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Barbara Bockelman

BARBARA BOCKLELMAN
Y Bar Ranch, Laverne, Oklahoma

Featured in "The Big Roundup," an anthology of the best of CowboyPoetry.com.

One of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up

Recognized for her poem, Fenced

 

 

Barbara Bockelman writes "I live in the eastern end of the Oklahoma Panhandle 3 miles from  the 100th Meridian which cuts off the Panhandle (No Man's Land) from the rest of Oklahoma. My address is Laverne, OK, but we live in the Slapout Community—a rural community of ranches and farms.  We live on the Y Bar Ranch nestled along a small stream known as Kiowa Creek. I've lived on this ranch for 64 years coming here with grandparents during the Depression and Dust Bowl Days. We had come to Oklahoma when so many were leaving. My husband came to the ranch following our marriage at the end of WWII and we've raised a family of four children here and now have expanded to 21 grandchildren and 5 greats. Ranching is a great life and we've tasted the years with joy. I am also a retired language arts teacher.

I do cowboy poetry programs for organizations and schools in my area. I also appear at various gatherings such as the Oklahoma Cowboy Poetry Gathering at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City and the National Cowboy Symposium at Lubbock, Texas."

Many of these poems and all the illustrations are from Barbara Bockelman's book, On Kiowa Creek. The introduction to that book says "Barbara Bockelman has been writing most of her life. When she was a high school freshman she sold her first story to a handsome senior boy for twenty-five cents. The English teacher accused him of copying it from a magazine." 



Fenced

Just the other day he was kindly told
It might be best since he was getting old
To stand by and quietly watch
A job the sure footed wouldn't botch.

As he stood by the weathered corral fence,
He remembered those many times long since
When he had filled those nimble shoes
While bossing the cattle working crews.

His wife watched from the ranch house door
And saw his shoulders droop even more.
She knew he longed to be right in there
Working where he could do his share.

She knew he longed for the days gone by
For often he would simply sit and sigh,
Then lean his head back and softly say,
"Well, wonder what I'll find to do today."

She recalled his strength and pride
In checking the herd on a long day's ride,
Carefully counting each head one by one
Until he knew that day's work was done.

He'd earned his rest and freedom from toil.
Then why did he long with deep inner turmoil
For the aching muscles and tired bones each night
After the day's work with still another in sight?

But, she also knew the answer quite true.
An old cowboy never really is through
Until the day the last cow is gathered
And life's storms have all been weathered.

Barbara Bockelman
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

The Sod House


The sod house stood, solid and square,
Cool beneath the sun's hot glare,
Warm in the cold, ice and snow —
A safe comforting place to go.

Thick walls held out the world,
Walls built by fingers gnarled
By endless laboring hour on hour
And strength from a higher power.

The sod house promised those hardy pioneers
New life on land earned by sweat and tears
In an unknown place where the wind blew,
The northerner blasted and women made do.

These people survived, the soddie did not.
Times got better, the walls were left to rot.
The soddie became a line in a history book,
A memory in an oldtimer's backward look.

Or are they all gone, crumbled, part of the lands?
On Kiowa Creek, one soddie still firmly stands,
Part of the Oklahoma Panhandle's heritage story —
Rich in it steadfastness and pioneer glory.

Built in the late 1800's as Hess Ranch headquarters,
It sheltered the rancher, wife, son and daughters.
People from far and near came to join Mr. and Mrs. Hess —
Their Fourth of July barbecues were the very best.

After robbing a train near Cimarron, Kansas, in 1893,
The Bill Doolin gang rode south to Oklahoma territory,
Where they dropped in for breakfast at the Hess place.
As soon as they ate, they hurried on at a fast pace.

Max Barth, A Chicago sculptor, used his skilled hands
In the year 1902 to build a soddie that still stands
Sheltered among cotton wood trees planted that same year.
The family living there holds its stout walls most dear.

Another Barth house still stands on his homestead,
Its sod cut with a plow and moved with horse and sled.
He had traded bronze for farming in the year 1904
When a doctor told him he could not sculpt anymore.

The sod house reached out with a friendly arm
Keeping its families sheltered safe and warm.
For as Stanley Vestal said, "The sod house could give
Comfort in a land that asked much of a man just to live."

