Audio: “It Ain’t Easy” by Abigail Washburn
Saturday past was the Xmas party for The Piney River Cattle Company – our ranch. Jane Ellen to the rescue, she decorated, organized the catering, handled the guest list and set up for the evening. Jerry Peele even drove 17 hours from upstate NY to be with everyone; this meant a great deal because after the floods and everyone was so worn out – Jerry Peele showed up, he rolled on the scene with fresh eyes and building fences, moving cows reminding folks that we weren’t alone with our loss and that the rebuild was on; one person can make a difference. Folks in Hickman county where our ranch is are some of the hardest working people, determined and know all too well about the climb up.
Since the floods we’ve finished a few of the buildings that we lost and one of them is “The Cook House.” This Cook House has a wrap around screened in porch and big old kitchen where community meals and gatherings can be held. Lee believes in a lot of the old school thoughts of taking care of people, when we lived on our small ranch in Malibu – Leno our caretaker/farm hand and his wife Yadi ate with us everyday at 3pm. Lee said “This is what a ranch life is about, taking care of one another – ranches are no place for soloist. That’s what the suburbs are for.”
Saturday night was about just that, the room was full of folks that everyday keep our ranch working, they tend to things as if they were there own, the old school work ethic is there ‘cause a strong ranch is the basis of rural communities – it feeds folks literally.
When I first came to Nashville and met Lee I’d never been on a place like this before. Oh, sure in Malibu folks have ranches with a couple horses and a barn or two but a real working cattle ranch that runs between 500 and 1,000 cows, 50 to 100 quarter horses and before the floods 400 goats is another world in comparison.
On that same visit Lee and I saddled up two horses and rode into the pastures, as we headed out he looked over at me and said, “Pay attention”. Before I knew it there were 4 cowboys on horseback and about 300 cows, someone was yelling at me to move to the left and get behind that ‘un. What y’all don’t know is that I wasn’t an experienced rider – not even a little bit. There was so much adrenaline moving through my body, I was caught up somewhere in-between “awe and terror.” I’d look up and try to hold on to every detail as it flashed and then pray out loud that I didn’t fall off.
Lee has had this ranch since the 1980’s and before that it’s always been a working ranch all the way back to the late 1700’s where the Graham family owned it as a plantation. Lee comes from cowboys, his daddy was someone whose family homesteaded Florida and owned ranches in Wyoming and his stepfather owned giant ranches in Colorado. Lee worked as a cowboy on those ranches throughout his childhood and into his adulthood; it’s in his blood.
The highlight of the night was meeting the Lewis’s; they’d worked for my in laws managing the Colorado ranches as well as Piney River Cattle Company. The Lewis’ are now into their ‘70’s and full of fine stories about life with Lee’s parents and overseeing a 30 mile cattle ranch. Let me tell you there is something about ranch folks, they carry themselves with such honor and style. I absolutely love cowboy hats, western jewelry, Native American fabrics and a great pair of boots. I may not rock all the above but I sure do dig a room full of it – ‘cause cowboys got style and they sho’ ain’t afraid to share it.
Mrs. Lewis caught my eye as she was wearing turquoise and class, she spoke of her life in Hickman County and all of the people that had crossed through the ranch, as big old ranches do touch a lot of folks as they come and go for work. She spoke of Meemaw (my mother in law) and told me of her greatness, I felt like a child at story time savoring images of her in her prime – recording the info to pass back on to my girls.
Mr. Lewis was getting ready to leave and we filled him up with a to go pack of food, his eyes teared up as he looked in the direction of his wife, “She is my best friend and she’s leaving soon.”
Seems Mrs. Lewis has got Pancreatic Cancer as she was diagnosed last July, Pancreatic cancer is tough to kick and the life expectancy on average after diagnosis is 12.7 months. Mr. Lewis said she hasn’t left the house let alone cooked a meal in months; he has been relying on the kindness of family and friends. I reached to hug this man and was amazed at how solid he felt in his body, like a rock of nobility. I immediately went to speak with Mrs. Lewis and offered to send whatever I cook on the mornings Lee drives out to the ranch for her to eat. I saw that Mr. Lewis has always taken care of his family and for the first time he didn’t know how to provide. I thought of Memaw and how lovingly Mrs. Lewis had taken care of her – It was now my turn to step up and walk in my mother in laws shoes, this woman had been her friend.
A feeling of honor passed through me, not only to own a place like the Ranch but to be apart of the history of this farm. Destiny brought this world to me and it’s up to me to reflect it’s history via my own character which will mirror it’s future. The next few seconds were full of flashes, I watched Jane Ellen working in the kitchen and I saw her and I together in 30 years, Rusty our trusted friend and Foreman too. Then I caught a glimpse of Lee, when Mr. Lewis teared up Lee’s heart was hit like a brick, suddenly I was able to witness what he has felt during my illness. Marriage is not easy, romantic in ways that are only understood by folks that stick it out and for sure it is an imperfect union; but what I KNOW is that when you get married you become family; a line is held and when it’s threatened the heart aches like nothing in the world. My marriage to Lee has bound me to land, animals, trees and human community – nobility at it’s best.
This Christmas is about my connection to all of those that I love and honor. Thank you.