I went on a lot of rides with you in that old chore truck. It smelled like dust and oil and old hay. The seats were black and worn completely slick. My legs always stuck to them in summer and I could feel the springs just beneath the vinyl every time we hit a bump. And we hit bumps a lot, driving through deep ruts cut into the ground by cattle who roamed the fields in long lazy lines.
Everything was a little lazy in July. I know I moved slower. But you didn’t. You couldn’t. We’d go out early while the sun was still low in the sky. After I hopped out and opened the gate, you’d pull into pasture after pasture, tapping the truck horn to call the cattle to breakfast. They’d come up and eat, sometimes pausing to breathe at me through the open window, their shiny noses bigger than my hand. While they ate, you’d count them, every single one important. Hundreds and hundreds of them, all written down in the notebook you kept in the pocket of your shirt.
When we finished counting cattle, we’d go to that little town close by, the one that really wasn’t more than a gas station and a handful of old, pretty little houses. We’d go in and you’d nod at the farmers standing around the coffee pot. Sometimes you knew their names and they often knew yours. Sometimes they used words I wasn’t supposed to hear. But they always meant the very best.
They’d ask me if I was helping Dad, I’d nod at them, and they’d wink at me before they turned back to their friends and slurped down more coffee.
You’d buy me a Pepsi with ice in a Styrofoam cup. But we called it a Coke. And then we’d drive back to the house with the windows down, the smell of just-cut hay fields coming in through the windows and the sound of the highway keeping time to the AM country radio crackling through the speakers.
(The photo at the top is one I took of my dad in all his rancher glory.)