J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 6-27-11 | TheFencePost.com

J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 6-27-11

J.C. Mattingly Moffat, Colo.

When I delivered hay to Ed and Ruth, I expected to end up at the kitchen table facing a piece of pie and stiff cup of coffee. The couple weren’t retired, even though Ed was north of 70 and Ruth just a bit south of it. Back when I started trading a little hay with them, I made the mistake of asking if they were retired.

They jumped on me pretty hard over that question. Ed claimed they would have to work until they died, Ruth convinced me the work was killing them. After telling me this, of course, they went out and baled and stacked hay for the next three days.

They kept a small collection of creatures in addition to their 38 cows, the proceeds from which they lived. They occasionally didn’t have quite enough hay for all their livestock enterprises, and so I got the chance to occasionally sell them a little. If it was good, and cheap.

Ed always made time to talk, and Ruth either added-on or corrected. They were like tag-team talkers, sometimes each of them telling me the same story in a different way.

On one particular afternoon after a hay delivery, Ed and Ruth coaxed me to come to one of their far pens were they had a small band of jackasses. Leaning on top rails, we put our boots up between rails.

“See that one ass there?’ Ed asked, pointing to a jack with coloring of a cross on his back. “That ass is a descendant of the ass that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.”

“Direct descendant,” Ruth said.

I didn’t know what to say, so I said, “Well, it’s a handsome ass.”

“You bet he’s handsome. This line of asses got the marking of the cross from two stories,” Ed said. “In one story, Jesus asked all the creatures: who among them would carry his cross for him.”

“It wasn’t all the creatures,” Ruth said. “It was just some, such as a lion, an elephant, and other creatures who all boasted about how great they were. Ha ha. And the lowly ass said only that he would be honored and humbled to carry the cross. The ass got the job.”

“But never got to carry the cross,” Ed continued. “But the ass followed up and stayed by the side of Jesus on the cross for so long that the shadow from the cross burned in on his back.”

“That’s actually the second story,” Ruth corrected. “And required some heavenly intervention on the genetics part.”

“Whatever story it is,” Ed said firmly, “the cross mark is a mark of direct descendancy.”

“Is there some benefit to that descendancy?” I asked. “I mean, do these particular asses have special qualities I should know about?”

Ed put a hand on my shoulder. “Son, you must know how foolish that question sounds. Why, when you own a piece of history like that, you’ve got your special qualities. I can tell from what you say that you need a good ass in the yard. This is your chance.”

“This ass is rare,” Ruth added, hand on my other shoulder. “You can’t hardly buy ’em anymore.”

“So … how much would such a rare ass command in the market?” I asked.

“Oh, about, around, well, a couple loads of good hay,” Ed said.

“Make it two,” Ruth said.