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TEAMWORK
or why teenage boys don’t turn in term papers

Catch the heel.  Grab the head.  Down in the dirt and dust we go.  Hot iron.  Acrid smoke.  Hot sun.  Relentless wind.  Injections, one and two.  Let ‘er go.  Do it all again.

It’s the sunny month of May. Grass, lush and green, covers the hills, thanks to some timely April showers. The cows are done calving and those cute little calves are growing by leaps and bounds. There is so much work to be done on the farm or ranch.  

Moms bemoan the fact that kids have to be in school at all in May.  School activities are frequent and bothersome the whole month of May.  Depending on the age of ones children, one is plagued with everything from kindergarten graduation to high school graduation to field days and spring concerts and on and on the list goes.  Activities that pull parents and children away from work that needs to be done for useless time wasting activites that could have been done in April when it was raining.

Kids, they don’t want to be in school in May either.  Whether they are farm kids or not, they’ve got places to go, things to do.  Most of the town girls have jobs waitressing. If they weren’t in school, they could be at work earning good money.

At the school, Mrs. Hanson, the English teacher sighs.  She wouldn’t mind being out in her flower garden.  She’d really like to asign a paper on the British authors they’ve been covering all spring.  She might asign it, but she knows Sonya, Kyle, Coby, Randy, Philip, Audra, and probably a few others will turn it in late, if at all, and so poorly written that it will just bring their grade down.

A few kids, like Kyle and Randy, won’t even remember the paper is due.  They will recite the list of ranches they are working at this spring, helping with the branding of calves.  They know what day they have to be at Gail’s and what time.  They know what day they have to be at Chuck’s, Bud’s, Roger’s.... on and on the list goes.  They’ll take a Sunday afternoon off when they graduate.  But a term paper on British autors.  They will look at her blankly and ask “What term paper?”  “When did you asign that?”  Maybe she should give them a choice of topics. Those who want to write about British authors may, the rest can write about various forms of fly control for cattle.  No, they’d still never get the paper turned in.

Branding time is always a festive time.  There’s plenty of good food and cold beer, hard work, joking and neighborliness.  Kids who can, cut school to work.  Kids who can’t afford to miss more school,  work on Saturday and Sunday.

Ranch owners are up at dawn, with an anxious eye on the weather.  The forecast was good, and they got most everything ready last night, but you never know.  They are saddled up, or have the atv ready and waiting and the morning starts with the closest neighbor showing up for coffee and then they begin moving cows and calves off of pasture and toward the corrals.   By the time they arrive there, more neighbors have showed up and help get the stubborn stragglers in.  

Then it’s time for another cup of coffee and maybe a piece of cake or some brownies or whatever the wife or neighbor lady has baked.  Neighbors catch up on gossip.  The ranch owner runs around franticly making sure he has enough vaccine, making sure the fire is going to heat the branding irons and dealing with all the last minute things that always pop up.  

At the appointed hour, the young men and women begin to arrive, ready to wrestle some calves.  It’s not a job for old men or most women.  You’ve got to be quick and agile and able to get back up after you’ve got down in the dirt. You’ve got to be able to handle 300 lbs of fighting muscle.  The boys team up and have a calf down as soon as everything is ready to go.  Gail comes with a branding iron under each arm. Woe unto anyone who hasn’t worked with him before.  You learn to duck fast when he swings around with those hot irons!  Sonya moves in with a vaccine gun and administers shots under the loose skin on the neck.  Randy and Kyle let the calf up and Gail and Sonya move on to the calf held down by Coby and Levi.  

After ten minutes work, it melds into a well oiled machine, a team.  These kids have been out in the corral living this since they could walk, since they were big enough to fill a vaccine syringe, to catch a calf.  They play football or basketball because it’s fun.  But they learned teamwork LONG before they got old enough to be in sports.

This is why, even though she’s a dedicated, caring teacher of 40 years, Mrs. Hanson doesn’t asign that paper on Brithish authors.  She knows these kids are learning more outside of her classroom than inside it.

And a 2012 political side note: Congress and Mr. Obama, you can eat dirt.  You‘re not going to stop these kids from working on the farm.  You can’t enforce such a law, and we’ll slap a brand on anyone who tries to enforce it.

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