A Different Breed

Riding Hard

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I usually try to avoid touchy subjects but in this case I thought I’d take a chance that you’ll read the entire piece before sending a nasty letter about me to the editor.

This touchy subject deals with how some families deal with the dividing up of the spoils after a relative’s death. Or in some cases, even BEFORE the relative assumes room temperature.

While it is generally considered unethical and greedy to start dividing up the spoils of another person’s life while that person is still alive, I have seen it happen three times in my life. I’m not proud of the fact that two of the three times involved my own family.

My great-grandparents on my mother’s side were my last relatives who could be considered uppercrusters. I was fortunate to have known my great-grandparents and I distinctly remember them driving their big black Cadillac out to our house for family gatherings. My great-grandfather was Chief of our volunteer fire department and Mayor, based mainly on the fact that he gave out the biggest candy bars in town on Halloween.

The big family secret that has remained unspoken until now was that my great-grandmother had to be committed to an insane asylum at the end of her life. She had barely been whisked out the door of her mansion on a hill when all the relatives descended to see what they could grab. Even at a young age I found their behavior disgusting. It was the same story after one of my aunts got cancer and was still living in her beautiful home when a relative, who shall go nameless, wasted no time in moving in and claiming it all for herself while my aunt was still alive!

The third instance was when I observed what happened when a rancher I knew was stored away in a rest home just so his son could hold a dispersal sale of all his father’s cattle, which the son always hated. He disliked his father’s cattle because while everyone else in the county had black-hided cattle, his father had an English breed that was red, white or a combination of the two that was last in favor during the Truman administration.

Because his father refused to change, the son always felt that others in the community looked down their noses at him. As a child his classmates wouldn’t sit with him in the cafeteria and never chose him to play on their side in dodgeball. Later in life he hung his head in shame when he went to the feedstore and he wore a disguise to attend a county cattleman’s meeting or a neighbor’s branding.

Based on the fact that his father was still breeding these out-of-favor perfectly wonderful cattle it was easy for the son to have his father committed to the nut house. Even before the father got comfortable in his new digs the son dispersed the entire herd, but not at the local sale barn but at one 300 miles away so the neighbor’s wouldn’t see them and make fun of him. (Also because he knew the distant auction market had a much more active slaughter market which is where he expected all his father’s cows would end up.) The son was so ashamed he wouldn’t let the sale barn owner use his name in the advertising for the sale.

Then the son stocked the ranch with black cattle and before you knew it he was asked to join Rotary, a banker even waved at him and for the first time in forever he took the wife out to dinner in a public place. A video rep even dropped by, gave him two new ball caps and a calendar and said he’d be proud to rep his cattle on an upcoming sale, showing his cattle to a nationwide audience. The son even put up a new ranch sign. He had finally gained respectability.

I’ve always wondered how the son felt when his father’s cattle were bought at exorbitant prices by a single rancher who bred them using AI to bulls who’d sired multiple Grand Champions. And then he sold the offspring of the old man’s cattle for as much as 20 times the amount the son was getting for his respectable cattle.

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