The school year is one of those things that just sneaks up on you no matter what. One way or another, there it is, and you’re left wondering what happened to that sweet, sweet summer. Indeed, it is now a distant dream.
I could tell you all the things I did this summer, including working… and working… and working… But I won’t. You see, per my job, I sign a contract saying that I will not post anything on social media about the children that I care for during summer.
Truth be told, I love my job. I go to work singing along to the radio with a big smile on my face thinking, “Yay! Another day with my wonderful kiddos!” I love the unpredictability of my job, the endless questions, and the look children give you that tells you you’re in trouble. But…I can’t write about them.
So, because I cannot write about my weekday job, I have decided to write about my weekend job instead.
I grew up listening to country music, and in fact, you can bet your sweet tea that I’m listening to some country tunes right now. I love horses, and wearing boots, and I think cowboy hats are a waste of time. I love long drives in beat-up trucks, and whenever I see a mud puddle, I want to jump into it. What can I say? I’m a country girl, and I have no shame in it.
Every weekend, I become that country girl. Believe it or not, I am a fifth-generation rancher. Well, not a rancher. My dad is the rancher, I’m just his buddy. I wouldn’t even say that I’m a ranch hand. I’m more like a tag along… I keep everyone entertained, I carry things from here to there including fence posts and jugs of water, I trip and fall a whole lot, and I most certainly do not whistle while I work. I may not be the best ranch hand in the world, but I still look forward to helping my parents with the cows.
When Saturday rolls around, I put on my jeans and boots, and we go cruising to pastures that we lease from up in Kula, down to Waikapu, and all the way to Hana. We fix broken fences, we move cows from this paddock to the next, we cut trails through bushes and groves of cacti, or sometimes we just hang out for a while and go for a walk with our peaceful cows.
Our cows are just about as friendly as Nana, the Saint Bernard from Peter Pan. They are gentle giants that follow you everywhere sniffing your clothes for hidden treats. They love head scratches, and most of them will even lick your fingers if you stretch your hand out to them. They’re like big fluffy dogs with big round eyes and wagging ears instead of wagging tails, though they can’t fit through most doggie doors.
When I was little, I was terrified of them. Indeed, when you can barely see above the grass you’re walking in, a bunch of dark round boulders running toward you is a scary sight! I used to beg my dad to let me hop onto his shoulders, thinking that if I was as big as possible, I would be okay. Still those bodies nudging at the food bag in my dad’s hands were frightening.
I’ve grown a few inches since then, and those humungous ambling shapes don’t scare me as much as they use to. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t want a cow licking my face, but I’ve grown to appreciate them because of the remarkable bond that my dad has with his big fluffy cows.
Remember that little girl on Facebook who brought her calf into the house because it was too cold outside? That’s my dad. Except he would never bring an animal into the house. But the big heart, the ready and waiting smile, the laugh that makes you chuckle along no matter what—that’s my dad. The cows even know the sound of his voice when he calls.
Most weekends when we check on the cows, my dad drives as far into the pasture as he can with the bed of his beat-up truck loaded with tall cane grass, keawe shoots, or even bags and bags stuffed with alfalfa cubes. Sometimes the sight of the truck alone is enough to send his fur babies running, but if it’s not, my dad, my mom, and I will hop out and walk.
We trek single file through itchy grass that scars your pant legs and over rock formations that boarder on mountain climbing. Sometimes we’ll even cross a stream.
Along the way, we check the ground for hoofprints, the fence line for breaks, or the water troughs to make sure they’re working properly. Sometimes we walk for a while, and sometimes we only go a few feet, but inevitably, my dad will stop at the edge of a clearing and holler for his cows.
“Ho!” he calls into the trees. “Ho!” He repeats, lifting his hands to his cheeks and walking a bit farther. “Come-come-come!”
He turns in the opposite direction, beginning his cattle call anew. “Ho!” he shouts into the gulch. “Ho!” Come-come-come!”
He repeats it again and again, until we hear the rustle of heavy bodies moving through the trees, of lazy feet ambling up the hillside. The mamas call back to their babies with a sharp “Maaahhhh!” They toss their heads behind them with impatience and their babies follow behind, still frolicking with their friends when mom turns her head again.
We return to the truck with these fluffy dogs hot on our trail. They part the grass with their fuzzy ears shaking to and fro, running after us so they can sneak a few bushels of grass from the truck bed before my dad can shoo them away.
The ice cream truck, the muffin man, the sample guy at Costco—I’m sure that’s how they view my dad as he tosses armful after armful of cane grass at their feet. He’ll tease them with keawe branches, holding them high so they can only pick off one juicy leaf at a time. He’ll let them lick alfalfa flakes from his fingers with their purple tongues, giggling at them the whole while. He scratches their sides and behind their ears as they tilt their heads this way and that. And then he stands back and admires his babies for a minute or two, counting each head and matching each mother to their calf.
He’s not just my hero, he’s theirs. With the white pick-up truck he’s had since I was born and his scruffy baseball cap, he delivers smiles and glad tidings, not with X-boxes and skateboards, but with blocks of salt licks and a roll of wire to fix a broken fence. He gives them all they need and then some, just as he does with everyone.
My dad retired a few years ago from his job at the community college, and since then, he’s spent almost every day with his furry puppies. Now he spends his days driving around the island with a selection of country music, classic rock and roll, and modern pop on the radio, fixing fences, feeding his cows, and giving them all the love and attention they need. In recent years, he’s traded in his baseball cap for a cowboy hat, and he has a new love of Pink, but he’s still the same ‘ole dad who puts his heart and soul into everything he does. He’s the best dad, cow charmer, and even boss, that I have ever had.