Lee Pitts: Four letter words
It’s been my experience that people who make their living battling mother nature on a daily basis tend to use more four letter words than your average priest, funeral director or kindergarten teacher. Roustabouts, loggers, truckers and welders use cursing to relieve the tension caused by sudden surprises. The exception to this rule are old time cowboys who don’t cuss much. (I’m talking real cowboys, not the genus and species of the drugstore variety.) Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and once I did meet an old Nevada cowpoke who could cuss in paragraphs.
Proper and polite cowboys tend to develop their own private cuss words that allow them to vent their anger while not scorching the grass around them. If they catch their finger in a dally, or get assigned tractor duty, they express their aggravation by saying things like darn, sugar and fudge! I know one old timer who can make the word “pumpernickel” sound as vile as any word uttered by a mule-skinner.
I admit that I have to work hard at not cussing. It’s a terrible habit, and it’s my worst fault, but I spent too many years working in the oilfields, and taking too much inorganic chemistry in college, not to cuss. Either one of which would make a Methodist minister cuss like a sailor. I also spent too many years in the front cab of my father’s Peterbuilt. Don’t get me wrong, my long-haul truck-driving father never cussed in front of me, but it didn’t take me long to acquire a teamster’s vocabulary at the truck stops we patronized. These days I have, for the most part, cleaned up my potty mouth and I try to limit my occasional cuss word to men and cows. I never cuss in front of women, kids and horses, all of whom are sensitive about such things.
My role model for cleansing my vocabulary is a grand old lady I’ve known for years. I was immediately attracted to Mary because, like me, she never trusted anyone who wore gloves, put their cigarette in a plastic holder to smoke it, or any snob who paid more than $10 for his last haircut. Mary was as down to earth as crabgrass and after her husband died she lived simply off the income of 50 cows. Not well, mind you, but she lived. Like a lot of ranchers Mary could have sold her picturesque place in the foothills to a developer for many millions and lived out her remaining days going on cruises with what she called “ROMEO’s.” (Rich old mean eating out.)
Mary’s cowherd reflected her own personality: they were the gentlest bovines who ever chewed cud. Mary had invited a few of us over to help preg-check those cows and this year when we arrived we saw a new twist: on a card table beside the chute were laid out fifty ear tags. It seems Mary had read about the premium that age and sourced calves are bringing at auction, only instead of AngusSource ear tags or from some other breed or ID company, Mary had written in beautiful calligraphy the names of her cows on pale blue ear tags. Mary’s cows would never wear a bar code, but they did sport some interesting names. There was Abstract who had strange markings, Edsel who was definitely out of style, and Frisbee who was hard to catch.
It’s safe to say that no one in attendance that day had ever heard Mary cuss. But when the old rope on the squeeze chute broke when a big old brute pulled back on it, he fell backwards right on Mary’s table and her pretty ear tags, vaccine guns, medicine and some delicious brownies were thrown high and wide. Mary took one look at the destruction and said “S-H-I-,” and the world stopped for a brief moment as everyone held their collective breath… “N-O-L-A,” Mary concluded. Instead of a four letter word Mary uttered one of her private cuss words, the name of a shoe polish we used before we all started wearing Nikes and Reeboks.
Embarrassed, Mary said, “For a moment there I almost said (insert four letter word here).”
Not realizing that she just had.
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