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Judith E. "JJ" Johnston




Sometimes nights get mighty lonely and I begin to wonder why I try
Working way out on these ranches where I watch the eagle fly.
And the brightest lights a shining are those that twinkle up above
And my mind begins to ponder, leaven this life I truly love.

Cause reality is sinking in; I don't bounce like I did when I was young.
Any more I'm not eat up with being brave, and things seem to hurt more when they get sprung,
or bruised or broken and I seem to bleed a little more profuse.
My back and joints are aching from all this physical abuse.

I guess I've finally matured, cause health insurance seems more important than
   my saddle or my hat.
Why, always before I could pick up on a moments notice, all I needed was
   transportation and my tack.

Use to be, I loved to travel, seeing sights and having fun.
Strangers were just friends I hadn't met yet, and I never knew which one
Would turn into my best buddy, or a mentor who helped my horse skills to progress.
And my life is all the richer for the ones who've showed me that success
Was not so much in the winning but in the process of the try.
And if I'd truly done my best, then there wasn't any reason why
I shouldn't hold my head up proudly, smile and give God a heart felt  "thanks"
For the opportunity and ability and for all the times that truly rank
As some of my best memories, moments forever etched upon my heart
Of true friends, good dogs and great horses, from this life I never would depart.

But 40's just around the corner; it's knocking at my door.
Even though I'm still plenty able, I've started thinking that there's more
To life then ridding horses, and doctoring cattle for my pay
Or coming home bone tired at the end of a long hard day.

Honestly, I never thought I'd see this day a coming, why, I was going to cowboy my whole life.
Figured I'd keep on training horses, for different ranches, until I became some cowboy's wife.

As a single woman, I worry that I've no retirement, nor one of them 401K's.
With the way Social Security is, I need to start putting away
Some kind of savings, something I can look forward too .but heck,
On cowboy wages, there's always more month left, then money in my check.

Here lately, I want my own curtains at the windows and pictures on the walls,
And color coordinated throw rugs lying scattered down the hall.
Someplace I can come home to and know its mine to keep
But to buy a piece of land, for me, the price is just too steep.

So' I've been thinking about moving to the city and learning how to type
On one of them computers that you 're always hearing so much hype.
About, how it's the wave of the future, but all this while I've been living in the past
And I'm afraid if I get much older.well, my life will have just gone by too fast

It truly is a struggle, about the hardest thing I have every done
Deciding, if I stay with what I'm doing, or go back to something I already know is not much fun.

See, years ago I left the city and office work behind
Decided I'd pack up and follow my heart's desire, working horses was more my kind.
So I've traveled round the country learning my trade from some of the best.
Working long hours, hard work with low pay to see if I'd meet the test.

But now I lay at night a thinking and I struggle and I fret
I've got to do what others only dream of, and I've never had one regret
Of the roads I choose to travel, some rocky and some smooth
And as I face this new decision I wonder what road I'm going to chose?

Through the lonely hours my dilemma cuts me like a knife
Cause nothing ever stays the same, that's the reality of life.

Judith E. "JJ" Johnston
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

In 1870 two brothers named Benjamin, came from Russia and settled on the Missouri prairie, a half a day's horseback ride from Kansas City. That land is still in the Benjamin family today and is better known as Benjamin Ranch.

In 1957, Howard Benjamin and stock contractor Floyd Rumford put on the 1st annual Kansas City 4th of July Rodeo.  There was no written contract between the two, just two men's word sealed with a handshake.

In '57 Howard and Floyd were young men and their sons were small children. In 1996, for the 39th annual rodeo, their grandchildren were working as pickup-up men and vendors at the rodeo.  I worked for Benjamin Ranch and during the rodeo people would come from all over the United States and reminisce about how they had been coming to the Kansas City 4th of July rodeo for years.  For some, their parents use to bring them when they were little, and as adults they were now bringing their own children.  It was a family tradition.

Which got me to thinking, about all the rodeos that had been put on in the past and all the people who have been a part of those rodeos.  I thought about the partnership and friendship that had developed over the years between Floyd and Howard and what it must have took to make this agreement still work on just a handshake.  And I got to thinking about all the changes that have occurred in our society and the rodeo world since '57 and how the rodeo has still continued on.

On the last night of that rodeo, during opening ceremonies, as I watched Howard and Floyd do their long-standing handshake, from horseback, in the center of the arena, I wrote this poem.

39 Years Of Tradition

39 years of tradition sealed in a handshake and smile,
Betwixt two good friends, who for each other, go the extra mile.

39 years of tradition, with nary a conflict unresolved.
What started with Floyd and Howard, now has 3 generations involved.

39 years of tradition, in the heat and the dust and the mud.
Bringing to Kansas City, cowboy rodeo fun.

With wild chuck wagon races, palominos pulling stages and rodeo queens by the score.
Crazy bullfighters determined bronc riders and barrel racers galore.

