By Glenda Price: CNJ columnist
Max showed up at our ranch headquarters one late spring day, looking for work. Said he’d caught a ride the 25 miles from town with the mailman and walked the two miles from the mailbox. Said he wasn’t a great horseman, but he was willing to do any kind of work at all.
My dad’s ears perked up at that because most people who just “showed up” were wanna be cowboys who felt any ranch work not on horseback was beneath them — or above them — or behind them. Dad sent them on their way without even asking their names, because a real cowhand knows there’s much more than “horseback” on a working ranch.
Max was different. He was a tall, soft-faced young person with sandy-colored hair. He had impeccable manners, too. Dad said he could give him a couple of weeks’ work to start off, and Max said, “What shall I do first?”
The corrals needed cleaning, the job everybody hates, so they began there. Max wasn’t too good at running the scraping equipment, but he handled a wheelbarrow just fine and he and Dad made progress that day.
That night I heard Dad tell Mom, “I don’t think that Max has ever worked with his hands before. He got blisters today and I had to find him some gloves to wear.”
Mom said, “He helped clear the table after supper. We never had a hand do that before. I think I like him. You’re right, though. He seems … soft, somehow.”
After a couple of hard-working days the corrals were clean and the junk hauled off, so Dad’s attention turned to the saddle house. All the saddles needed cleaning, oiling and some repair. Max could handle the glycerin saddle soap cleaning and Neat’s Foot oil followup, but he couldn’t do any of the repair work. That was all right with Dad, who was an expert bridle rein, halter, saddle leather, etc., fixer.
I went out and watched awhile. They mostly worked without talking. Dad’s questions like, “Where did you grow up?” and “Have you finished high school?” got one-word replies and not much more. Max said he’d grown up in New York and, “No, hadn’t finished high school.”
My mom noticed when she cleaned the bunkhouse that Max had several books, mostly Zane Grey novels. Evidently, he was into all things Western.
He’d been there about ten days when the sheriff showed up one afternoon, and went to the barn where they were stacking a newly delivered load of hay for the milk cow. Said he was looking for a runaway girl, about five feet ten and sorta slim with sandy hair cut short.
Max stood frozen. The sheriff came closer and compared Max to a picture of a pretty girl. When he asked Max to remove his hat the “jig was up.”
We never saw Max/Maxine again, but my dad went into a funk for at least a week, worrying because he was sure he’d probably cursed in front of … her. That’s something real cowboys — at least in those days — never did.