3 min read

The Fur Ranchers

Sure, a goddess can get cats to pull her chariot, but have you ever tried actually herding them?
The Fur Ranchers

The beauty of life is that each of us is presented with a clean, open canvas in the beginning.

Our problems arise in the fact that, generally, we aren't allowed to paint on the canvas ourselves. That would be too easy and make good horse sense. No, my friend, you are presented with at least a triad of helpers, bless their hearts, that do the painting for you, at your instruction, with shaky hands and half-wits.

Even with your best intentions, sage instruction, and a boatload of inspiration, the picture developing is never quite what you envisioned when you started.

In fact, it's a lot like herding cats.

I raise a glass to all who are engaged in this unwitting pastime. You don't ask for the situation; it becomes a thing that clings to you like those little burweed monstrosities that take over your shoes and pant legs.

If you dwell on it too long, you'll feel like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. And you are not properly herded.

When I think of people who spent time herding cats, I think of Fat Winnie. You might have an objection to my calling her "Fat Winnie," and I don't really give a damn. You weren't there. Lemme tell the story.

We didn't always call her that. She graciously corraled it when she shifted her 300 pounds around in a forest green sundress and told my friend Lindy and me, "I know you call me Fat Winnie. And I am fat. And I can laugh about it. Some folks can't help their weight. Words hurt some people though, and one day you gonna hit somebody with those words, and they gonna hit back. It won't be so funny then." She balled up her fist with a grin and touched Lindy's nose, "How'd ya like it if someone punched you right there?"

"I wouldn't."

"Then don't do it."

So we didn't.

Winnie had a brother. He took all of himself to Vietnam, and only part of him came back. Ed brought all of his body back, he just dropped some marbles along the way, and the sack of marbles he did bring back was incredibly partial to strong drink.

He was a drunk, people. Eddie was a drunk.

Eddie had a lot of other genuine talents and skills, one of them being the trick of holding a full chaw of Copenhagen snuff in his gum and drinking a chocolate milkshake at the same time without mixing the two.

Pro Tip: I learned how to do this very thing whilst working for the railroad. You keep the chaw up in the front of your jaw and tuck it down as tight as possible. Then you shove the straw to the back of your tongue. I was a Skoal guy back then, usually peach flavor.

Winnie and her mother were Mormons. They were beautiful and peaceful folks, and I still benefit greatly from every life lesson they taught me. Yes, they kept a year's worth of food on hand and taught me why and how without shoving their faith down my throat.

Then they started the roasted peanut business and put me to work. I loved it and got about all the peanuts I could eat for free. The days for Winnie were long. After driving all day delivering the small bags of peanuts to convenience stores, she would clean up, eat, then head to the bar where she worked as a bartender.

Mormons don't drink.

But when your brother does, and it's an illness he's probably not coming back from, it's simply another cat to herd.

I didn't realize the poignant demonstration she was giving at the time. Lindy and I were after the Crown Royal bags she would bring us back from time to time. My father used to say that she was "a damned saint."

It made no sense to me that a bartender would ever be a saint. Four decades later, I see clearly that to sacrifice your personal druthers to have an eyeball on a brother you can't help in any other way, no matter how many times you try to set him on the right path, no matter how many meetings you convince him to go to, and the mass amounts of money you earn the hard way to keep him alive, it's a hard row to hoe.

In the end, herding cats is herding cats. You would and should be otherwise doing many other things, but what you got's what you got.

Ed finally got sober in his last decade.

Amazing, I know. And Ed left me with quite a few stories. But he made his amends and gave his sister one less cat to wrangle, so last I heard before they took the interdimensional subway and left this mortal coil, everything was peachy keen and hunky-dory.

Not bad for a lifetime's work.