I grew up on a working cattle ranch in the Arizona desert in the 1960’s and ‘70’s and it wasn’t easy. There was too much work and never enough people to do it. Bankruptcy loomed over us constantly. Everything was always broken or about to break. Dad yelled a lot. There was too much cactus and not enough rain. The cows were skinny and mean. The horses we chased them on were swaybacked nags that resented each time we put saddles on them.
Most of the time I hated living there. I wanted to be like every other kid and throw the football with my friends after school. I wanted to go swimming and join Little League. Instead, every day after school I took the hour-long bus ride to the ranch and worked. The work never ended. We worked before school—often getting up while it was still dark—and we worked after school. We worked all summer long. In the summer I might go a month without even going into town. We had no phone and only had electricity when we started the generator in the evenings.
And yet, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m proud of my upbringing. On Date Creek Ranch I had a unique opportunity to experience a way of life that has all but disappeared in this country, one that has given me perspectives and abilities that are often different from those of my peers.
I was clinging to the back of Dad’s horse while he chased cows through the brush before I learned to walk (Who needs a babysitter? Just bring the kid along). I drove an ancient tractor that had no brakes in elementary school (Just drop the bucket when you want to stop. Don’t pop the clutch because it will die and the battery is a useless hunk of dried-out lead).
All of us kids handled a great deal of responsibility. Life on the ranch meant we had to be able to problem solve. I distinctly remember times when Dad dropped me off on the far side of the ranch with a bottle of water, a sack lunch and a couple of old, crappy tools that broke ten minutes later and I knew just as sure as the sun went round in the sky that when he came back to get me at sundown if the work wasn’t done there’d be hell to pay. There was no such thing as excuses in Dad’s book. Only results. (The shovel broke? Figure out how to do the job with a different tool. You ran out of water? Drink out of that dirt tank over there. The dead birds floating in it don’t mind.)
Anyway, this blog post marks the kickoff of a series of articles about life on Date Creek Ranch. In them I hope to capture a little of the flavor of what it was like to live there. Most of what you’ll read will be humorous, partly because in retrospect a lot of it is funny, but also because I’ve basically survived this long by finding a way to laugh at everything I can. There will be pain as well, because living with my father wasn’t easy. Perhaps there will be catharsis. I know I’ve waited a lot of years to get serious about capturing those years in words.
I hope you enjoy the ride.
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