by Lindsay Michaelson
quietly raised from the well-worn leather boot as I pulled one past my ankle.
I stood to adjust my Wrangler’s over my boots when I heard a scraping
noise and I looked up and out the kitchen window to the porch outside.
Our lanky shepherd rose from her resting-place on the wooden patio, and
heads out toward the clear Wyoming sky. She
broke into a trot and the tall virgin grass spread as she gently moved
through. Still resting on the
porch lay our old lab Casey. His
black fur dully shined in the bright rays of the sun until the moving clouds
that cover the pristine sky blocked the bright sun and he fell partially in
Casey has been with us for twelve years. It was when he was ten and his muzzle was flecked with gray that we acquired Madison, a young and energetic Australian shepherd puppy. I felt almost guilty the day I brought Madison to the ranch. It was in the last several times of moving the cattle that I had noticed Casey’s big lab paws dragging and his long pink tongue hanging so far out of his mouth long before the run was over. I knew it was time to teach another dog to work the ranch. The day I brought Madison home I introduced her to Casey on the patio. Madison was ever happy to meet a new friend and she jumped all over Casey, playfully licking and nipping at his furry neck for attention. He was the perfect gentleman and sat still.
quickly learned the ways of the ranch thanks to Casey.
He taught Madison that she shouldn’t bark around the horses being
saddled in the barn and she learned not to chase the cats by watching Casey
allow them to rub up on his legs. He
showed her to always keep a watch out for the young calves that often strayed
behind as we drove the group, and which steers not to run too close behind.
In return, Madison took years off of Casey.
We began to play fetch with him again and he would go for wild romps
around the meadows with my son Matthew. Madison’s
sprightly step and endless energy gave new motivation for Casey to join her.
However, as the weeks and then years trickled by his age began to be
more apparent. His hearing was
failing him, and I feared he can no longer here my words of affection but
understand them only in facial expressions and gestures.
picked up a water bottle from the counter and head outside for the fresh
Wyoming air. Still lying at his
post on the porch is Casey, his back to the house, watching guard over our
green ranch. I opened the front
door to head toward the barn. Casey
could not hear the door open or close but he felt the vibrations of my
footsteps on the wooden porch and his tail slowly moved back and forth across
the wooden planks.
reached down to scratch between his shoulders, then continued on to the barn
to saddle up my horse. Casey
followed along side me as always. My
husband and my son Matthew were already done grooming and had already begun
tacking up the horses. Madison
sat at the entrance of the barn, her bright eyes shined with excitement for
the run. She whined as Casey
entered the barn and trotted over to greet him and the pair dutifully waited
as we finished getting the horses ready.
the roundup I gazed at the gorgeous Wyoming scene in front of me, the lush
green rolling hills and the thick white clouds blanketing a pool blue sky.
The purity here has never ceased to move me. My tranquility was
suddenly broken as I heard Matthew shout, “Casey, Casey!”
I turned around in the saddle to find Matthew dismounting his horse and
running to a furry black mass lying in the grass.
I reined my horse over to turn around and trotted over to where Casey
lay. I dismounted and joined Matthew alongside my dog. My husband,
in lead of the cattle realized something was wrong and loped over aboard his
mount with Madison at his side. Casey
was unconscious and his breath was so slight.
Long minutes of calling his name and gently stoking his face passed by
as we all sat in the velvet grass around him.
Madison, sensing something was wrong with her friend, kept making this
low, terrible whining noise. My
husband yelled at her to shut up. The
milling cattle began to graze. Tears
began to wet Matthew’s face and I felt them too forming in my own eyes.
I blinked them away. Finally
Casey’s eyes slowly opened and his breath heaved.
