Careful What You Ask For At The Ranch Pen

Good short stories get in, leave a few clues, punch the gut, and then get out, like The Lottery written by Shirley Jackson. I wanted to learn how to write them better, so I’ve been participating in Story A Day In May at storyaday.org, where the idea is to write…well, a short story every day in May. I normally write books that might take days…weeks…years to read, so the short story form is a little difficult for me as a literary blabbermouth.

At any rate, one day this past week the story prompt was your character can have anything in the world he/she wants. Naturally, I thought about rain and wrote a story. I managed to get it cleaned up and posted over there, but since I didn’t have time to write a blog post, too, y’all are getting it here, as well.


Careful What You Ask For

In one-hundred-degree July–the fifth year of drought–the farmer still had faith everything would turn out okay. He looked across the pickup cab at his wife.

“I know this was another bad harvest, Natalie, but if the Good Lord sends some rain, we’ll still be okay. Prices are high and with just a little break, we can pay off the notes at the bank later this year.” Paul had to shout over the convection-oven wind howling through the opened windows. The truck’s air conditioning had given out the summer before and too many other things had needed the fix-it money first.

Paul and Natalie had just moved the cow herd to another scorched pasture and Natalie was red-faced and sweating. Her hair, beginning to show grey, whipped around her face. She gave Paul a weary-eyed look that made him cringe inside. Then she just looked out the window.

In the sixth year, Natalie glanced across the pickup cab. The air conditioner still hadn’t been fixed. She was drying up like a piece of leather left in the sun and she hadn’t smiled in a long time.

“We’ve been married twenty-eight years, Paul,” Natalie said. “I never thought I’d be worrying about spending fifteen dollars at the drive-in to celebrate.”

Paul died a little inside but reached across the seat to hold her hand, as hard, brown, and calloused as his. “We’re one day closer to a rain, Natalie. When we get it, we’ll go on that cruise.”

Natalie gave Paul a hopeless look. She pulled away her hand and silently finished her fries—the only limp things in the sun-fried landscape.

Harvest was almost non-existent the seventh year. The banker called.

“Paul, you and Natalie can either mortgage your entire operation…house, land, equipment, cattle…or we’ll have to foreclose. You’ll need to keep y’all’s life insurance policies up-to-date, too, in case one, or…God forbid…both of you dies. You don’t want to leave anybody, including your kids, holding the bag on this massive debt, now do you?”

The next day at the bank, the banker smiled like a fat tomcat licking cream from its whiskers. Natalie, brown and thin as a rail, grimly leaned forward to scratch her name on the mortgage papers with Paul’s. Natalie’s hair straggled from her hair clip, almost completely grey.

In the pickup later, Paul couldn’t look at her. “This loan will give us some breathin’ room until it rains, Natalie. We’re gonna be okay.”

The searing wind howled through the cab…the only reply.

The eighth year of the drought, Natalie didn’t seem to care about much of anything. She didn’t work the fields or the cattle with him anymore. Most of the cows had been sold to meet the note after harvest. The oven-baked ground was too hard to plow, so Paul cut weeds in the fields and baled them for the remaining cattle to eat. Some of the ranchers and farmers had started burning spines off the cactus for feed, but Paul and Natalie weren’t that hard up, yet. A few soaking rains would heal their problems.

Year nine, Natalie sometimes stood on the porch, scanning the blast-furnace landscape, her eyes deep in the squint lines of her pinched face. Once in a while, she stepped into the yard to poke a long stick into a crack in the ground to see how far it would go.

During the tenth summer, Natalie looked at Paul across the old pickup cab. Her hair whipped in the blistering wind. White now. “Paul,” she said evenly, “I’m leaving.”

“No, Natalie.” Paul made a desperate grab for her hand, like bones covered in brown leather. “You can’t. Just wait. We’ll go on that cruise. Please. I’ll do anything.”

Natalie shook her head. “I need him and I’ve wanted to go with him for a long time.”

That night Paul prayed to God. “Please, just send the rain. Get me out of this hole so I can take care of her needs.”

By morning, the heavens had opened. Rain poured down in sheets. The water soaked into the earth through the deep cracks, the huge ant mounds on the bare ground, and prairie dog tunnels. Almost overnight, grass sprang from the iron ground. Miraculously, fat covered the cattle’s ribs once more. The temperature moderated.

The pickup didn’t need air conditioning on the way to Natalie’s funeral.


