Chapter 5

Branding Irons & Hard Drinking Women

As we drive the cattle down the fence-lined road the next day, the talk seems to naturally gravitate toward how to do things. In the city, we're more likely to take a job to a professional, like taking our car to a mechanic. In ranch country, they're more likely to repair something themselves. And they can do it, too. Brian not only knows horses and cows, he's also is a mechanic, a welder, and a farmer—among other things.

Heading past the Turner Ranch, Brian talks about the merits of freeze branding versus hot branding, and how the state of Montana doesn't recognize freeze branding on cattle because they maintain that it makes detecting rustling more difficult. But freeze brands are often clearer, and the state allows them on horses. I wonder what Ted thinks about the subject.

Bill then gets to talking about women who can drink men under the table, and how some special specimens seem to have the capacity to sober up on command. "Imagine how useful that would be!" he marvels. He knew a ranch wife who when her husband suggested that she didn't have to participate in the cattle work, reminded him that half the cows were hers and that she was going to work them. Period. Oh, and how she could cuss. Bill discusses all this with considerable admiration in his voice.

The cows spend the third night at Ice Creek. After the cows are put away in the corrals, Bill and Dale get serious about Brian's impending fatherhood. As sober as a judge, Dale says, "Brian, just remember to say, 'Yes, dear, it is absolutely all my fault.'" He puts his hands up for emphasis, nods his head in all earnestness, then quickly adds, "Just don't giggle when you say it, and don't crack a smile. It's best done when you're sober. And don't use it too often, or she'll catch on."

Dale upends a beer next to the trailer as Richard cooks steaks. Brian shakes his head. The rest of us snicker. I remember back to when Dale last used that line on his wife, Jennifer. It didn't work then, and it's never worked on my wife, either.

Nor is it supposed to.

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