Barbed Wire Bonding
June 19, 2019
As kids, we were always anxious to help our fathers (it was always the fathers those days) in their work. We were participating in the adult life, plus we learned new and fun things. The work was enjoyable until we were old enough to be paid; that's when it became misery.
One task that became an annual project for us as children was helping to roll the old barbed wire left by the homesteaders' when they abandoned their claims during the drought years of the late 1920s. Old wire and jackleg fence posts were all over the pastures back then.
Our parents loaded everyone plus the coolers for a picnic lunch into the vehicles and drove the ten or twelve miles to the summer pastures along the Helmville – Ovando road. Once there, those of us who wanted were handed the end of a long strand of rusty barbed wire, tangled and grown into the sagebrush which had volunteered after the farm ground was abandoned. The wire was to be rolled up and hauled away.
Getting old and rusty barbed wire into a roll is not the easiest task - especially for a child. After starting the first loop, neither too big or too small, the roller makes a few revolutions and then passes the wire over the other strands each time a partial revolution is made. That holds the strands together in a tight roll.
It was a lot of work – even for the adults, and we kids loved it, partly because we could quit when the work got tiresome. Until we were old enough to be paid (usually 11 years old on our place), other than our chores, we were never told to work with the adults if we didn't want to.
The afternoons were difficult. With the hot sun, the mosquitoes and horseflies, plus the ticks and the dust, from the sagebrush, the task demanded commitment. We usually made it all afternoon, largely because we knew we could quit, but our childish pride made us keep up with the adults who were engaged in the same task as we were.
We also participated in the construction of new fence. The work was varied, not tedious and boring like rolling old wire. When we built with steel posts, we helped by raising the posts off of the ground for the adult with the driver to put them in the ground.
Then we kids sorted the little wire clips, and as we got a little older, we fastened the new barbed wire to the posts. There are still fences that I helped build over sixty years ago, and I remember the jobs every time I drive by.
It was when I got older and was in high school that I came to enjoy the fencing process. The heavy tasks like driving the steel posts would make my biceps huge for the girls in school, I thought. The tan I got by refusing to use a hat and wearing sweatshirts with the sleeves cut off at the shoulders made sure I didn't suffer the shame of having a "farmer's tan" when I got back to school. The adults were aware of my pubescent pride and manipulated me to do all the heavy work I wanted while they watched and offered advice. If there had been no girls in high school, I might have avoided that brutal job.
Bonding between child and parent is furthered when the two work together for common goals – both long and short term. The differences between adult and child are reduced in number, and the child can see the reasons for the adult's directions and admonitions. Parent/child relationships are strengthened because both parties (at times all three) participated in something that offered a common and concrete goal. The order, "Clean your room." can seem arbitrary to a child, but wrestling rusty wire into a roll has an actual purpose.
It's only later in life that some children (especially boys and their fathers) reach a point where the son considers the father to be a senile old fool as far as work and the cattle are concerned. The father, in turn, knows that the son is a near-worthless, drunken, libertine, who will run the place into financial ruin if he's ever given free rein on the ranch.
That stage can last a few years when conversation is rare and stilted. But as they both age, they realize that their battle isn't with each other, it's with a climate that doesn't rain, and an economy that doesn't pay the producer.
Eventually, the son realizes that maybe the "Old Man" does know something about a cow and ranching and the Old Man accepts the fact that the son is willing to work and give up the parties.
When they drive by the stretch of fence where the son, when he was just eight, helped the father roll up old wire, both look and remember that hot afternoon.
But neither speaks about it.