The very blustery day

When I was little, we often got huge dust storms, blowing in from the west. It was almost a straight shot from the mountains on the coast, over the desert to the foothills of the Sierra’s where we lived. First the wind would start to blow and the animals would just go crazy; then we could see the big cloud of dust, kicked up by the winds 100 miles away. We would hurry indoors to make sure all the windows were closed and damp towels were on the windowsills. Then, out to the corrals to make sure the troughs were full of water and all the animals were penned up. Better to have a thousand heifers penned up than running loose, looking to break a leg or worse. (What would be worse? Death, doom destruction,  to start with, off the top of my head. I probably can come up with a whole list of worse if I tried.)

We lived way out in the country, a mile off the main road and had our own well and generator. The electricity often went out during these storms and I remember
these huge, time-suck events. I guess we lived so close to the edge that wrack and ruin were on every corner. All it would take is losing a couple of animals and there went our profit. Farming is not the back-to-the-land kind of living city people imagine. Farmers get one payday….after a year’s worth of work and worry.  I can’t live always waiting for the next deal, the next commission, the next crop. My sister can…and all I can say is that we must have been raised in different families. It’s not good; it’s not bad, it just is. I have to have steady income so I can plan.

Every weekend, we ran cattle (vaccinations, de-horning, branding and castrating. Endless, dirty, very smelly). Every vacation? Some huge job. Easter vacation? We picked up brush on 120 acres of orchards, suckered the trees and pounded in zinc slugs (endless and dirty). Thanksgiving vacation? We picked up all the walnuts the harvester missed–hundreds of pounds.  Christmas vacation? Tractor work (endless and dirty and cold).  Summer? Irrigating and chopping cotton. (Endless, hot, dirty). We did the work of the former hired hands from the time I was eight. My mother figured that we were at least as capable as any hired help we had. We did all of the work ourselves, which was money smart but labor intensive. My mother “helped” my Da and we “helped” after school, on weekends and during any vacations. Hired help is no picnic…something is always lost, broken, out of gas and no one knows who did it. When we had employees, they were always using the company gas cards to fiil up their own vehicles…or buy cigarettes or fill up whoever was at the pump and charge then ten dollars less in cash. How do I know this? I checked every single line/date and time on the bills; asked the employees (“Wasn’t me!”)  So I checked the surveillance videos. (It certainly was…and now give me that card, Mr. Ten Cartons of Cigarettes.”)  We now sub out work. Working for yourself, on a farm, coffee shop or construction site…it’s all about the same. It’s not the dollars that will break you. It’s the pennies that fly out the window every second of the day.

So today, the wind was blowing from the west and the streets looked like this

Not as dramatic as I remember.

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