As always, thanks so much for reading. God bless all y’all and enjoy David Wesley singing How Deep The Father’s Love For Us.

Oh, Yeah? It Did Too Rain Again At The Ranch Pen

IMG_0007

Nellie, preparing for that cloud to rain the bottom out

Anyone who has read the blog for the past year or two knows we in southwestern Oklahoma–and basically the entire southwest US have been in a horrendous drought for years. Our farming communities have met to pray for rain, we ask for rain in church, in graduation invocations, farmer’s co-op meetings, football games, and rodeos. We have signs and billboards reminding us to pray for rain. Through the years when God has said no to our prayers for rain, we’ve then asked for strength to endure until better times come…and we’ve kept praying for rain.

Farmers live by the weather, so we know there are weather cycles, but some people and nations make the weather into a political issue, arguing about the future planetary destruction caused by global warming, climate change, greenhouse emissions, cow farts, ozone, etc. A few months ago, “they” (whoever “they” might be, meteorologists, scientists, weather girls, fortune tellers…your guess is as good as mine) issued a long-range weather forecast, which those of us in the agriculture community received with consternation in our drought stricken land of dried up rivers, creeks, ponds, lakes, and wells. The report read something like this:

Blah blah blah blah blah climate change blah blah formerly known as global warming blah blah blah blah blah Al Gore blah blah blah blah cow farts blah. Blah blah blah It’s never going to rain again in southwest Oklahoma blah blah blah end of civilization blah blah blah. The United Nations can probably fix it we bet blah blah blah. Blah blah cows are evil and smell bad blah blah blah.

(Al Gore might not have been specifically mentioned by name.)

10460230_1445266699121756_1736564777701186883_n

Son #1 holding a carp he found on a flooded road

Anyway, we kept praying for rain even with that long-range prediction hanging over our heads like a dust cloud and I’m ever so thankful to report that forecast wasn’t quite spot-on. Over the past several weeks, God has opened the heavens to us again, pouring out rivers, creeks, lakes, ponds, and wells full of rain.

IMG_1329

Grandson Git’R’Done prepared in case the water keeps rising

As always, thank you so much for reading. God bless all y’all with full ponds and enjoy Jeremy Camp doing Walk By Faith.

 

 

 

You Ain’t My Mother At The Ranch Pen

 

Areyoumymother

 

As I mentioned last week, I’ve been participating in the Story A Day in May at storyaday.org. One day this past week the prompt was about memoirs and we were supposed to fictionalize a personal memory. (The idea being that fiction is much better than our boring lives.) I didn’t have time for that, so I wrote down my memories at six-years-old, meeting Gramps. (He wasn’t called Gramps, then, by the way.) I won’t bore everyone with that memory right now–except that I remember Gramps as a revolting, freckled young lad of nine who made me cry.

So, anyway. The prompt, along with Mother’s Day this past weekend, sparked a memory of another Mother’s Day which I will do my best to recount in a completely objective way.

For those who don’t know, Gramps and I embarked on the sea of marital bliss 33+ years ago at very young ages–he was nineteen, I was sixteen. We had barely hove off shore in our two person canoe when we realized that in about nine months, a baby in the form of a human, (which is what any normal person would think,) would be joining our clueless happy crew.

Danni: (upon discovery) Sweet! Just what I’ve always wanted, Gramps…your offspring.

Gramps: Er…I guess I’ll get another job. (But thinking: Gah! Are you kidding me? It will have two heads with an eye between them, skin like a crocodile, and cloven hooves. What else could’ve possibly happened between me and my wife, Princess Buttercup?)

Happily, he didn’t voice those thoughts for many years, thereby prolonging his lifespan.

IMG_0160

Princess Buttercup, with a stringer of mountain trout

 

Time rocked along. Our first Mother’s Day on the sea of marital bliss in our two person canoe–starting to ride low in the water on my end–approached. At sixteen, girls are still all about romantic gifts from their Prince–particularly if she has gotten as big as a small cow carrying Mr. Charming’s monster baby. Naturally, these were my thoughts: Hey, I’m going to be a mother! Sweet. I’ll get a present from m’dear Charming who must certainly have stars in his eyes about me bringing forth his young ‘un, and so forth.

