by: Wes Ishmael

Stay friends or family with someone long enough and you see every side of each other, good bad and in between.

That's the way it was with Peetie Womack and Hooter McCormick. They knew each other's moods, pet peeves and how they'd likely react in any given situation.

Yet, Hooter could never remember seeing his friend looking so dejected, hopeless almost. And, hopeless is one thing no one would ever accuse Peetie Womack of if they expected to keep all their teeth.

“Never, ever give up,” was one of Peetie's first and most frequent orders to the junior basketball teams he'd coached over the years. Hooter and Cousin Charlie played for him when they were coming up. “As long as there's a flea's blink left on the clock, play like your life depended on it; you never know which way the ball might bounce.”

Peetie applied the same attitude to every aspect of his life and business. Losing, in his mind, was only another step toward ultimate victory. Quitting, on the other hand, or not caring—the same as quitting in his books—was the only way you ever really lost.

But, there was Peetie, perched on a welding stool, glove on one hand, slag waiting to be chipped, staring straight ahead at nothing. Hooter wasn't even sure that Peetie knew he was there. Even with someone he knew so well, Hooter didn't know whether to keep still, make some noise or leave.

Peetie shifted in his seat and looked at Hooter. “4,504,” he almost whispered.


“4,504,” Peetie said again.

Hooter picked up a stray chunk of wood, leaned against the bench.

“I give. You got me. I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about”

Peetie took off the glove. “4,504. That's how many votes were cast in the Oklahoma referendum for a state beef checkoff.”

“I heard last night that it got defeated,” Hooter said. “Sounded like it was pretty close, too.”

“I don't care.”


“I'd feel the same way if it passed,” Peetie growled. “4,504 votes. Do you know how many operations there are in Oklahoma that have cattle?”

“No idea.”

“According to the last Ag Census there are 51,043 operations with cattle. I checked. That was in 2012. They're likely fewer today, but not that many fewer.”

“So…” said Hooter, trying to figure out where Peetie was heading.

“That means less than 10% of those operations voted for or against the referendum. Given the way those outsiders were banding against it, in my books, that means less than 10% either paid attention to what was going on and/or cared enough to get involved,” Peetie said. “And, I'm not blaming Oklahoma. The turnout was about half that when the state referendum passed here in Texas a few years back.”

“I don't remember you getting that worked up about the turnout then.”

“I wasn't, because I was part of the problem,” Peetie said, throwing the glove on the bench. “I voted. The vote went the way I wanted. I got busy. It wasn't until a long time after that I paid attention to the total turnout. If you'll remember at the time, what you mostly saw was that two-thirds voted in favor of it, not the actual numbers.”


“We're making it way too easy for those who want to regulate and legislate how we do business,” said Peetie. “For that matter, cattle folks on both sides of the fence seem to take for granted that the next generation can have a cattle business for someone to try to regulate and legislate.” He picked up his chipping hammer and went to town, not aiming, just pounding.

Hooter stopped fiddling with the chunk of wood. “What are you talking about?”

Peetie stopped pounding. “It's the prefect storm, don't you reckon? Apparently, most folks with cattle don't want to be involved in discussions like the referendum; they want to leave it to somebody else. It's that 80-20 rule, where 80% of those involved just want to be left alone. The rest are those passionate enough about what's going on to get involved, and they're split between those who absolutely agree with something and those who absolutely disagree. So, of those that are willing to get involved, there are differences of opinion that divide them. You end up with a fraction of a fraction fighting for or against anything in particular.”

“I get that,” Hooter said. “But I don't know how you're supposed to get along with people so far out in left field. Good grief, at least one of those organizations fighting the Oklahoma referendum is holding hands with the Humane Society of the United States.”

“And I get that,” Peetie said. “You know which way my flag blows. If members of those other organizations are sincere in their beliefs like we're sincere in ours, then there's got to be common ground. If they're not sincere, or if they're shills for somebody else, then we've got to take the fight to them. Period.”


“But nothing,” Peetie interrupted. “You've already got a portion of the population in this country that thinks animals and livestock should have the same rights as people. You've already got a portion of Mr. and Mrs. Consumer figuring they know more about animal welfare than the folks raising the animals. You've already got beef packers investing in companies that manufacture fake meat.” Peetie retrieved the hammer and started flailing away again.

“So, what do you propose?” Hooter shouted above the din.

“I don't know the answer,” Peetie shouted back, throwing his hammer across the shop out of frustration. “All I know is that if we don't figure out a way to get along and work together for common purpose, it's going to get harder and harder for any of us to be left to fuss with one another.”

“I get it, but that's a long ways down the road, if at all,” said Hooter.

“You ever figure you'd go to the circus and not be able to see an elephant?”

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