As far as first jobs go, opening gates on my grandparents’ ranch was the best I could ever imagine. I don’t remember how old I was when I started helping. I do know it led to my first experience with the majestic plural.
“We’ll get this gate,” my grandfather would say with a chuckle as we approached the pasture. “We” of course meant me. The worse the weather, the harder he’d laugh. Being the gate-getter led to many other “we” jobs. Post-hole digger, wire stretcher and thistle cutter were some. The list of less than glamorous tasks stretches to the horizon.
My favorite job was mowing hay because I could sit in the comfort of an air-conditioned cab, provided I didn’t break a section on the sickle bar. The same was true for running the baler, but fixing a twisted belt took more time and was far itchier than swapping out a broken section.
One assignment that really made my heart thump was hauling hay out of a bottomland meadow. The trip to involved getting the truck, trailer and its 12,000-pound load up a steep hill with a blind curve.
The first trip was the most daunting, but my grandfather did offer some advice: “You want to go fast enough you make it to the top, but not so fast you lose control of the load. Do that and we’ll be fine.”
He stayed in the field and watched as I gripped the wheel with white knuckles and motored down the road. I made it to the top with momentum to spare and the load intact.
That was the summer after my freshman year at Kansas State University, my last on the ranch. After that I was a city dweller. I got a degree in journalism, fell in love with the Flint Hills and bounced around various newspapers in the area for a little over a decade.
When my title changed from reporter to editor, I began using the royal “we” with reporters. I couldn’t utter it without thinking of my grandfather and the ranch.
I’m sure I’ve romanticized much of the work. Some was tedious, most was hard. Harder than sitting in an office looking at a computer screen. But I’d often thought about getting closer to my rural heritage. Then the opportunity at Kansas Farm Bureau came up, and now they’re stuck with me. Don’t worry, we’ll be OK.
And my grandfather wasn’t above using the majestic plural to help me avoid embarrassment. The best example is when he helped avert a catastrophe of my own making.
I was probably 5 or 6 when it happened. I had followed him out to the shed to see a baby calf. While he was busy with the calf, I rolled the gate that separated the tack room from the pen off its track. I could tell something was wrong, but I didn’t know how to right the gate. Just as I started to panic that I’d done serious damage, my grandfather came to my rescue.
“We’ll fix this,” he said as he hoisted the gate into place.