Charming hid the stars in his eyes pretty well, however, paddling leisurely along as though Mother’s Day wasn’t looming on his horizon like Alcatraz Prison Island. I began to worry. Even though I had known Charming since age six, I stubbornly loyally ignored the fact that hints were lost on him and started laying down a thick carpet of them in the bottom of our vessel. (In time, after we had portaged our canoe around a few dried up mud puddles of marital bliss, I realized he picked up on my direct demands with a lot less fuss. But as I mentioned, I was young and dumb still hoping for romance.)

IMG_0161

Charming, with his stringer of little bitty fish

The fateful Mothers Day dawned in a stormy sky. No present.

Buttercup: (peeved, but still hoping)  “Today’s Mother’s Day.”

Charming: Oh, shoot. Did you get my mom something?

Buttercup: Yes, moron, but what about me?

Charming: You?

Buttercup: I’m going to be the mother of Charming Jr.

Charming: (looking puzzled) Yeah, but you ain’t my mother…

I think I burst into tears and made him very sorry-ish, or something.

Mother’s Day passed, somehow. The storm clouds rolled away. We said our prayers together and paddled onward, my end of the canoe taking on water now and then from my tears and the sea of reality washing onboard–possibly because of my weight gain.

A few months later, our first son was born–apparently as human as the next kid and a LOT cuter. Charming Sr. obtained extra jobs to keep Jr. in food, diapers, and shelter.  Sr. also bought a bigger boat with a super-duty patching kit for the next Mother’s Day. Just in case. The injustice of Buttercup’s overreaction continued to sting from time to time because, clearly, she was his soul mate and all that, but she STILL wasn’t his mother. Nevertheless, faced with the prospect of portaging that blasted canoe around other mud puddles, ever after, Charming did whatever floated her boat on Mother’s Day.

Who says memoirs aren’t as good as fiction?

(M’dear Gramps, just so you know, I wouldn’t change a thing. Well, there was that one little–No. Not a thing.)

Thanks so much for reading and until next time, God bless all y’all and enjoy Kathy Mattea and Tim O’Brien doing Battle Hymn of Love.

Rain Dog At The Ranch Pen

FullSizeRender

Nellie, the rain dog

We’ve had some much prayed for rain this past week, so while I can’t get outside to work, I thought, “I know! I’ll participate in the Story a Day in May challenge at Storyaday.org along with writing a book and blog posts. Perhaps my brains will explode!” If any of y’all are interested in something like that, the idea is to write a short story every day in May, beginning with the prompt given on the website. Join in at any time.

What a blessing the Story a Day challenge has been to our Border Collie, Nellie. She had fallen into the most dreadful funk with all the rain, so I convinced her to join the challenge, too. Reluctant at first, she perked up a little as she considered the benefits. Soon, she was staying up late nights to tap out this guest post for me on her computer. I hate it when she calls me PLOP (pack leader/old person) so disrespectfully like she did in the post, but overall thought it turned out pretty good…considering her hyperactivity disorder, lack of opposable thumbs, and the fact that–even though she’s brilliant–she is a dog, after all.

Take it away, Nellie.

*****

 

Rain Dog

Worst day. Rain. Grey. No birds. No chase. Dull. Wet. Not good.

Sigh. Shake fur. Bored stiff. Not happy. Maybe lie down.

Hmph. Lie down. Dumb PLOP command. Lie down, Nellie! She says. I said lie down! All time. Don’t want lie down. Hard. Hello? Born to wiggle. Get it? Hmph.

Blink. Wet. Nowhere lie down, anyway. Sigh. Sniff around. Wet whiskers. No scents. No scents in rain. Scents, sense. Get it?

Stupid pun.

Sniff ground. No birds. No cat. No traffic. No chase–OW! OW! Flea. FleaFlea. Drop. Scratch. Scratch hard. Wet fur. Scratch fast…Augh!

Un. Be. Lievable. Flea flees.

Sigh. Sniff around more. Here. Under car. Dry. Scoot on belly.

Tight…ish…fit…aarg..! Far as can go.

Horse feathers.  Tail sticking out. Bohonkus in puddle. Sigh. Chilly. Gravel poking. Hate rain. Squirm. Bonk head. Ouch. Sigh. Try sleep.