Barbara Bockelman
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Reprinted from ON KIOWA CREEK, published by Barbara Bockelman.   She adds:

In 1936 my family moved into a sod ranch house built in 1895 located on Kiowa Creek in the eastern Oklahoma Panhandle. We lived in it for many years comforted by its coolness before air-conditioning and warm before central heating. I married and a new house was built. Eventually the soddie began to deteriorate due to termite damage and the walls were  returned to the sod in the west pasture "from whence it came." I treasure the memories of soddie living for that was during the Dust Bowl days as well as the Depression era. I was nine years old and was being raised by two middle-aged grandparents. It gave the comfort and security my family needed in a terrible time.

The sculptor mentioned has art works still in view in Chicago and Denver. He had a bright future but his allergy to chemicals forced his future to change.

My Ranch Home, Illustration by Barbara Bockleman

Illustration by Barbara Bockelman

 

 


Ranch Delicacy

There's nothing like them served crusty and brown,
Piled on a platter, all ready to serve and eat.
It's a dish no chef can every really beat,
But some do look on it with a distasteful frown.

Now, they've been poetically described before
In ways quite comical and droll —
How they might even be eaten raw and whole
By a tenderfoot who didn't know the score.

Now, once when I was a dumb child
I was sure I knew their source
Was a small mountain called Little Horse
In our west pasture all rocky and wild.

All I knew for sure way back then
We had them with biscuits at supper time
All covered with gravy, a taste most sublime
After we'd worked cattle out in the dusty pen.

Some of the neighbor ladies even felt it was  sin
And were unduly shocked and extremely unable
To believe not only did Doe allow them on her table,
She and I ate them right along with the hungry men.

One lady said, "My husband once fried up a batch
While I was off in town grocery shopping.
Believe you me, things really started popping
After I threw the skillet out in a weed patch!"

Then it finally began to dawn on me
As I sat over on the corral fence,
That mountain oyster story was only a pretense
And those oysters had never seen the sea.

After that my main task of the cattle work to do
Was to hold a gallon can in a handy place
To catch those bloody things in a regular race
With Eugene the blue heeler who liked them too.

For many years now we still say in spring and fall,
"Pass the mountain oysters, if you please!"
We don't need any potatoes, carrots, or peas,
Just hot biscuits and lots of gravy —that's all!

Barbara Bockelman
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Barbara Bockelman adds: Doe was my ranching grandmother along with my step-grandad who raised me here on the Y Bar.

Making Do 

"Making do" means using things
Over and over again and again —
Talking about "recycling" brings
A smile as I remember way back when.

Waste was an unacceptable sin
Right along with stealing and lying.
Waste not, want not came before Amen
Along with a penny saved, a penny earned.

Dad's old pants were cut down
To make Brother's Sunday suit.
He knew to wear it without a frown
And pass it on to little brother.

When big sis outgrew her shoes,
Next in line wore them —even the boys
And did so with a smile —never the blues —
At least in front of the grownups.

On Saturday Mother bought bakery light bread
A treat of the weekly trip to town.
"Don't throw away the wax paper," Mother said,
As she wrapped our lunches from Monday to Friday.

We didn't know about the dangers of fat
So we ate lots and lots of crispy bacon
That kept the dripping jar full as it sat
Near the wood range, handy and ready to use.

Mother used the bacon drippings to season
Pinto beans, cornbread, rub on baked potatoes,
Fry fish and potatoes —there was no reason
Not to reuse that tasty, available fat.

From his feed sacks opened each day
Dad saved all of the cotton twine.
It might come in handy along the way.
Scotch tape hadn't been invented yet.

The chamber pot —carried out at daylight
Was quickly upended on the red ant dens.
We hoped to poison the stinging blight
As we even recycled our nightly secretions.

But our best recycling, make-do feat
Came from the old pitcher pump well.
First, I had to pump, carry and repeat
Until the teakettle and water pail were full.

In the tub-like tin dishpan
Mother poured steaming water.
"Come on, girls, lend a hand —
Let's get these done up in a hurry."

Then Dad brought in the separator parts
As soon as the dishes were finally done.
Washing those were not for faint hearts —
They were slimy, slick and sticky.

The sudsy water was then put aside
And the rinse water brought into play.
By now our fingers had crinkled hide
And the water was nutritious and thick.

This all went into the slop pail
And the rinse water came back into use
For Mother was now in full sail
As she scrubbed the floor on her knees.

Finished at last, she wrung the dishrag
Made from a piece of Dad's undershirt
Worn out and put into the  rag-bag —
Then pinned it to dry on a sack twine line.

Now the slop pail was over brimming
As Dad carried it to the hog pen
Where he would add bran and a trimming
Of fresh milk from the morning separating.

