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Most everyone’s view of the west is based on the romanticized, gussied-up version of this region of the country. Somehow the real picture of a Westerner gets lost in the shuffle and the qualities that represent those who struggled to make a living on the land recede into the background. Reliant on themselves for most everything, Westerners have always embodied independence, self-reliance, honesty and plain speaking.
Recently the first Westerner I’d encountered came to mind.
“S’pose you youngsters could use some help…”
Dressed in a snap-front shirt, Wranglers and carefully creased cowboy hat, he climbed down from the cab of his pickup and called across the creek. Our car was stuck in the mud. He drove slowly to the edge of the opposite bank, peering down at the unfortunate vehicle trapped in the shallow muck of a mountain creek bed. Quickly accepting his offer of assistance, I started to explain how we found ourselves in such a predicament.
“Now hold on—no need for cuss words.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I told him, although I had no clue what had slipped out. I did not recall saying anything offensive. His ramrod posture and taciturn manner assured me I had offended him. I was sure he was going to turn around and leave. Although he was the first of the courtly older cowboys to offer assistance over the years, his behavior was not unique.
Nostalgia for the days gone by is evident in most western communities. Walking a tightrope between realistic expectations and nostalgia, communities that continue to cater to tourists have a tough time dealing with the mixed messages sent by those who put everything in terms of what a little western community should be and what it isn’t.
The understated western view of life still reigns. Things happening around the community have always been summed up by such phrases as “not too bad,” “fair to middlin’,” or “all right.” One learns to take this to mean things are on the up and up generally. Even in this difficult economy most everyone hedges a bit and never comes out and says things are terrible or even depressing. They say vague things like things have been better or when asked, “How are things going for you these days?” they’ll answer simply, “Things are going.”
Ranchers are accustomed to persevering against all odds. References to old machinery abound. Daily conversations include more than a story or two about trying to get by with broken down equipment. They are masters of fixing anything and everything, as they are used to something always falling apart or something breaking, but never having the funds handy to replace it.
“How are you two doing these days?” I asked a friend the other day.
“Oh, you know kid, aging is maintenance. Break and go, fix and go.”