Relief rushed over me as he struggled to rise, but my wounded soldier
could not. My husband silently walked over to our two ranch hands that
waited alongside the cattle and instructed them to continue to the eastern
pasture. He returned to us and
said softly, “Matthew, you and your mother go with Gus and Jerry to finish
here with the cattle.” With
those words he silently lifted Casey and began the long walk home.
and I saw the cattle safely to the eastern pasture and in record time untacked
and tended to our mounts. We
rushed along the well-worn path from the barn to the house to find my husband
out back unloading bales of hay from the feed truck.
Breathlessly we inquired about Casey.
is inside, in the sitting room. He
is a strong dog.”
and I entered the room and found Casey resting on the rug in the middle of the
room. His tail weakly moved back
and forth as we moved forward to greet him.
spent the rest of the day and through the next morning on the Navajo rug
resting with labored breathing. Madison,
ever loyal to her companion spent the night alongside him.
But when morning came as Jim and Matthew sat down for the buttermilk
pancakes I had prepared, Casey entered the kitchen in a tired walk, head hung
low but eyes still bright, and routinely took his place underneath the kitchen
table. As we cleared the
table after breakfast, Jim said, “You know Annie, he can’t come on the
trails with us anymore. His body
will give out on him. It is just
going to have to be Madison from here on out.”
I agreed, but with a heavy heart.
Those runs and round ups have been Casey’s job, passion, and his life
for twelve years. For so long he
has proudly worked the cattle alongside us.
I felt as though we were asking for his resignation.
week later my husband decided to move the cattle from eastern pasture out the
pastures just below the foothills. Before
we left for the barn to get the horses ready I locked Casey in the Ford.
“ Sorry old boy” I said to him as I cracked the windows and shut
the passenger side door. “ I
can’t let you do this any longer. We
will be back soon and you can come with us to the river afterwards.”
My reassurances were useless because of his failed hearing.
He made no noise but sat is silence and his gentle brown eyes looked at
me with disbelief. Looking at my
own reflection in his desperate eyes made me turn from him and I started
toward the barn. He was hurt
After the cattle drive I went straight to the Ford to retrieve Casey, who was still waiting, staring out the passenger window out into the distant sky. I was about to meet Matt and Jim to go to the river when one of the hands told me I had an urgent call. With Casey at my heals I made my way and picked up the phone. A professional voice answered me.
“Mrs. McLaughlin, this is Dr. Devartanian from Jacksonhole Memorial Hospital. I have your father here who has sustained some injuries. He has taken quite a fall. Apparently his neighbor found him on the back porch. Anyway he is doing better now, and he has named you as next of kin I thought you should be aware of his condition so you can take the next steps in assisting him...”
I hung up with the doctor a feeling of shock ran through me.
I tried to shake it off, and kept telling myself that he is an old man.
Something like this is bound to happen, it is what happens with age.
It’s natural. But this
was my father.
and hour I had packed a bag, made arrangements with my family and left in the
truck for the five hour drive to Jacksonhole.
As I left my husband kissed my cheek and suggested I bring my father to
stay with us. I told him that to
do that I would have to hog-tie him.
began the long trek to my father’s town.
I spent the drive deep in thought, and the scenery around me became a
blur as I thought of what was to become of my father. My mother died five years ago this autumn.
Since her death my father has insisted in remaining in the house she
and he had built their life in, even though it was hours from my ranch and
states across from my younger brother. This has been his choice, to carry on
his life in the house of my childhood, even if it is without my mom.
I arrived to the hospital I talked to the doctor in his cold, white,
mechanical office and his words instilled my greatest fear, not for me but for
my father. “He just cannot be alone any longer.
Its time for him to live with a caregiver, someone he can depend on.”
My heart sunk, this would kill my father who has for so long basked in his own
independence and freedom.
entered my father’s hospital room in attempted composure but when I saw how
small he looked in the starched white sheets I slightly broke down.
Dad.” I said and I sat down on his bed and held his hands in mine.
We sat there for long minutes before he started up.
fine Annie darling. I just need to get out of this place and everything will
be all right. I just need to get
back to my regular life, back to the house an all.