Saturday we all took a shivering turn
In the same scalding bath water —
One side would freeze, the other burn
As we quickly scrubbed by the wood stove.

I could go on and on with this recycling epic.
I don't know how we ever survived those times
For we didn't even know we weren't always antiseptic.
We only knew we had to make do to survive.

Barbara Bockelman
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Barbara Bockelman adds: This poem reflects life on our ranch as it used to be before the advent  of rural electrification, indoor plumbing, and the comforts of a better life after the days of the Depression and the Dust Bowl. Raising cattle was not our only endeavor —we did a lot of things to put food on our table and keep the herd fed.

A Dear Departed Friend 

Some men wear pliers on their belts as a necessary tool, but cowboys often choose a pocketknife in their pockets.

My husband lost a friend just the other day.
He didn't think he could possibly go on,
So he searched and searched without luck,
But his dear departed friend seemed long gone.

I knew better than to calmly suggest
He simply find a newer, better, cleaner one.
If I'd dared say even a little bit of that
He quickly would have come completely undone.

He finally gave up and went to work.
How would he cut the feedsack twine?
He muttered low beneath his breath —
Or clean manure from his boots at noon time?

I'd once suggested perhaps he should scrub it
Instead of sticking its blade into othe ground.
He said I didn't know a thing about his friend.
Probably a cleaner one could not be found.

Well, I knew the truth about his friend —
How it could dig for a buried cactus thorn
Or castrate a baby calf or peel an apple
Or clean that calf's nose just new born.

Well, I knew the truth about this friend.
It surely was a happy place for many germs.
I early learned not to mention that ugly fact
Right after I saw him digging for fishing worms.

Finally, I went about my usual morning chores
Of dishes, beds, soap operas, second cup.
I gathered a big load of dirty, smelly clothes
And hoisted the washing machine lid up.

There in the bottom of that tub
A shiny piece of metal gleamed.
I knew instantly without a doubt
The lost was finally redeemed.

He was a happy cowboy that noon
To see his dear old friend long unseen.
I didn't have the heart to say, "At last
You pocket knife is finally really clean!"

Barbara Bockelman
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Presented at the Cowboy Poetry Gathering at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.

Grandad

Grandad was a special man.
To me he was my dad —
To some he was a friend,
To all he was a top hand.

As a boy he came by covered wagon
To the broad Kansas prairie.
The middle one of nine —
His feet were never draggin'.

At age ten he herded cattle
In the belly high grass.
Alone, doing a man's job,
He had to show his mettle.

Then he saw a hearty band
Leave for the Run of '89
And wondered why any man
Would leave rich Kansas land.

The years passed on by
Including the Crash of '29.
Grandad sold hundred dollar cows
For ten and a tear in his eye.

The bottom had been reached
He said one dark night.
The only way was up
Became what he preached.

So, trailing a herd of cows with calves
From a Texas ranch on the South Canadian
He headed for Oklahoma with a trail boss.
He never did anything by halves.

The trail boss laughed and said,
"You know what they say, my friend.
Oklahoma's full of bootleggers and rustlers.
You'll even be apt to take a few head."

Grandad snorted, cussed and reared.
He hadn't wanted to come this far,
But the bank said he had no choice
For it owned the paper on the herd.

Supper time came as the cattle settled to graze
With the crew eating by the chuckwagon.
Grandad lighted up a cigar and sighed
As two riders came up in the evening haze.

"Hello, the wagon, they hollered.
We're looking for two white-faced heifers —
Thought they might be around here somewhere.
Grandad frowned, coughed and swallowed.

"Sure, got right ahead —
Ride through the herd.
Just a minute, I'll go along
And help count them instead."

Sure enough —the count was long
And soon the riders followed
Two heifers that'd joined the herd.
Grandad wondered where he'd gone wrong.

"I can't believe it," he started to cry.
"The minute I hit the Oklahoma line
I became a dad-gummed cow thief
And I didn't even have to try!"

Years passed on, ten by ten.
Times changed, the bank was paid.
Oklahoma land was good to him,
And he always told this with a grin.

"I never thought I'd admit it —
Not on that day in '89
When all those fellows left
That fine Kansas farming dirt.

"But my life here has been great.
Good enough that I will say
The peace and prosperity I've had
Are right next to Heaven's gate."

So he died at ninety-three
And lies buried in Oklahoma soil
Leaving this truth for us:
When you're down, up is all you can see!

