Real Cowboys

I had a treasure in my Grandma Katie. She wasn’t like so many of my friend’s grandmas. She didn’t try to look young or act like she belonged with us. She simply acted like a grandma and we loved it so much, even as teenagers, we wanted her wherever we were. She was an absolute classic. She had long white hair she wore up in a bun every day, aprons that were as important as any other part of her wardrobe, maybe more important, and love that seemed to show up in the most amazing ways.

She wasn’t dainty or soft, she wasn’t quiet most of the time, she was laughter and music, hard work and beauty. She was never far away from what we enjoyed, and I think that’s what made her so special. She didn’t have to have her hands in it, she had plenty to do on her own, she just made sure to be there supporting us. From her lawn chair at the softball games, the bleachers at my basketball games, the pew in the church we were singing, there are a multitude of memories where she was sitting nearby. Smiling at our joy in what we loved doing. She drove us to her memories and shared her hometown and little brick one room schoolhouse in Indiana. She made beds on the floor of her living room so we could sleep at her house and tell her our stories, and coax her to tell us hers.

She was something special to each individual child and grandchild she called hers. I love to sit with my aunts, uncles and cousins and hear about the parts of her I didn’t see, the memories they have because she only performed their particular song, for them.

One such story, which I absolutely adore, comes from my brother and two of my cousins. Grandma Katie was observing them nearby on the property she shared with my aunt and uncle where they were filling their minds with fun. As these three rambunctious boys planned their adventure she didn’t protest their desire to be cowboys and really act like it. From my brother Joel’s perspective this may have been the best there was of idealistic boyhood adventure, and grandma Katie played a key role in keeping it real. In his words:

As a child I remember spending countless hours playing with my cousins, Tobey and Jesse Schwartz. We had free reign on their 40 plus acre farm in southern Michigan, complete with woods and the Prairie River. I could tell you of countless stories of mischief and fun we had together. The list would impress any young boy I’m sure.

There is one story that sticks out to me however. Probably because it’s something that a lot of boys would never be able to experience. Sadly, I suppose many young boys don’t have a Grandma Katie to help their fantasies become reality.

I remember we wanted to be cowboys for a night. Real cowboys, that rode a horse and slept outside with the cattle under the stars. We had it all planned out. We decided to set up camp in a small pasture well away from the ranch. (The ranch was their farm house, about 100 yards from our camp) We began by gathering our camp supplies, which consisted of corn silk and paper to roll for quality smoking, firewood and some blankets. We gathered everything up and loaded ourselves up on Goldie the horse. Goldie was a sweet old horse and Lord knows she put up with a lot, even 3 young boys with their camp supplies riding bareback on her at the same time. We rode her from the barn out to the campsite and tied her to a tree. From there we set up camp. We built a fire and sat out under the stars, smoking our corn silk cigars and just talking about the “good old days”. There was a couple of times we needed supplies so we hopped on Goldie and rode back to the ranch for them, but mostly our night was spent by the fire with content hearts that we truly were real, genuine cowboys.

The next morning something happened that we will never forget. We awoke to dew covered blankets and the smell of a smoldering campfire, and the sound of Grandma Katie calling our names. Though our campfire was well away from the ranch, it was also right behind Grandma Katie’s house. She was standing there on the other side of the fence with 3 big spoons and 3 steel bowls full of hot oatmeal. You can imagine our excitement that we were going to be eating out of steel bowls just like real cowboys. It was like we had our own chuck wagon along on this cattle drive, and Grandma Katie was our cook. She had watched us out there that night and undoubtedly she was already planning our breakfast before she went to bed. We stoked the fire and sat around that morning, eating our oatmeal (no sugar, because real cowboys don’t use sugar, Grandma Katie had told us that) and talking about how wonderful our cook was and of course about getting our cattle out of pasture and heading back to the ranch. We saddled up and rode Goldie on that long, 100 yard journey home. We were proud and content, and we knew that we truly were real, genuine cowboys.

It strikes me how simple it was for her to be incredibly influential in our lives, without ever telling us what we should be up to. She let our hearts, our imaginations, our joys, desires and passions take us places and then she set up her lawn chair, put on her floppy hat and sunglasses, and told us how amazing we were.

I read an article recently about the involvement parents and grandparents put in to children’s play, parties and routine. Overzealous to ensure their children have a fantasy like experience at every turn. The article pointed out the danger in setting such standards for ourselves and ultimately other parents. The bug to outdo each other has become a prideful thorn in many a mother’s side. It was a good article, but I felt they left out something important. Something I think is easy to overlook, for myself as well.

Our kids love the things we do for them. The parties, the crafts, the projects and the play, but I’ve noticed there are times, they won’t try things for themselves because they can’t do it as well as I did. I don’t even do a lot of that stuff in comparison, but it made me sad to think that I had outdone my boys and instead of inspiring them, I had intimidated them. I’ve resolved to lay low, to step back and listen to what they love. I want to be like grandma Katie, a constant presence, but not a constant pressure. I want to let them create the fantasies, I’ll just help keep it real. They can be cowboys and engineers, pirates and inventors, I’ll just be ready with the oatmeal and tin spoons to add effect. For my part, I want to pull up my lawn chair and watch, and then tell them how amazing they are.

2 thoughts on “Real Cowboys

  1. Just read this to my 3 girls. Could hardly keep from crying. Great memories. She did similar things with her granddaughters as well. Fun.

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