A few months back, I wrote a post about my country roots. I was looking through some photos the other day and came across the image above of our camphouse. Looking at it made me a bit nostalgic so I thought it was a good opportunity for a “Part II.”
This structure is probably a hundred years old, give or take. It sits across from a set of cow pens that were also originally built almost a hundred years ago, although they’ve been spruced up and remodeled since then. My great grandfather bought the property during the open range days when people had gunfights over the prospect of fencing in land. When I was a kid, I used to play in and around the camphouse during the month-long process of gathering cattle on horseback. It was a long, muddy slog in those days and the cowboys ate three meals a day (all home cooked) and some slept in the bunk beds. There was, and still is, a hand pump, which until the 1980’s, was the only source of running water. Along with a proper kitchen sink, we eventually installed actual indoor plumbing and tore down the outhouse. Progress and all.
What I remember most about summer cowhunt, as we called it, are the smells. Muddy cowpens mixed with humidity so thick it made the air seem viscous along with sweat and horses and dogs that had never been on a leash in their lives (and ate table scraps instead of Alpo). When we were older, my sister and I helped out too, mostly opening gates and counting cows, and occasionally getting chased up a fence by an ornery Brahman bull. The noon day meal was usually something like chicken fried steak or fried chicken, fresh peas, corn, squash, biscuits and rice with tomato gravy. Suffice it to say, we did not use summer as a verb in our household. I will never forget one visitor who came out to take pictures and marveled to my dad that it must be so great to be able to ride horses in the middle of the week. My dad nodded politely. I like to say that he was a cow man, not a cowboy.
These days, gathering the cattle takes days, not weeks. We don’t ride horses as much as we used to, and the people who work day labor don’t call themselves cowboys so much and they don’t want to sleep in an un-air conditioned bunkhouse. I haven’t ridden a horse in years. My dad has been gone over twenty-five years. But this place is still standing, with a tin roof that makes the rain sound like a dance and walls that, if they could speak, would tell you tall tales of cowhands past, of poker games played with toothpicks, and the stillness that comes from crouching under a metal awning waiting out the rain so you could get back to work.
It was definitely a different way to grow up, as compared to my school friends, but I wouldn’t trade those muddy cowpens for anything.
Have a fond memory of your childhood? Drop a comment below.