Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 3, 2009
Good western fellowship
The heat index must have been about 110 last Tuesday when Mom, sister Gaila and I headed out to the Lazy T Ranch on K-18 just east of Manhattan. The program, sponsored by the Riley County Senior Center, was to include cowboy poetry, performed by my friend and campus colleague Ron Wilson. He calls himself the Poet Lariat and his poetry is similar to that of Baxter Black, so I didn't want to miss it.
But although I grew up on a farm and love barns and barbecued food, the thought of sitting outdoors in that heat was not very appealing. As we made our way to the ranch in Mom's air-conditioned Cadillac, we wondered aloud how many senior citizens would drop in the stifling heat.
We were relieved to discover that Ron and his wife Chris had decided to move the event into their air-conditioned office not far from the barn. About 50 of us crowded in, but even sitting in such close quarters, it was a relief to get out of the sun. The dinner was truly a family affair as the couple, three of their four children and a friend served barbecued beef, baked potatoes, baked beans, salad, huge biscuits, chocolate cake, tea and lemonade.
While we ate, we were entertained by two singing, guitar-playing cowboys, who played music by Gene Autry and other notable Western artists. Among their selections were "Little Joe, the Wrangler" - a song husband Art frequently belts out in our shower, "Red River Valley" and "Home on the Range." Some of us sang and swayed along to the music.
Ron welcomed us with "We're mighty glad you're here," and then shared a brief history of the Lazy T Ranch. It was homesteaded by Enoch Persons in 1855, the year Manhattan and Riley County were founded. The Persons Barn and Granary - which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in January - is believed to have been built in the 1860s. The place was re-named the Lazy T Ranch in 1958. Ron's parents, W. John and Glenna Wilson, purchased the Lazy T in 1968 and moved there from their farm near Riley. About three years ago, Ron, Chris and family built a new home on the Lazy T.
Ron entertained us with his cowboy poetry - down-to-earth verse about his family, his Kansas heritage, the day a bobcat came to the ranch and other topics.
He demonstrated the K-State "wave," popular at Wildcat football games, and had us join in. Then, with the help of three audience "volunteers" who mimed driving old broken-down trucks, he showed us the "farmer's wave"- the one-finger-lifted-off-the-steering-wheel greeting that anyone who grew up in rural Kansas is familiar with. Again, we joined in. It was a hoot.
He ended with a poem, "Riley County Senior Citizens at the Lazy T Ranch," keeping with his tradition of tailoring his poetry to each group he performs for.
The group broke up, some going home, others dallying to chat. Mom went to the car to sit and instructed me to get lots of photos of the barn. She has always been interested in Kansas barns and has even put together a thick three-ring notebook with photos and notes about various barns she has seen through the years. Some years ago, she made scale models of several, including the barn built in 1886 on our farm.
Gaila and I went inside the limestone barn and were greeted by a couple of horses shaking off flies and 10 or so cats that paused long enough in their eating to hiss and spit at us intruders.
Later, making our way back to Manhattan, I thought of the first stanza of Ron's closing poem.
"Folks, we're glad to have you at the Lazy T tonight.
We hope the evening has treated you just right.
Thanks to the Riley County Senior Center for bringing us together,
For good western fellowship, in spite of this hot weather."
It had treated us right. The farmer's wave, the food, the entertainment and even the weather fit us perfectly - and not one senior citizen was lost in the process!