My alarm sounded at 5:15am. I turned over and silenced it with a determined push of my finger. This day seemed in the distant future a month ago and had arrived much too quickly. I lay in bed for a few minutes dreading putting my feet on the floor. I knew that my feet touching the floor would set into motion the heart-wrenching plan that had been carefully thought through and about, down to every detail in previous weeks.
My dad, Morris Oliver, aka Papaw to our family, celebrated his 79th birthday last month. He has owned a cattle operation for forty years. Daddy built his herd over time while working as a heavy equipment operator. My mother, Beverly was in banking and was very good at helping Dad keep up with the accounting side of the business. Together, through trial and error, they learned the ins and outs of ranching. As the years clipped by, we all knew an end would be reached one day…maybe, some day… the cattle would have to be sold. None of us liked to think about this chapter of our lives coming to a close. My siblings and my time with Dad at “The Pasture” has been a huge part of our upbringing as well as our own children’s upbringing. We have many precious memories that are centered on the 500+ acres of grazing land, which doubled as our playground.
Several years ago, new development moved to Katy. As we witnessed many of the larger tracts being sold, our family became aware that the pasture would one day be developed as well, but seldom dwelled on that fact. Within the past year, the thought has come to the forefront of our attention. Cane Island Parkway will open soon. The parkway is routed down the middle of the flat land that we fondly call The Pasture, to make way for more progress in and around Katy and the outlying towns. It was because of future progress that I dreaded getting out of bed. I knew that by early afternoon, our lives would never be the same.
I slowly put one leg and then the other into my jeans. Making my way to the kitchen, I poured myself a cup of hot coffee hoping that this would snap my sad self out of the funk in which I awoke. The aroma of the coffee brought the distant childhood memory of Daddy coming home from a hard day of construction labor, pouring his cup of coffee and heading to the pasture to check on the herd. Fighting tears at the thought, I quickly gathered my things, got in my car, and headed to Katy where I knew he would be waiting for me as he had been many times. In the past, together we would count the cows, count baby calves, pick dew berries, hunt for deer, trap hogs, pick persimmons, check the pond, check the fences, shoot at coyotes, or hunt for antique bottles in the woods. At other times, we would just simply be. Unlike past times, this day was strictly business.
For the first twenty years, my dad along with my brother, Sidney was able to manage a round up together. As Dad aged and the herd expanded, he hired a cowboy, Craig Zwahar along with several cowboys that work with Craig, to round up, work, and ship calves to the sale barn for him. Over the past twenty years, Craig has become a trusted friend to our family. Today, just as many, many times over the past twenty years, Craig and his men were at the pasture before sun up, with their saddled horses, cow dogs, and trailers, ready to ride. However, this day was going to be different. The cows would not be worked and then turned back out to pasture. This would be the last round up as every animal was loaded and shipped leaving the pasture vacant for future progress.
After the last animal was loaded onto the trailer, Craig put his hand on Daddy’s shoulder and gave him a sturdy squeeze and handshake. He thanked my dad for his friendship and the years of fond memories that they had made working cattle together. This chapter of life had indeed come to a close. The trucks and trailers pulled away and we followed behind in their cloud of dust. Daddy and I sat in silence on our way back to town. I pulled into the small Midway grocery and bought each of us a cold, bottled, orange Fanta. Back on the road that led home, we sipped in silence as 40 years of sweet memories were seen in the rearview mirror.