Barbara Bockelman
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Barbara Bockelman adds: I learned a lot of early day Western history from the Grandad who served as my foster father from the time I was two years old. He was a master story teller.  This poem and the illustration are from ON KIOWA CREEK, published by Barbara Bockelman.

Grandad, illustration by Barbara Bockleman

Illustration by Barbara Bockelman

This poem is also included in our collection of
 poems about Cowboy Dads and Grandads

Doe

She was my grandmother,
And I called her Doe.
She was the finest lady
Anyone could ever know.

I was only two and a half
The day my mother said,
"Take her and raise her.
Please be her mother instead."

All through my growing years
She was my loving guide
Until I married and went
To my home as a bride.

Doe was a rancher's wife,
A strong, important man
Who often, lovingly said,
"If Doe thinks I can, I can."

She worked beside Grandad
Through years of thick and thin.
She knew how to make do
Using what she had again and again.

Growing old with love and respect,
They lived in east and quietness
Remembering all their years of work
As a time of real blessedness.

Doe died one sunny day in June,
Leaving us with sweet remembrance
Of the years together on Kiowa Cree —
Grandad, Doe and I on our ranch.

I think of Doe quite often
And seem to hear once again
Her voice saying, "Don't look back!
If you think you can, you can!"

1989, Barbara Bockelman from ON KIOWA CREEK 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Barbara Bockelman adds:  Doe gave me love and helped give me a secure home when I needed both the most.  She and Grandad left me and my family a philosophy that has carried us through the "thick and thin" times in all our lives. I believe they represented the spirit that helped mold the strength of the West.  

Illustration by Barbara Bockleman

Illustration by Barbara Bockelman

 

(Posted also in the collection of poems about
Cowboy Moms and Grandmoms)

 

 

 

The event described in BLACK SUNDAY changed our lives here in the Panhandle.  For one thing, the storm made government agencies fully realize something must be done to preserve the soil and a way of life in the region. I lived the experience that day as did my senior citizen friends that I interviewed for a feature article describing the storm. The results of those interviews are woven into this poem.


Black Sunday 

The world was surely coming to an end that day.
Everyone who lived it really felt that way
As the dust cloud rolled in the sky
While ahead birds of all kinds commenced to fly.

We had all seen the pesky duster many times before
And learned to live with dirt crunching on the floor.
We knew how to push torn rags around the window frame
And wake up with pillowcase and dust looking the same.

Sometimes the sun shone weakly through a murky haze
Long before we heard of pollution's smoggy days.
We feared the dreaded cough of dust pneumonia's curse
And some wore dust masks for nothing could be worse.

That Easter Sunday of April, 1935, dawned bright and clear
And we rejoiced that we were spared the dogged fear
Of day after day dust gritting between our teeth,
Layering over the land, covering all that lay beneath.

Now the sky in the west bore a kaleidoscope threat
Rolling, tumbling, devouring all that it met.
"We were playing outside when we first saw that cloud.
'Mama! Come look!' we hollered real scared and loud.

"Mama took one look and told us to get inside fast.
It got dark and Mama said, 'This surely can't last.'
Then she lit a lamp but she still couldn't see.
She stuck her finger right in my eye trying to find me."

"That cloud rolled and rolled just like smoke.
We got under a wet sheet so we wouldn't choke.
You know, we often slept at night that way
And the sheet would be black the next day."

After a dust storm passed and the wind settled down,
It was hard to find a smile behind a worried frown.
Federal Emergency Relief gave us dust masks for one cent
And slaughtered our cattle in a time that seemed hell bent.

Ballgames helped us forget hard times that Black Sunday.
"Boy, it scared the heck out of me when we looked that way
And saw it come rolling half to three-quarters mile high —
There was a funny stillness, then it hit! Oh, my! Oh, my!"

"Yes, we thought a tornado was coming —we tried to leave the ball game.
The car wouldn't start and Jim said static electricity was to blame.
It finally started after he tied baling wire underneath to ground it.
Often you'd see a car bumper dragging a long chain tied around it."

Suitcase farmers came and plowed the sod, sowed wheat, then left.
They came back to harvest and collect, leaving the land bereft.
The first crops were paid for by high prices of 1927-28,
Then 1931 saw low prices, the drought of 1932 sealed our fate.

April 13, 1933, the first big duster whipped across the plain
Bringing in eight years of hopeless work, misery, and destitute pain.
"The big boys down state didn't believe the  stories they'd read,
So a bunch came out to see our land, once alive but now dead.

