Real Life Ranch Wife

Cooking on the Wagon

cowboy camp with Jolyn Young running the cook wagon

I twice said no to cooking for the Spanish Ranch crew. So how did I get talked into a job serving 10 cowboys, with no electricity and three messy children?

When my husband Jim first asked me to bring our kids and to cook for the crew on the spring wagon, I said no. Then he asked again, and I still said no. I knew that cooking three meals a day for 10 cowboys, plus washing dishes and hauling water by hand, was a lot of work. I also knew that caring for three small kids was a lot of work.

So, why did I relent and agree to perform two labor-intensive jobs simultaneously without running water or electricity? Mostly because we couldn’t find another cook on short notice. Also, in a moment of high enthusiasm born of a rare good night’s sleep and a fresh coat of mascara, I decided I needed to go along on our family business’ first big adventure. So, I packed our clothes, grabbed an armload of toys, and headed out to the Spanish Ranch with the cowboy crew to brand their calves on contract.

cowboy camp with Jolyn Young running the cook wagon

At first, camping on the wagon was super fun. The weather was warm and the kids played in the creek while I kneaded bread dough and washed dishes. My 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son caught frogs and looked for fish, but I wondered how I would entertain my toddler while I cooked an oversized batch of spaghetti and four loaves of bread. We quickly worked out a system, though. I wiped off the table, and he dumped sugar on it. I cleaned up the sugar, and he scattered toothpicks across the floor. I swept up the toothpicks, and he spilled the juice. I sopped up the juice with a paper towel, and he cried. Then I cried.

Just kidding! I didn’t cry until all the kids’ clothes were dirty, the roof leaked directly over their bedrolls, the counter top in the cook wagon was piled high with dirty dishes, the clock read half an hour before dinner and I realized I hadn’t thawed any meat, and it was snowing. So, I basically made it four days. When the propane heater quit working and my 4-year-old son threw up all night, I woke my husband up at 2 a.m. and told him that I officially quit as the wagon cook.

But I’ll be back out there one day. Because before I left, I looked out the cook wagon door past the vacant teepees. The cowboy crew branded calves that day at a nearby trap, and I watched them make their way back to camp for lunch. My hair was unwashed, bleach spots dotted my shirt, and my feet hurt. Just then, Jim walked up the steps and into the cook wagon. He pushed his cowboy hat back and leaned down to kiss me, pressing his hand into my lower back. And then I remembered why I keep letting myself get talked into these situations.

“I love you,” he said. “Lunch smells delicious.”

“Love you, too,” I replied. “And thank you.”

I turned back to the stove and listened to his spurs jingle as he walked down to the creek to wash his hands before lunch.

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