The Cowboy Who First Loved Me

He was 29 in this photo.

The picture of health and rugged good looks. He was well mounted on one of the ranch’ s finest saddle horses. His arm held me tightly amongst the noise and music and crowds of our local county fair. What you don’t see is his young bride on another of our finest horses. She was young and beautiful, her brown eyes all lit up with possibilities and big dreams.

I was their first child. That cowboy loved me.

Born in the late 70’s to a man and woman who gave up the glamorous life of city living and military service. When they came home to the ranch, it was hard and harder. And yet, when I soon entered the picture, they were optimistic and hopeful and continuing to dream big dreams.  That cowboy loved me.

Not long after this snapshot, my little sister came to be. And a couple short years later, my brother came along. As we sped along towards the mid-80’s, we kids didn’t know what would soon be on our horizon.  Thank goodness that cowboy loved us.

The next few years were a blur. Things were hard, and then harder. Mom and dad aged some. We didn’t fully understand the extent of the hardship while mom stretched meals, and dad worked harder than ever. We made it through. Thank God that cowboy loved us.

We all grew up. Left the ranch and went to college. Got married. Came back.

Because that cowboy loved us.

This Valentine’s Day dawned cold and blustery. We loaded out and shipped the steers to the feedlot. We hauled corn and fixed fence and prepared for calving season to begin. The cowboy who first loved us was stooped as he walked into the wind. His face is worn with time and labor and care. As I watched him work through the corrals, I noticed how his pace has slowed, how he doesn’t have quite the same spunk as the man who paved the way. How his love for all, has taken a toll.

I think about his sacrifice. The sacrifice of my mom. The tightly knit bonds of marriage and loyalty and service that made this day possible. Many spend Valentine’s Day with fragrant roses and mushy cards and boxes of candy and fancy dinners. While all of that is well and good, as the sun sets on the plains of Nebraska, my heart is full of gratitude.

Because that cowboy loved us.


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