by: Wes Ishmael

“It was what I would call a life-affirming experience, maybe even a life-altering one,” Peetie Womack said with a solemnity seldom heard.

He was addressing the monthly meeting of the Rio Rojo Cattlemen's Association (RRCA), talking about a brief journey to Kansas where recent wildfires had done some of the broadest and worst damage.

As the fires still blazed, the RRCA, like countless other groups and individuals—from 4-H clubs, to FFA chapters, to cattlemen's groups, to sale barns, to college sororities, and on and on—did some quick figuring on how they could help.

The RRCA put together some fencing supplies, loaded them on a flatbed and elected Peetie to haul them to a central collection point where those supplies would be transferred to a semi-load. As it happened, that particular truck driver was bleary-eyed from previous trips—he was donating his truck, time and fuel to make the hauls. Peetie being Peetie, asked the trucker if he could ride shotgun, keep him company at least.

“What I saw, the stories I heard,” Peetie told Hooter and other RRCA members. “It's what the cattle business is and what America's supposed to be.”

Peetie related the fact that in the area he ventured to, the local veterinary clinic and some of its clients were the fulcrum of relief efforts.

“The guy running the tractor to unloaded us, he's a veterinarian, not even from the local area. He brought a rig and said, ‘Put me to work.' That's where they needed him, running a skid steer.”

“That's how he was raised,” Cousin Charlie said. “Titles don't mean much when there's work in need of doing.”

“Exactly,” said Lonnie Johnson.

If You Have to Ask, You Couldn't Know

“Obviously, this wasn't the first time so many in this business banded together and it won't be the last,” Peetie continued. “Think of all the response to those terrible blizzards in the Dakotas a few years back, other fires, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes. But there's something about these fires that just seemed more visible as a national rallying cry.”

There was silence as the gathering reflected on past experiences.

“It was huge, for one thing,” Charlie allowed. “Last I heard, over 1.5 million acres in Kanas, Oklahoma and eastern Colorado.”

“And, it's fire,” Hooter said. “Like I've said before, there's not much on this earth that scares me, but fire sure does. It's got no conscience or plan; they call it wild for a reason.”

“Lives were lost, too,” Charlie said. “Men and women trying to save their stock. Thousands of cattle.”

Those in the room who had never had to face such decisions before, or didn't think they had, silently prayed that if the time ever came, they would react with same kind of selfless courage.

“No disrespect to the any of our armed services, but it was a whole lot like having our own National Guard,” Peetie said. “All volunteers, rising up as one to do what needed to be done for a part of the family going through the kind of disaster no one should ever have to face.”

Parables for Today

Izzie spoke up. “I suppose y'all heard about the highway patrolman who stopped the truck hauling hay out of Texas. He told the driver he hadn't done anything wrong, asked if the hay was for relief efforts. It was. So, the patrolman fishes a wad of cash out of his pocket, gives it to the driver and asks him to carry it to those who needed it. Who knows, Peetie, maybe it's the same one you rode with.”

“We talked about that, and it wasn't him,” Peetie said. “But, the amount of cash donated by folks asking him to carry it was mind boggling. And, there's a related story I heard from the veterinarian who unloaded us.

“The day before, toward the end of it, he and a kid that was helping him were taking a water break. This young man pulls two 20-dollar bills out of his shirt pocket, gives it to the vet, tells him one of the truck drivers gave it to him earlier that day. The truck driver told him he was fueling up at a truck stop. A little old lady walked up to him; a lady who looked like anything she had to share would come from the next week's grocery budget. She asked the driver if he was part of the relief effort. When she found out he was, she gave him a smile and the $40.”

There was silence again.

“So,” said Charlie, putting to voice what they were all thinking, “This kindly lady gives cash money to someone she's never met, asking that it go to the relief efforts. That money travels hundreds of miles and is transferred to someone the driver doesn't know, who passes it along to a veterinarian he'd never known before, who passes it along to someone else, who sticks it in the account at the bank earmarked for relief efforts.”

“So,” Lonnie said, “Two twenty-dollar bills change hands at least five times, get to where they're supposed to with nary a penny spilt.”

“Because that's how they were raised,” Charlie said.

Nods all around.

“Funny thing,” Peetie concluded. “In all of this, everything I saw and heard firsthand, everything I read and heard since, I don't recall once hearing about any of the activist groups getting involved or lending a hand.”

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