Reminiscing - Growing Up on a Louisiana Ranch in the 1950s
The Early Years
A hub I read the other day made me start reminiscing about the good old days, back in the 1950s and 1960s. I grew up on a ranch / cotton farm outside the small town of Coushatta in north Louisiana. We were about 50 miles away from Shreveport. If you wanted to buy anything, other than groceries and necessities, you had to make the almost hour drive to Shreveport. Unless my Dad was driving, then it took about 40 minutes.
I was the first born and both Mom and Dad were in their mid to late thirties when I came into the world. My Dad was born and raised in France. Mom was born and raised on a farm near Coushatta.
According to them, I nearly died the first hot, humid summer, but being a rather stubborn little thing, I pulled through. I spent my early years roaming all over the land, learning about the creatures that dwelt there, both wild and domesticated.
Life on the Ranch
My siblings and I had acres of pasture land and forests filled with wildlife to explore. There were also streams and Bayou Pierre plus a pond to investigate and to fish in. The farm pond was down in the pasture within walking distance of the house. It was like a magnet to me. There was so much to do and see there. You could fish or watch the insects and frogs in the shallows. There were many snakes and turtles in the pond, too. Birds made their nests in the trees and bushes and wildflowers were all over the place. Every time I went down there, I learned something new. Of course Mom banned us from going near the pond without an adult unless we wore life preservers. This stipulation put a damper on our enthusiasm and desire to visit on summer days.
My Mom taught us about practical things like picking and preparing blackberries, peaches and other fruits and vegetables. She had a large and beautiful flower garden filled with daylilies, Bearded Irises and many bulbs. Mom taught me how to plan gardens and landscape a yard. She also tried to expose us to culture and fashion. I was just as comfortable in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt as I was a ball gown. But the sewing and the dance lessons were put to good use in later life. I suppose Mr. Lynn's charm course helped to soften my rough edges a bit.
Dad taught us all how to fish and how to fire a gun, but also how to knit and about French food. He used to joke about when his father put him and his brother in a girl's boarding school which was run by a family friend in France. He said that he was always hungry so he volunteered to work in the kitchen, close to the food and any scraps that may drop. He learned a lot about cooking and was as comfortable in the kitchen as he was in his workshop.
Dad could do just about anything that needed to be done around the place, so part of my time was spent watching him take machinery apart and put it back together. My brother came along when I was five, and my seat in the shop was passed down to him, but I still listened and learned.
And of course, being a ranch, there were many cows of all shapes and sizes and a few bulls. At one time or another, we had some hereford, a black angus and even a Brahman bull. The herefords were pretty low key and we could walk right by them, but one black angus and the Brahman bull that we had were a different story. The black angus was small, but he was mean and we had to give him a wide berth. He was known to charge you when your back was turned. The brahman bull was enormous and a little skittish and unpredictable. Dad sold the brahman bull after the first calving because several of the cows had trouble delivering his large calves.
A friend of mine's father had a very large brahman bull that was almost wild. If you went in his big pasture, even if he was way on the other side, he would come barreling over and chase you. One day, we made it over the cattle gap and ran up the small hill and stopped, thinking we were safe. We turned around just in time to see the big bull leap the cattle gap like it wasn't even there. We had a good head start and made it to her house safely, but the incident discouraged any more outside playtime that day.
More About Louisiana
Lessons Learned from Annie Oakley
In the late fifties or early sixties, my grandfather gave Dad a black and white television set. Dad put up a tall antenna next to the house. Now we could get a glumpse of the wonder of the outside world from the comfort of our own home. They opened up the fold out couch and all three of us kids piled on the bed to watch this miracle of technology.
My most favorite show, next to Rin Tin Tin, was Annie Oakley. I already lived the life of a cowgirl, though I didn't have my own horse. The old horse that Dad got when he worked part-time in accounting at the auction barn didn't work out for the kids as planned.
He was a big, dark brown and gentle but strong. I was about seven or eight at the time and the stirrups had been shortened, but were still way to long. Old Sam got it into his head that it was time to go to the barn and began to walk deliberately in that direction as I bounced along, pulling on the reigns and yelling, "Whoa". My little feet were tapping his sides as I bounced, so he thought I was telling him to, "giddy-up". Mom or Jessie (the hired hand) ran to stop us. Mom was a little upset and she decided that we could all sit on the horse with someone holding him. We even took a picture of the event.
Old Sam became Jessie's horse when he rode the fence line to check for breaks. But that little excitement of the "run away horse" didn't deter my longing to be Annie Oakley. When I got older and learned how to shoot my brother's 22 rifle, I practiced. I couldn't hit the center of a 5 of hearts. We weren't allowed to ruin a deck of cards, but I was a pretty good shot. As good as my brother and better than some of my guy friends... and a whole lot better than those girls in town. Yes, I know what you're thinking... Tomboy... and I was. But as Annie would have said, "I cleaned up pretty good." Mom saw to that.
In the tiny school library, I was so excited when I found a biography of Annie Oakley. It was one of those blue biography books with a red circle around the title on the cover and a few line drawings inside. There was a whole series of them. Anyway, when I read the description of Annie, I thought that this book must be about a different person. This was no beautiful blond in a great outfit with shining six shooters and a cowboy hat. This girl was poor and had to hunt for food. She won shooting contests and was made fun of because she was a woman. This Annie had strength and fortitude and did things that other women of the time didn't dare to do. This was the Annie that I should be emulating.
I grew out of my cowgirl stage and wishes of horses and rifles soon turned to dates for dances and dreaming of Paul and John. But somewhere, deep inside, I always remembered the lessons I learned from the real Annie Oakley. All through my life that little Tomboy has been there.
When I was 25, I found my soul mate, a man who was strong enough in his own right to admire my strong will and appreciate my ability to do Tomboy things. Together we fished and hiked and photographed nature and wildlife and also rescued homeless pets. We continue to preserve native plants and wildlife in the 9 acre habitat in which we live and to reach out into the community to urge others to do the same.
Were it not for the experiences I had growing up on a ranch in north Louisiana, I feel that I would not have developed the determination to do many of the things that I do today. Life is what you make it. You pick out the things you are good at and develop those skills. One thing about growing up in the country, that you learn early, is how to improvise. Another is to never stop learning. Every day of your life learn something new, no matter how small. ... And always, always keep the wonder and beauty of nature close to your heart.
A thought provoking book in which the author shows us an alternative future, one in which parents help their children experience the natural world more deeply, thus finding the joy of family connectedness in the process.
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