The Branding Party
J.W. wanted to come along because he's always lookin' for a reason to iron his Wranglers. Besides, I told him I was goin' because there might be some single cowgirls in attendance and it was time I got serious.
We went in my new Mercedes but J.W. dusted off the seat before he would sit down. It really wasn't a new Mercedes because it was built in 1976 but it was new to me.
A salesman down in Petaluma told me the car belonged to his uncle in New Jersey and he was sellin' it for him as a personal favor.
It was a big, black SEL and I guessed it might have been owned by someone in New Jersey so took him at his word but only after consultin' with J.W. I was a little concerned about findin' parts to replace the ones so badly needed.
"Hell, Ben," he said, "there are about as many old Mercedes junkin' around in Sonoma County as there are hippies." he said. "I'll bet it's a one to one ratio."
It sounded good enough for me so I bought the car and somehow nursed it back to Cazadero. What I didn't know was those hippies usually die before their cars do and what happens to the Mercedies after that is anyone's guess.
I'd pretty much worked the engine into shape and put new seats in by the time branding came around but it still looked like we'd purchased it from a car-theft ring in Tijuana. Nothin' really matched.
Well we settled into the new seats and, with the engine cooperating as much as possible, we headed out for the branding party.
"I hope some pretty girls show up," I said as we got out the gate.
"I'm lookin' forward to havin' some fresh Rocky Mountain oysters," J. W. replied.
We arrived at the branding party a little bit late because J.W. couldn't decide what hat to wear.
It wasn't quite Memorial Day so he was stuck with beaver but there were so many choices in his closet.
"How about that black one I got from Mom on Christmas?" he asked.
"Well, she does have good taste," I concurred and wondered if that was where he got his fancy ways.
The branding was in full swing. Calves were being loaded into a chute with two or three neighbors and friends on each side as each calf came down for the treatment.
I inserted myself where I could hold the head and try to keep the animals calm.
They were strong and didn't want to be there but I've found a gentle strokin' of the ears and neck and some sweet talk can settle things down.
I worked solid for over two hours before takin' a break nearby where I could help corner the ones who somehow struggled out of the grip of six cowboys on adrenaline rushes. It didn't happen many times so I had a chance to talk to a pretty cowgirl who was nearby.
"Sure glad the rains have let up," I said to her. The weather is always a good topic to start with when you meet someone new at a branding party.
"Yes," she agreed, "but it's still a little sloppy in here." I nodded and couldn't think of what I should say next.
"I don't think we've met," she added while sticking out her hand. Her handshake was strong and I like that in a girl. The worst thing you can give a cowboy is a limp fish at the end of your wrist.
"Sorry," I said with a little bit of hesitation. "I'm Ben Marshall."
"From the Marshall Ranch up near Cazadero?" she asked. "I've heard you're a pretty good hand to have around."
Well, that warmed me right up. If you ever want to touch the heart of a cowboy, tell him he's a good hand to have around. "That's right, ma'am," I said. My face was warmin' up, too, so I looked away in time to see J. W. approachin' us.
Just as J.W. was goin' by the chute, a calf broke loose and ran right at him with six worked up cowboys in hot pursuit. The pretty little cowgirl jumped into the fray as J.W. went tumblin' into the mud.
I helped my brother up while they were still tryin' to corner the calf and tried to ignore all his hissin' and spittin' as he struggled to his feet.
After J.W. was put back together, he immediately left to find somewhere to clean up. By now there were more than a dozen cowboys and cowgirls tryin' to wrestle the calf back to the chute.
Well, they finally did and, thankfully, the pretty cowgirl came back to where I was standin'. I finally thought of somethin' witty to say.
"I've never seen such fight in a calf," I pondered. "They should let that one grow up to be a bull."
The cowgirl gave me a look I didn't quite understand and said, "That might be tough, Ben. She's a heifer."
Am I Pretty?