"Our wheat was already buried under four inches of sand.
The men went to look at the fields and pasture land
Then saw the cloud and ran for the fraid hole instead.
I tell you one thing —they became believers with dread!"

Dust from the storm hung over the Panhandle day after day
And was carried on upper air streams a thousand miles away.
"I lived in Florida and two days later a funny red haze
Dimmed the bright sun and hung around for several days.

"As it cleared some we could tell how hard the wind blew.
We had settin' hens tied in gunny sack —there were two —
Hanging over the clothes line swinging wildly forward and back.
I expect they were through with settin' after that ride in the sack!"

People even got lost in the storm and wandered around in it.
Little Marvin was bringing the milk cow home when the storm hit.
He fell down, lost his sense of direction and ran blindly west.
Searchers stretched a rope across the field to help their quest.

"I rode the school bus and sometimes the storms hit without warning.
Often the only way the bus made it to school on a dusty morning
Was for two boys to hold a rope between them from fence row to row
Guiding boys on each side of the bus telling the driver where to go."

Writers felt the discomfort was worse than the damage to people and land
But those of us who lived those years still belong to a remembering clan
Whose lives and times will ever bear the mark of survival glory
As long as there are those left to tell this sad, yet wonderful story.

Barbara Bockelman
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

This poem from ON KIOWA CREEK is a companion to BLACK SUNDAY. This really happened due to drought, dry pastures and no money to buy feed for suffering cattle.


The Cattle Killing

Even now I can't believe it was ever true.
Yet I was there watching by the fence
When cattle were shot by a government crew
After being sold for a few dollars and cents.

I was eight years old that terrible time
When the government rented our ranch corral
To carry out its bloody, yet needful crime
Against drought, hard times and low morale.

First, thin cattle were appraised
And a killing date designated
When rifles would be raised
Easing what drought and depression created.

They came early by wagon, sled, trailers
Pulled by horses, old cars, or tugged along —
Sad-eyed, clothes showing wear-worn threads,
Struggling in an economy all gone wrong.

Rifles cracked and as each carcass fell,
It was fiercely, quickly dragged aside.
Hunger was the butcher in the dusty hell
Where even a price was given for a hide.

Grandad shook his head and began to frown,
"The world has gone to hell in a basket!"
He spit and pulled his dusty hat down,
"Crazy, I say! There's no way to mask it!

"Mark my word! We'll regret this sorry day!
Sorry cattle! Damn it! Twenty ain't worth it!"
He spit again by his worn boot and looked away,
Then scuffed a pattern in the manure and dirt.

All day the death panorama went on without pause,
Except for the gunman to wipe his gritty eyes.
The bawling quit, beef eased hunger's cause
For meat was free, the crowd's eager prize.

Two friends stood toe to scuffling toe
Claiming the same bleeding, kicking carcass,
While a third man pounced with knife blow
Cutting away a hind quarter with one pass.

I grew weary of the ugliness, the pain,
Pushing and shoving in mindless desperation.
The slashing of honed knife to jugular vein,
Blood fountains rose in Romanesque imitation.

By sundown it was finally finished.
Only blood stains, heavy death smell,
Trampled corral, starving herds diminished
Remained of that awful killing day's hell.

Except, it left its mark behind —
A living memory in my mind.

Barbara Bockelman
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Okie Lady
          Song of an Old Cowboy to His Wife

I first met you in the springtime air
Long before the snows of time
Sprinkled their way into your silky hair.
You were my Okie Lady —all poetry and rhyme.

I loved you in the summer heat —
Your tender ways were all mine.
You loved me full and complete.
You were my Okie Lady —all poetry and rhyme.

I loved you in the autumn haze
Of smoky Indian summer like wine.
You loved me through those golden days.
You were my Okie Lady —all poetry and rhyme.

Now we feel the winter snow
And taste the last fruits on the vine.
Another season we may never know.
You are my Okie Lady —all poetry and rhyme.

You are my Okie Lady fine,
I'll always love you.
You are forever mine,
Okie, Okie Lady, sweet and true.

Barbara Bockelman
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



The story related in this poem is true. We were snowbound for a week before our local roads were cleared. Thanks to these two horses we lost very few cattle. The horses are part of our ranch history, and our memory of that storm remains.

The Sorrel and the Gray

The sorrel horse was young and stout.
When he traveled, he moved right out.
The gray horse was old and slow.
When he traveled, he had no get up and go.

The sorrel was just past green broke,
But he could work all day and never poke.
The gray was way past his prime,
No longer could he turn on a dime.

