Out of Bounds

The Family Ranch

Something about that childhood spent outdoors readied me, partially at least, for my eventual move to Montana

By Rob Breeding

A friend of mine grew up on a ranch in Wyoming. That’s some serious mojo for a suburban boy from Southern California like me. What I knew of ranches I learned watching Ben Cartwright managing the Ponderosa on the old television show, “Bonanza.”

It seemed otherworldly and amazing.

From time to time Ranch Girl and I compare notes regarding our respective upbringings. The primary commonality is we both had caring, yet authoritative parents. This, of course, is the key to competent parenting. Don’t let your kids get away with too much. 

I’ll say this about ranch life: when you’ve got a family spread to run, keeping the youngsters preoccupied is considerably easier.

The suburbs are comparatively overflowing with distractions and free time. We had chores, though nothing like the stuff ranch kids were burdened with. Ranch kids, for instance, either fed the chickens or learned to love egg-free breakfasts. 

My toughest chores were mowing the lawn, a year-round job where I come from, and cleaning the pool, another 12-month gig. Neither was fun, but neither was ever so urgent that it couldn’t be put off for a day or two if something came up. 

It’s probably that degree of urgency attached to childhood duties that’s most different about our upbringings.

It’s fashionable these days to talk about how a duty-fill lifestyle builds character in youngsters, and that the lack of sweat equity in modern child-rearing has accelerated the decline of Western civilization. These days? Who am I kidding? When has it ever not been fashionable for humans of child-rearing age (or older) to proclaim the younger generation too soft to fend for itself? I can’t wait for archeologists to discover Neanderthal cave art depicting youthful members of the clan spoiling a mastodon hunt because they were stricken with teenage ennui.

Still, it’s true ranch life grows character, but character is an adaptable species. It flourishes on ranches and farms, as well as in cities, and even cozy suburbs. 

Just so we’re clear, if I’d grown up hauling hay every frozen morning before school, I would have been every bit as wayward in the years before the birth of my daughters as I was having grown up in the ’burbs.

That suburban home we grew up in remained a foundation for my siblings and me long after Mom and Dad left. My sister raised her own family there. One of the unexpected things I discovered later in life was that returning to the family home after my folks moved out made every weekend feel like we were throwing a kegger when our parents were away for the weekend. 

It was like we were getting away with something.

That home was built in a unique place for a typical suburban house. Our neighborhood snaked up a valley through hills that walled it off from the city. As kids we walked out the backdoor into those hills, living up there most of the summer in the arroyos where California quail and jackrabbits roamed. We returned home only long enough to cool off in the swimming pool. Sufficiently refreshed, we’d march back to our imagined wilderness until we heard Mom calling us for dinner.

This suggestion of wildness led us to nickname the place “The Ranch.” Mom even titled the family cookbook she made for her adult kids, “Mealtime at the Ranch.” 

Something about that childhood spent outdoors readied me, partially at least, for my eventual move to Montana.

I’m readying to leave The Ranch next week, for the final time. As happens, the family ranch is about to be sold. It’s time, and the proceeds will give us “kids” a lift as we get on with the next phase of our lives.

It’s one final present from Mom and Dad, I suppose, though it will never quite match their greatest gift: creating a loving home in which to raise us.