The cookhouse offers the perfect date night location for a ranching couple separated for three weeks by fall works.
I packed our usual suitcases, bed rolls, extra blankets, and car snacks before the kids and I left for cow camp to visit my husband where he had been day-working. I also straightened my hair, spritzed on perfume, and applied makeup like it was Ladies’ Night at my favorite bar in college, circa 2007. I hadn’t seen Jim in three weeks and dinner at the cookhouse was as close to a date night as I was going to get. It was definitely an occasion that merited eyeliner.
I was undeterred that our date night included three small children and a bunkhouse full of day-workers. We had gotten married when I was five months pregnant and had lived on remote ranches for seven years, so our own offspring and a random assortment of cowboys were both a constant presence.
Plus, it was good for the kids to sit at a new table and socialize with other adults. They were excited to learn commonly used cowboy phrases, such as “I hope we get to rope something today,” “Those big calves sure looked nice,” and “Gosh darn hunters better shut the gate!”
I was excited that the cookhouse featured potable water and a bottle of bleach. We’ve previously visited Jim on wagons where the dish washing water came from a nearby river and was stored in a rusty tank. I watched one cook dry the plates on the front of his dirty t-shirt, then shrug and place the dishes in the dusty tub marked “clean.” I’m not sure he bothered to even wash the forks. It was a treat to eat in a cookhouse where not only was the food excellent, but E. coli wasn’t even a significant threat.
We all ate our fill of prime rib, fresh garden salad with three kinds of dressing, homemade dinner rolls, baked potatoes, and cheesecake topped with berries. It was a most welcome change from my standard solo parenting fare of Kraft macaroni and cheese and leftover hot dogs. During his 20-plus years as a working cowboy, Jim has improved his roping, horsemanship, and cattle reading abilities, but his biggest contribution to our continued happiness as a cowboy family has been his decision to pick wagon jobs based solely on the cook’s culinary skills.
“Hey, Jim, want to come work on the fall wagon?” a potential boss will ask.
“That depends on how long it is and how many horses I need to bring. Also, how many desserts are offered after each meal? I’ve grown accustomed to at least three selections, but I’d settle for two pies and a plate full of cookies.”
After the delicious dinner, we collectively retired to the living room to watch a communal movie. There was no Internet connection or satellite dish, so we watched a five-year-old film that was a new release to everyone present. The other cowboys gathered around the TV, sitting on the big couch and several recliner chairs. Jim and I snuggled on the love seat and made out until someone became uncomfortable.
“Ow,” I said. “Did you forget to pack razors? Your beard stubble is making me uncomfortable.”
“Sorry,” said Jim. “How can I make it up to you?”
I glanced slyly around the room, then whispered softly in his ear.
“Quick, while no one’s looking, get me a brownie from the kitchen.”
And he did. Mostly because he wanted to grab an extra one for himself, but I appreciated the sweet gesture nonetheless. After all, what is a date night without a little extra sugar, right?