That winter of '71 moved right along.
Old timers said the cold would be strong.
"Just look at the cattle's long hair,
Sun dogs, rheumatism, the red sunset's glare."

Our younger generation laughed and said,
"More of those old beliefs from Grandad!"
Then one day the sorrel kicked up his heels,
And the gray ran around like he was on wheels.

"Better get ready! The horses know!
Just watch! See if I haven't tell you so!"
That night the snow came thickly down,
Deepening all over the whitening ground.

It fell all that day, then two more.
We wished we'd heeded Grandad's weather lore.
Now the shivering livestock couldn't be fed.
All trace of roads and trails had fled.

The LA Times headlined our snowy plight.
Cattle were starving with no help in sight.
Then the radio said gathered cattle would be fed
By huge military cargo planes flying overhead.

We looked at the snow covering the pasture gate.
How much longer could the trapped cattle wait?
We saddled the sorrel and the gray —
The stout sorrel would lead the way.

Hours later the first bunch was found,
Huddled in a draw, humped and snow bound.
Slowly, surely, thanks to the sorrel and the gray,
The cattle were finally gathered that day.

But, this is not all the story I tell.
The young sorrel balked, lunged and fell
At the first drift he tried to go through.
The old gray knew exactly what to do.

Somehow the old fellow knew where to go.
He found windswept places in the snow
Giving us a safe path to follow.
He sensed where the way was shallow.

Thanks to the gray, the cattle were fed,
The sorrel following where the gray led.
Later, we turned the gray free to graze.
He'd earned that for the rest of his days.

We also learned a lesson that winter of '71.
The old grays and old timers aren't quite done
With helping out, so let's all take heed —
The old grays and old timers can still fill a need.

Barbara Bockelman
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Sometimes I buy one of those glossy, colorful home decorating magazines displayed by the grocery checkout. Every page is filled with wonderful, matching items in the pictured rooms —even down to the soap in the bathroom. One day I decided that would be a good place to start to fulfill my dream of such a home.  This is what happened!

Old Gritty and Green

Around our place we use lots of soap —
Soap for dirty shirts and jeans —
Soap for hands, knuckles, elbows —
Soap for certain words —know what I mean?

Well, I decided just a while back
I was tired of that gritty, green kind
We had in our bathroom soap dish,
So I shopped for the soap I had in mind.

First, it must be scented just right,
Elegant, not medicinal and smelly,
But strong enough to be a good cover up
For such things as contents of a calf's belly.

Then, it also had to be tough enough
To remove grease from finger nails,
Grime from rough elbows and knuckles
Or be a miracle when all else fails.

I looked and looked and finally found
Just the soap I wanted down at Walmart.
It came in a silver and pink wrapper
With a delicate smell delighting my heart.

I polished the bathroom all over —
Scoured out the greenish crusted soap dish,
Put out the new soap all perfumed and pink.
It looked so nice —just like my hopeful wish.

Friend husband came in for dinner late.
I heard him sloshing up a lather.
I could hardly wait to hear his bathroom report.
All he said was he had stray cattle to gather.

Ten minutes, a peck on my cheek, he was gone.
His hands looked clean —the new soap would do.
It surely had worked out real fine.
I'd buy another pink bar or two.

Later, I went to check out the pink soap bar —
I thought I'd gotten rid of that gritty, green one!
Where was that beautiful, delicate pink soap?
This still had the same old gritty, green scum!

Surely —he didn't —he couldn't have!
He wouldn't have dug out old gritty and green.
Then, I knew he hadn't for beneath that coating
A definite, shiny patch of pink could be seen.

After that, I reserved the fancy soap
For a spot in my household magazine dream
Of a bathroom where men only have clean hands
And there is no need of soap all gritty and green.

Barbara Bockelman
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

We had always lived on remote ranches and moved around a lot. I had little opportunity for answers about other people and human facts of life, so I often came up with my own answers as in this poem —much to the embarrassment and sometimes amusement of my middle aged grandparents with whom I lived.

The Pillow

Now, I knew all about calves —
The whole story, not just halves.
But, no one had told me
How babies came to be.

I knew there were a bull and a cow,
Although I wasn't exactly sure how
The cow became so fat and round
Then dropped a calf right on the ground.

Now back in those good old days
Of modest, behind-the-hand ways,
Certain subjects were not talked about
Except in whispers, never, ever right out.

So, when I heard Grandmother say,
"Miz Brown is in the family way,"
I asked her what she meant,
But she wouldn't give me a hint.

