the West.
When my baby’s fever spikes at 103 degrees in the middle of the night, I don’t weigh the pros and cons of driving 2 hours to the nearest emergency room versus trying to bring down her temperature at home with Tylenol and a tepid bath because I love the West.
I didn’t learn how to bake bread, cook with canned everything and explain to my family and friends 6 times in 4 years that yes, we are moving again because I love the West. I do these things because my husband, the father of my children and the only man I have ever loved, loves the West.
And I love that Jim loves the West. He has worked as a cowboy since he left home at 17, only deviating from that profession once to work on a power line when his saddle broke. As soon as he earned enough money for a new saddle, he went back to cowboying.
I love Jim for devoting his life to a vocation that is too difficult, too demanding, too unrewarding and underpaid for most men. I love that he strives daily to improve his cavvy horses, even though they were full-mouthed, ill-broke knotheads when the boss cut them to him. He knows his work won’t last after he moves on to another ranch. He does it anyway because he has pride in his work.
Jim’s pride in his work is also reflected in the sunlight shining off the silver on his headstalls. Sure, a cowboy can gather cows and rope stuff in plain gear, but some shiny stuff says “I’m proud to be a buckaroo.” A man rides better, ropes better and feels better when he’s proud of his appearance and who he is.
I love that my husband is proud of his cowboy career, and I love that he shares the lifestyle and his skills with me and our kids. He is a super patient teacher, and I genuinely love learning cowboy stuff from him. Based on tales of other couples trying to work cows together that range from stereotypical jokes to horror stories, this is a rare quality in a cowboy husband and I don’t take it for granted.
And he doesn’t take us for granted, either. He saddles my horse before each branding. He bought me silver earrings at the county fair when I stayed home with a sick baby just to show he loves me. He once stayed home from a horse roping – on his birthday – to take our daughter to a Halloween party because he knew she’d been looking forward to it for a week.
All the address changes, the nonexistent date nights, the improvised recipes because I’m always out of some main ingredient, the long distance to town….I sure wouldn’t do all that just for the sake of the West. But I’m happy to do it for Jim.