Subtitled, “Father and I Were Ranchers,” it is the hard, true story of 8 year old Ralph and his family ranching in Colorado in 1906. It is not a Christian story but it sure is agrarian, and it’s got a lot going for it. There is a little bit of strong language but, if you read it to your younger ones, you can filter it out in the reading. Marlene was crying when she got to the end of the book.
I’d like to give you a taste of this story. The following excerpt is from the chapter, “I Break Nine Toes” (and, yes, young Ralph did indeed break nine toes). I have edited some of the passage out to save space.
I always liked working at Autland’s best. Fred used to butcher a pig for each of his three alfalfa cuttings, so there was plenty of fresh pork, and Mrs. Autland didn’t seem to care how many chickens she fried, or how much sugar it took to make pies and cookies. She and Bessie could cook almost as well as Mother, and they had lots more things to cook.
While we were putting up Fred’s first cutting of alfalfa, his cousin came out from Denver for a visit. He brought his wife and [daughter] Lucy with him. Some of the other men said he was sponging on Fred because he loafed around and told stories a lot of the time. I think his wife and Lucy were sponging too because I never saw them help with the cooking or dishwashing, but I liked Lucy just the same. She was a year or two older than I, and while the horses were resting after dinner we used to play up in the hayloft of the barn...
Her father had just been fired from a good office job in Denver, but Lucy didn’t care. She said he’d been fired lots of times before so it didn’t make any difference. I remembered what Fred had told Father about needing food for us youngsters more than money, and I told Lucy about it. Then I said that the Autlands had better things to eat than anybody else in the neighborhood, and I thought Fred would let them live right there if they did enough work.
Lucy didn’t like that at all. She asked me if I thought her father looked like a darn fool. Then, before I could tell her, she said that only dolts and darn fools live on ranches, because farmers didn’t need any brains and there was too much hard work to do.
When I got mad, she said that Fred and Father weren’t fools because they owned their own ranches and hired men to do most of the work. I didn’t tell her that Father didn’t own our ranch, and I didn’t want her to think he was a darn fool, so I just kept still. Then she told me that smart men like her father never did have to work hard, because they knew the world owed them a living and there were easier ways to get it than doing hard work...
While we were milking that night, I told Father what Lucy said about her father, and asked him why he didn’t try to do the same thing.
I only saw Father mad two or three times, but that was one of them. He jumped up off his milking stool and came around behind Brindle. His face was gray-white—even his lips were white—and his voice was shaky when he said, “Don’t you ever talk to that girl again.”
He just stood there for a minute, as if he didn’t know what he was going to say, then he put the stool right down in front of me and sat on it. He reached out and took hold of my knee hard. His voice didn’t shake then, but he talked low. “Son,” he said, “I had hoped you wouldn’t run into anything like this till you were older, but maybe it’s just as well. There are only two kinds of men in this world: honest men and dishonest men. There are black men and white men and yellow men and red men, but nothing counts except whether they’re honest men or dishonest men.
“Some men work almost entirely with their brains; some almost entirely with their hands, though most of us have to use both. But we all fall into one of the two classes—honest and dishonest.
“Any man who says the world owes him a living is dishonest. The same God that made you and me made this earth. And He planned it so that it would yield every single thing that the people on it need. But He was careful to plan it so that it would only yield up its wealth in exchange for the labor of man. Any man who tries to share in that wealth without contributing the work of his brain or his hands is dishonest.
“Son, this is a long sermon for a boy of your age, but I want so much for you to be an honest man that I had to explain it to you.”
I wish I knew how Father was able to say things so as to make you remember every word of it. If I could remember everything the way I remember the things Father told me, maybe I could be as smart a man as he was.