Just Don’t Shoot the Banjo Player

KDBarnOver time, we have accumulated a rather motley collection of acquaintances and relatives, as one does. Our collection is a touch more diverse, due to our family’s propensity for rodeoing and dragging home strays from all over the country. Plus the younger generations have moved around a lot and married people from ‘away’. Plus I’ve become involved with writing and an arts festival that brought me into contact with performers from here and there. Plus there’s this exchange program that brings young people from countries like England, Sweden, Norway and Australia to work for six months at a time on local ranches.

All of that is to explain how we ended up with all of this descending upon us for Memorial Day weekend:

First off, let it be clear that there is no holiday involved. We will be branding calves, the main herd on Saturday and a smaller bunch on Sunday. This requires gathering up a crew, which consists of friends, neighbors and family, whom one might rightly expect would be a solid cross section of native Montana ranch stock.

Yeah. Not so much.

First there’s my husband, the pride of Bath, South Dakota. My cousin to the east will bring her husband, who is a former Highway Patrol officer and native of Long Island, New York. My cousin to the west will bring along his wife Charlota, who is a native Swede but speaks four other languages. They’ll also bring their current exchange worker Mitchell, who hails from New South Wales, Australia and speaks something none of us can understand unless enunciated very slowly. He sports shoulder to wrist tattoos and sleeveless muscle shirts to show them off, which is fine by me because the tattoos are beautifully done–and so are the muscles.

So much for the locals. Next we have my sister and her two kids, who planned to pop over from Spokane for the weekend, except it got a little more complicated because my brother is currently deployed at what I swear he told me was a place called Skank in Afghanistan, and his wife was depressed about being home alone for the long weekend, so she’s loading up her four boys and driving over from Tacoma to meet my sister and come to the ranch.

Did I mention my sister in law is a native of the Dominican Republic, and tends to lose her mastery of English when she’s flustered? Like in large groups?

Into that mix toss a bluegrass banjo player from the Flathead Valley who comes around two or three times a summer to practice his target shooting while helping to rid us of our constant infestation of gophers.

Yep, we had the makin’s of quite a crew.

Then my husband called his buddy Skip, just to chat. Skip is a former airline pilot and my sister’s former stepfather-in-law, married to her mother-in-law for a relatively brief period of time. Skip also comes out a weekend or two every summer to shoot gophers. Usually we try to be sure these aren’t the same weekends my sister et. al. are in attendance, but no, last night I hear my husband saying, “Sure! See you Friday!” Then a pause. Then, “Uh, sure, bring her along.”

Because it seems Skip and my sister’s mother in law sort of date sometimes, so she’s coming, too. To brand calves. And shoot gophers. Because of course none of that will be awkward at all.

I starting counting heads and beds and meals and said, “I’d better make a run to the grocery store.”

My husband started calculating how many shooters he was going to have on hand and said, “I’m gonna need more ammunition.”

And then he looked at me and spoke the immortal words of redneck party planners everywhere: “You get the beer, honey, I’ll get the bullets.”

It’ll all be good as long as nobody shoots the banjo player while he strums the theme from Deliverance in the background.


Kari Lynn Dell – Montana for Real