My entire life has been one long stress test. I’m high strung anyway and stressful events like an IRS audit and a colonoscopy literally made me sick. Becoming a deadline writer for 40 years probably wasn’t the best career choice either. But you want to know what I found to be the most stressful? My annual nervous breakdown, otherwise known as a branding.
Ever since the Egyptians had the very first branding back in 480 BC, it’s been a tradition that friends and neighbors get together to brand the host’s livestock, and in return they are treated to a free beef barbecue and cowboy hospitality at its finest. The problem is I’m not what you’d call “the hostess with the mostest.” Fearing for the floor, furniture and framework of our home I’ve never even hosted a formal dinner party. We have white carpet for goodness sake! I get uncomfortable when guests use our bathroom. So having 75 uncouth guests converge on our place is more than a little intimidating.
That’s why for six months prior to our branding I start having nightmares about it. What if the guests get e coli from the potato salad? What if the vet is late? Will the culvert under the road hold up one more year? Which of my “friends” would sue me for everything we own if their child got bit by a rattler? Is a ten million dollar umbrella policy enough?
I can’t help it, I’m a world-class worrier.
I especially worry that I may be sending out mixed messages. Every day from October through May I pray for rain and then I ask, beg, and plead that there be none on the third Saturday in January. It all just seems a little hypocritical.
About four months before the branding I have to start inviting the USTRC guys who can rope. I don’t want to call too early or I might appear too desperate but if I wait too long I may lose them to someone else. I try to play it coy and act like I don’t really care if they come and then end up promising them the world; a level parking place for their live-in horse trailer with electrical hookup and free sewage disposal. If necessary, I throw in special gifts, a massage for their horse and promise to wash their truck while they rope.
The hardest thing is getting the proper balance between heelers and headers, ground crew and barbecue crew, deadbeats and heal squatters, and glazed donuts versus chocolate bars with sprinkles.
Then there is the main course and all that it entails. The stakes were raised in our neighborhood when the new neighbor served New York steaks at his branding and I worry I’ll look cheap if I serve hamburgers to the key personnel (ropers, vaccinator and castrator), and beans and wieners to everyone else. Then there’s the pilgrimage to COSTCO. Is 20 dozen cookies enough? What is the proper proportion of Cokes to Pepsis? Do I serve beer and if so, what kind and what happens if one of my guests gets a DUI and in a wreck leaving our branding? And what about any gluten-free guests, does that mean I get to buy fewer hot dog buns?
Decisions, decisions decisions!
In the build-up to the big day I have to hide the sheep and the calf table and fix any weak spots in my fencing and corrals, or at least the weakest spots. After the range fire I started a few years ago do I dare still use the traditional fire, or should I break down and buy one of those safer, but more expensive propane heaters? I have to remember to haul in benches and tables and clean the water trough that will hold the ice and soft drinks. And I always forget to buy both kinds of sweetener, pink and blue. Then there’s the really tough part: how do I tactfully appoint the person I want vaccinating, castrating, parting out the cows and calves, and roping, without hurting everyone else’s feelings?
Every year I swear next year my wife and I will brand the calves on a calf table after I figured out it only cost $35 per calf and six months in therapy to brand them the “fun” way.