Drifting…

Dream! Happy dream. Puppyhood. Rain. Wet Mother. Soaked Father. Tumbling brothers. Sisters. Muddy fur. Wet fur. Skunk breath. Heaven smells. Mother milk. Delicious. Joy! Goats. Goats. Chasing goats in rain! Whoa, Nellie! Rain good. Happy dreams…

 

*****

 

Well, poor old Nellie. Puns just lose something if they have to be explained, but here’s hoping the therapeutic act of pouring out her angst in written form will get her groove back. (She also wanted to include a Youtube clip by her favorite group, Three Dog Night, called Mama Told Me Not To Come, but I wouldn’t let her. While hilarious, it might get the older readers–who still remember 1970–too revved up and they might fall and break their hips.)

As always, thanks for reading and until next time, God bless all y’all and enjoy David Wesley doing Fix My Eyes.

Spring Cleaning At The Ranch Pen

sign

clipart via clipart.co

Well, to catch up on the doings at the Ranch Pen, spring has arrived along with tornado clouds (below) and the recurring argument discussion between Gramps and me about the definition of junk.

An Oklahoma tornado hatcher

My domain is our yard–along with the garden–and it’s pretty big, including the super hairy elm trees I have to trim (below). I’m going to guess our yard at about an acre although I haven’t measured it out. I am somewhat given to repurposing containers, and so forth, for flower pots and antiques for yard art, but it’s in pretty good shape, usually. However, Gramps’ domain, his junkyard beyond the yard? Ridiculous.

IMG_1171

Hairy elm tree. My late mother-in-law was the only person I knew who could make a two syllable word out of elm. She always said, el-uhm tree.

Most of our altercations  discussions about junk start something like this:

Danni: I need a tractor up here at the house.

Gramps: (instantly wary) What for?

Danni: I’m gonna clean up that dump out there and I need a loader.

Gramps: Hey, whoa now…which junk are you talkin’ about?

Danni: Yours…

Happily, I’ve had access to not only one of our tractors, but also a truck (below) and a nephew, so the place looks marginally better than it did a few weeks ago.

IMG_0049

As illustrated by the mud puddle in the picture above, we have had some RAIN! We hardly remembered what it was, but we are certainly thankful for it, now. The moisture has made all the difference in the wheat crop and that will breathe life into some of us broke farmers and cattlemen. Those of you out there who like to eat bread, goodies, and beef should probably rejoice, too.

Oklahoma wheat. We grow what’s called hard red winter wheat in this area and the #1 grade is high protein and used for baking flour.

Springtime is also the time to buy chicks if you’re gonna grow some for laying or eating. The weird looking chickens (below) were spotted in the farm supply store recently.

IMG_1117

 

IMG_1114

IMG_1115

Oh, wait…I guess those are the grandsons, Tater, Kevman, and Einstein.

The barn cat recently went all strange, as well. For many months, he wouldn’t have anything to do with me, but suddenly one day, he decided he would be my pet. Now, he hurls himself to the ground in front of me and does his super cool cat trick (below). Since I am not a cat whisperer, I have no idea what his trick means, but he is proud of it. His name is Roger, now.

IMG_1169

Believe it, or not, Roger is going to be a dad. Perhaps that explains his happiness. His wife (pictured below with Nellie the dog) used to be named Sunny, but now it’s Stubby because Nellie broke her tail and then Sunny/Stubby chewed her injured tail off HER OWN BODY. She is also still best friends with Nellie. Go figure.IMG_1182

Finally, the grandson Roper and I stopped cleaning up junk for a while and took advantage of a beautiful morning to shoot some targets with the BB gun. I’ll just call him Buffalo Bill, now, because he is a pretty awesome shot at age six. It helps that he has the outfit for it. His main challenge is biting into apples with his teeth missing. He has solved that problem by confining his diet to meat and french fries as much as possible for the time being.

IMG_1215

I hope your spring cleaning is going well–or, if you’re in the southern hemisphere, your fall cleaning. As always, thanks so much for visiting the Ranch Pen. God bless all y’all and enjoy The Isaacs doing  I Know Who Holds Tomorrow.

The Lord’s Prayer At The Ranch Pen

IMG_0767

Sunrise at the ranch pen

As we wind up National Poetry Month here at the Ranch Pen, I’ll share what is, in my opinion, the loveliest prayer in poetry form ever. Also known as The Lord’s Prayer, these verses are from the Gospel of Matthew in the Holy Bible.

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.

Amen

I hope you’ve enjoyed poetry at the Ranch Pen this month as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing it, and until next time, God bless all y’all and enjoy the guys of Veritas singing The Lord’s Prayer.