Down through the ages, through 4 decades of changes, Jerry Taylor's voice has made the call.
The grand entry's parade, specialty acts on display and the contestants' names one and all.

39 years of tradition all wrapped up in a handshake among friends
39 years of memories, may the tradition and friendship never end.

Judith E. "JJ" Johnston
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

The following year, in the spring of 1997, Floyd Rumford suffered a stroke and Howard Benjamin was fighting Leukemia.  For that year's 40th annual rodeo, they did their traditional handshake from the seat of a horse drawn buggy, instead of horseback.  Floyd Rumford died March of 1998 and Howard Benjamin was buried 10 days after the 1998 rodeo was over.

Rancher's Wife

I'll never be a rancher's wife; it's a life I'll never know
But, it has been a dream of mine, since oh so long ago.
I always figured I meet someone, somewhere along the way
While I was learning' to make a hand, ridden' horses for my pay.

I wasn't expecting no fireworks, no knight in shiny armor to sweep me off my feet
Just someone honest, polite and kind, was the type I wanted to meet.
Oh, I figured he'd be a little ornery, with a twinkle in his eye.
But if we ever said "I do."  We'd "Do" till the day we died.

Now I was working on all the attributes I thought a rancher's wife should possess.
Starting colts, building fence and looking good in high heels and a dress
Stretchin pennies into dollars, getting up early to do the chores
And when there was an extra mouth to feed, making room at the table for just one more

Playing midwife to mares and heifers, doctoring colts and calves.
And thanking God at the end of the day for all the things I have
Like the majestic beauty of sunrises in the morning, and the clean, crisp smell
   and feel of fall
The wonder of life in a newborn calf and miles of wide-open prairie spaces were
   some of my favorite things of all.

But then I turned 40 and decided no one was coming down the ranch's mile long drive
   a looking for a wife.
So I moved to town, got a job - now I breathe the smog and put up with the 
   constant strife
Of houses set too close together, and apartment liven' is even worse
With walls so thin between you that you hear your neighbor's curse

Now my days are filled with driving in rush hour traffic, fighting crowds and honking horns.
Working in small confining spaces, sometimes gazing out the window looking wistful and forlorn

Cause, I still think about the way my life use to be and what it has now become
Remembering what I left behind and the dreams I dreamt when I was young.
Dreams of cattle grazing on a hillside on a place we would call home
And all the puppies, ponies and pickups that we would surly own

I guess everything in life is a trade off, cause I'm finally able to put money in the bank.
But since I stopped working ranches I've gained 30 pounds and there is a noticeable
   swelling through  my flanks.

I still use my black iron skillets and cook enough to feed a branding crew
But I sometime get to wondering, would I have made the change if I'd only knew

How much of my heart I'd leave in pieces scattered out upon the Texas plains,
in the yelp of the coyote, or that it would cause me so much pain
to watch the sun come up between tall buildings instead of from some horse's back
and as the years now stretch before me it becomes more and more a fact - that
   I'll never be a rancher's wife 
it's a life I'll never know.

Judith E. "JJ" Johnston
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

About Judith E. "JJ" Johnston:

I'm a frustrated artist who can't draw a round circle or straight line to save my soul.  So instead of drawing what I've lived and seen, I capture moments in time by painting pictures with words.

I tell folks I have an incurable disease called "Equinenightess" It usually hits little girls - some grow out of it but for others it is a life long affliction. There is no known cure and the only treatment is working long hours for low pay with four legged creatures of the equine and bovine persuasion. Classic symptoms at an early age are an insatiable appetite for anything horse related. In the later stages, those with the illness are known to emit the distinctive aroma of horse, sweat, hay and manure from their person.  I am a classic case in study.

At 12, I got my  first horse given to me by family friends, when their daughter out grew her case of the illness and discovered boys.  I on the other hand only got worse with age.  The rest of my life has pretty much been dictated by my attempts to treat my disease by immersing myself into the equine industry and cowboy culture.

I've lived in Missouri, Arkansas, California, Arizona, Texas and points in between in my pursuit.  Currently I and my partner, an ornery old cowboy, with a gusto for life, and a twinkle in his eye, have 25 head of horses between us.  We are order buyers for people looking for horses.  We buy, sell, train and trade when we're not busy going to rodeos.  

I've been a member of the Missouri Cowboy Poets Association since the beginning.  I wrote an article about Cowboy Poetry for a local paper around these parts called the "Rodeo, Roper Review" about 7 years ago and Leroy Watts contacted me.  I put him in touch with other cowboy poets I knew in the state and they created the MCPA.

I don't perform much, I get a bad case of stage fright which causes major "Senior Moments." where my mind goes blank and my tongue lies dead in the water and I have heart palpitations that remind me of rats on a wheel going no where fast.  Besides, I don't write to be entertaining, I write to preserve bits and pieces of who I was and am, where I've been, what I've seen and done and continue to be today.



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