The next Sunday I couldn't believe my eyes,
For Miz Brown looked twice her size
With a big pillow stuffed in her dress,
Right there at her waist, more or less.

No one told me why, not Grandmother, not Grandad,
Who said I mustn't ask —that was really bad.
Well, they didn't know how bad it was,
For I never settled for "just because."

Finally, I saw only one person knew the answer,
And my curiosity had grown to a mental cancer.
Miz Brown held the key to the cure
For only she could tell me for sure.

The next Sunday I was ready to ask my question.
Right after church would be my best selection.
I'd run right up and ask her real quick.
Then, someone said, "Miz Brown just took sick."

Well, I sure knew better by now —
There was no asking why or how
Miz Brown had to do all of that
Just to get rid of a pillow plump and fat.

Two weeks later she was in her regular place
With Mr. Brown grinning all over his red face,
While she held a blue bundle in her arms.
In my head clanged a bell of four alarms.

Right after the last Amen would be my chance.
Before Grandmother could stop me, I would advance
Right down the middle aisle to Miz Brown's side.
I'd find out about that pillow! I had no pride!

The preacher slowly drew out his Amen
Giving me a chance that was wide open.
I scooted right down the aisle to Miz Brown.
Dodging Grandmother's reach and sudden frown.

"Hi, there, honey!" Miz Brown beamed at me,
And held the  blue bundle down for me to see.
One look at that wrinkled red face was all I needed.
My goal was right now as I loudly proceeded.

Why I was so rude I can't even guess!
"Why did you wear that pillow in your dress?"
I heard Grandmother gasp as Miz Brown smiled,
"Why, it wasn't a pillow! It was this child!"

Poor Grandmother! Miz Brown laughed and got pink.
Grandmother said, "What will people think?!"
I vowed I wouldn't go to church next Sunday,
But Grandmother changed that plan right away.

I learned this lesson then and there.
The world forgets and doesn't really care
Beyond today and laughing loudly at you.
Tomorrow there'll be something else to do!

1989, Barbara Bockelman from ON KIOWA CREEK 1991
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

(Posted also in the collection of poems about
Cowboy Moms and Grandmoms)

 

 

End of Drought

The dry earth had seemed
To lose its grip on hope
Of moisture's benediction
On parched plain and slope.

The earth gathered in its mantle
Of wilting leaf and grass
And settled down to wait
For life itself to pass.

Then God looked down upon
The silent, brooding scene
All seared and darkly brown
Devoid of intended green.

"Oh, foolish earth!" he sighed,
"To wrap thyself in grief.
The time will never come
To deny thee mercy's relief."

Then with His loving hand
God summoned snow and rain
And gently sprinkled it
On fields of grass and grain.

God tenderly smiled to see
The earth stir and unfold
Its mantle closely drawn
Against the dryness hold.

2002, Barbara Bockelman 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

In June, 2002, Barbara Bockelman wrote about the above poem: "The Oklahoma Panhandle is gripped by drought somewhat a reminder of the Dust Bowl drought of the 1930's. Our prayer is continually for rain for many ranchers and farmers are selling all or parts of their herds. The local sales barns are busy every sales day with huge runs. Wheat fields stand barren.  Yet, we always hope for rain and have faith the rains will come." 

 

How Did He Know That?

Grandad and I saddled up old Baldy and Bandy
And went out to ride the pasture the other day.
"Let's check the cattle in the east one
And catch the river bottom on our way."

Just beyond the ridge to the south of us,
Grandad saw a big black bird circling overhead.
"We'd better ride over and check that out.
That buzzard may be seeing something dead."

"Yep," Grandad nodded.  "I thought so. Look there.
That old steer got lighting struck last night —
I was afraid that might happen and it sure did.
Pardner, those old buzzards are usually right."

Now, how did Grandad know all that?

Grandad and I went fishing about a week ago.
He said the work could wait for a while.
He and I needed a little rest and some fun
Which made Grandma nod her head and smile.

We sat down on the bank and threw in our lines.
Soon I got a bite and I started to yell.
"Hey, padner, don't do that! Those fish can hear.
Believe you me! Your voice is just like a bell."

"Grandad, fish don't have ears. They can't hear."
Grandad just grinned and sat back on the bank.
Then, I got another bite, but I kept still.
The line went out and I gave a great big yank.

Grandad just grinned at me and that big old fish.
We settled back and caught some more
Including a bull frog with a piece of red cloth
Dangled on my fish hook just off shore.