No sense in me having to stay here.”
please why don’t you come and live with Jim, Matthew and I on the ranch.
Then I’ll be able to see that you get everything you need and nothing
like this will happen again.”
No Annie I’m not doing that. You
don’t need your father around under your feet all the time, you have a life
of your own now, a family to look after.”
Dad,” I said to him, “ You are my family and now you need to be taken care
of. This incident is telling us
that its time for you to have someone to care for you.”
rose with anger and told me, “Damn it Anne, I told you, the only person I
ever had to take care of me was your mother.
And she is gone now; she was it for me.
All I want is to go home, please do this for me and get me out of here.”
checked my father out with Dr Devartainian’s permission that afternoon.
And I promised the doctor that I would take my father home with me, no
matter how it broke him. And no matter how it broke me.
When we arrived at his house he was exhausted from the trip so he went
to bed early. I sat up late in
the evening, sitting within the walls of the house of my childhood, recalling
the memories of my past, and how all those memories my father must have too,
and much more. He had so much to
next day, in the early hours of dawn, I awoke to a thump.
I frantically got out of bed and was not surprised to find my fathers
room vacated. His walker was gone
as well. I found him in the
kitchen. For a second I stood in
the threshold of the kitchen, and the scene flashed before my eyes.
father, leaning on the kitchen sink, peeling sweet oranges for me with his
pocketknife, trying to get the peel off all in one piece.
His big hat with the brim pulled down low, a big white smile
underneath. My father, so little
now, sitting outstretched leaning back against the sliding kitchen door, like
a wounded soldier, his hand grappling for the knob.
His walker was left abandoned by the kitchen table.
ran over to him, and my feet crunched on sunflower seeds.
I kneeled by him, and he covered his faces with his shrunken white
hands and moaned, not in pain but in desperation,
“Annie, have to feed your mother’s birds, I can’t feed her birds.”
left him for a moment to retrieve the wheel chair from the hall he had so
objected to but that the doctor insisted on and I supported his weight and
with much effort helped lower him into the wheel chair. I gently opened the back door, and wheeled him across the
patio where he taught me to ride a bike, and I stopped in the grass, among the
trees. He sat there limp in the
wheelchair as I put a handful of seed in his hand, and he slowly let the seeds
run between his fingers, pouring onto the baby grass among my mother’s
flowers. Little sparrows and
mockingbirds landed from their flight and surrounded us, feeding on the seeds
that lay in the grass and their happy chirping rang in my ears.
next day as I made breakfast for my father I told him that I was going to pack
his stuff so we could be on the road by late morning and we can reach the
ranch before the evening. When he
heard the news he paused with shiny eggs on his fork, stared straight ahead
into the yard, then brought the fork to his lips.
packed my fathers things and some remembrances from the house, and left a
spare key and a bag of birdseed with the neighbor next door who promised she
and her children would take care of my father’s birds.
After I loaded the truck my father was reluctant to my offer for
assistance into the truck, but he could not get in the high truck on his own
and he was forced to accept my assistance.
The entire ride back to the ranch he looked straight ahead, with clear
defeated eyes. As the scenery of
the great mountains and the green grass of Wyoming flashed before us, I felt
as though he and I were traveling through time, with each mile driven we were
leaving behind a point in our lives and beginning another.
All of those miles and miles began to blend and mold together, like the
dotted line of the lane of the highway we were traveling on, we were going
fast enough to make the broken line of the highway be perceived as solid.
yard was motionless when we pulled off the dirt road to the ranch; everyone
must have been working in the pastures. It
was better that way, for there to be no big production of my father arriving
here, to give him this quiet dignity. I
moved to the passenger side of the dusty Ford and slowly assisted my dad from
the seat. He did not object to my
assistance. The wooden planks
slowly creaked as his walker’s four legs and my two helped him across the
porch and we passed the unattended post.
I turned to Dad, whose eyes were gentle and glassy.
“There is someone I want you to meet.”