It looked like the ranch was caught in the middle of the dust bowl. Everything seemed barren, dark and dreary. Oh Well, maybe he could exchange some work there for food and a place to sleep in the barn, it was worth the try, he was here after all.
He walked up the drive and stopped near enough to the house to shout, "Hello the house!" He was about to shout again when a window opened and a big old shotgun seemed pointed right at him A woman's voice called out, "What you want here?"
He almost had to laugh since if it was not resting on the sill, she did not seem to be able to hold that gun steady.
"Ma'am, I wondered if I might work around your ranch in exchange for a meal or two each day and a place in the barn to sleep. I'll mind my manners and not give you cause to shoot me."
Ellen Donaldson had not heard anyone speak like that for many years, not since her husband had gone off to war, promising to come back. That was long ago in 1963.
"You better not, I might have to re-decorate your outsides. I don't know if I can ever find anything for you to do around here, it's in such great shape."
They both started laughing. It had been a long time since there had been any laughter in that house.
"Ma'am, I know it will be a chore to find things to do, but if you cook some, I'll find one or two things to fix up around here. When I'm done, I promise you everything will be like new, everything will."
'If it could' she thought, 'if only Johnny could come back'.
"Well I suppose one or two things could be found. Now don't you get any ideas about 'defenceless', ole me, you hear!"
"No Ma'am, but if you ever do need to shoot that cannon at something, set those two hammers back and only pull on one trigger at a time, that thing will kick more than a mule."
That's pretty much the way it started. One pasture fence was fixed, the barn roof patched, then leaks, broken glass and rotted wood on the house fixed. Ellen never knew where he got everything to fix things up, he never asked for money to buy things and she was not about to ask. It had been a long time since anyone had even offered to help, let alone fix things for free.
When a dozen head of cattle and five horses were near the house, his comment about finding 'strays' on the range was like a Godsend. She had not had meat for a long time. She found out his name was 'Gabe' and he said he was a lot older than he looked.
He was wiring up the chicken coop one day. She told him not to bother, she had no chickens anymore.
"Yes you do Ma'am, I found a few down the road."
The pen had several dozen hens and three Roosters. It looked like the hens were settled in and sitting on nests, getting ready to lay eggs.
"I'm afraid you'll have some work to do now."
The next day he was planting a small garden near the house.
"You neighbor down the road brought over a cow and two calf's early this morning. Said he could not milk her every everyday and hoped you would take her. I told him you might, so he left her and these two. I put them in that small pasture then fixed the fence up some. Will you have time to milk her Ma'am, or should I take them back?"
Time, time, that's all she had is time since her Johnny had left. It had been years since she had fresh milk. Cheese, butter, maybe fresh bread from that garden someday. It was like a dream come true. "Don't you dare, I'll milk her."
He just nodded his head.
"Ma'am, there are a ton of things to do here and I saw hundreds of free ranging horses and even more cattle. Would it be OK if some fellows I know would fix up that old bunkhouse, do those chores here I mentioned and round enough of those strays to get this ranch back in order? You'd have more mouths to feed, but I know them all and they will not be a bother to you. Room and board is all they need."
Ellen seemed to be in tears now. No one, absolutely no one had ever tried to help her before. In fact the bank had even reminded her a lot of time had passed already and money was still due. "Gabe, I'd love to get this ranch back in shape, but the bank may own it pretty soon. They keep reminding me that I still owe a ton on it and, frankly, I just don't have that kind of money."
"Ma'am, if it's all right with you, my friends and I will take our chances on you. I have a good feeling that things will work out. You keep saying that God knows you have been and are still trying to make things work here. I don't suppose that would go un-noticed by anybody. All anyone can ever do is try, so you just keep trying, we'll do our share for you and I just know everything will work out."
Now as she turned to go into the house tears were falling like a waterfall. She waved her hand at Gabe as if to say 'Go On'. She wished it were true though, she prayed everyday, first for Johnny, then that she could just hold on one more day. Now this stranger is also telling her to 'stay the course'.
The next day, she awoke to the sounds of pounding, hammers hitting nails, wood ripping and men talking and laughing. A lot of voices. She hurriedly dressed and went out. Gabe was standing watching a dozen men working.
Morning Ma'am, sorry for the noise, but when I told my friends that if they wanted a place to sleep tonight, that bunkhouse needed to get fixed up and cleaned out. Oh, Ed and Pete there are sort of tinkers, that old truck and tractor got their attention and they started right in saying all they need was some TLC but a good bit of it. Here is some extra grub they brought. It's not much and 2 of them are gathering some fruit and wild things we saw on your land, add the eggs to these here and there is a few meals for all of us."
Coffee, tea, ten large bags of flour, three sacks of all kinds of beans, two very large slabs of bacon, salt, sugar, pepper, five kinds of jams, three syrups, eight jars of honey, six assorted bottles of condiments and 19 large cans of soups and more than sixty different canned meats and vegetables were brought into the kitchen. It was a veritable feast.