Now, how did Grandad know all that?

Grandad and I were fixing fence while back
When I felt my belly hit my back bone.
It must to getting dinner time, I thought.
I decided to sorta give a little hungry groan.

Grandad didn't pay attention —just kept right on.
He hadn't worn his wrist watch I was sure.
I was a terrible fix  —just starvin' to death.
There's just so much a fellow can endure.

The Grandad took off his straw hat,
Wiped his brow and squinted up at the sun.
"Well, about twelve straight up, pardner.
Let's go and see if Grandma's got dinner done."

Now, how did Grandad know all that?

While back we needed to bring in an old bull
That was crippled and downright slow.
We started out all right it seemed
But soon he sulled and didn't want to go.

Grandad tried every which way to push him
But nothing worked —he just got mad
And tried to butt Grandad's horse in the side.
Grandad's language even got a little bad.

Then just about the time we all gave out,
We saw another bull come over the hill.
"Well, pardner, there's our answer —
If that don't work, nuthin' will."

Sure enough, just like Grandad said,
The old bull turned and lit out
Following the other bull down the trail.
We got both to the pens without a shout.

Now, how did Grandad know all that?

Grandad and I went out to drive some cattle
To some fresh grass along the river west.
I was in a hurry and started to push them
I waved my arms and began yelling my best.

Suddenly, they all scattered all over the place
And we had to ride really hard and fast.
Grandad came by me and quietly said,
"Do that again and you'll have a lesson to last!"

Now, how did Grandpa know all that?

School starts soon and I have to go.
Grandad and Grandma took me home yesterday.
Grandma hugged me and said, "I'll bet Grandpa
Educated you this summer in every way!"

Now, how did she know all that?

2002, Barbara Bockelman
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

This poem is also included in our collection of
 poems about Cowboy Dads and Grandads


Two As One

Two seeds dropped to the ground
In autumn's silence all around.
Two seeds slept the winter through
Side by side but separate too.

Winter brown turned to spring green.
The two seeds all winter unseen
Stirred with life deeply within.
Each began to break from its skin.

Then two green tips started to grow
Closely beside each other with roots below
That slowly began to entwine
Within the warming soil rich and fine.

Summer rains fed the waiting land
As the sprouts became a firm stand
Of two trees soon appearing as one
Thriving under rain, snow or sun.

As the seasons sped on by,
Two trees grew toward the sky.
Birds nested high in those trees
Along with  hives of humming bees.

People passing by often stated,
"See how those two are closely related.
There's no way to pry them apart
For the two trunks surely have one heart.

One day the leaves of one tree browned
And fell softly, sadly down,
Baring the limbs of life now unseen,
Leaving one tree alone, but still green.

There was no way to tear apart
The trunks that seemed one heart.
Several seasons came and went.
One had leaves, the other dry, spent.

One last time another spring arrived
But no new leaves bloomed and thrived.
Two trees still stood never apart.
Truly there was only one heart.

Yesterday I passed by the place
Where the two trees had shared a space.
Two green shoots were clearly outlined
As new life came from the two trees entwined.

The old will pass away.
The new will greet another day.
Love makes two hearts one heart,
Always together, never apart.

Between two graves stands a stone
Etched with a tree standing alone.
Look again and see there are two
Hearts entwined in love always true.

2006, Barbara Bockelman
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Barbara told us: "Two as One" is typical of couples working side by side all their married life as so often happens in the ranching world. Recently such a couple in our community entered a nursing home together taking along their favorite chairs, etc. The wife could have lived alone but she chose to be with her husband of over seventy years. A son and his family now operates the family ranch leaving little for the couple to do —this includes tender care of the old ranchers beloved horses.  

Sadly, in July 2006, Barbara added: Since submitting this poem, one of the dear friends mentioned in the intro died some weeks ago. Mary was a valued friend from "always" and had great influence on our own lives and the community.

 

 

Read Barbara Bockelman's story of her grandfather's 1932 trail drive from Texas to Oklahoma—which includes the firsthand story of a Cowboy who hires on as the trail boss, from his own letters—in our Western Memories project.  Barbara was along on that drive to Oklahoma, and she still lives on the place where her grandfather settled in those Dust Bowl days. 

 

 

You can Barbara Bockelman's Christmas story, The Toaster, posted with the Holiday 2001 collection of poems and stories, and her poem You and Me, posted with Holiday 2000 collection.

 

 

Barbara Bockelman and her husband

 

 

 

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