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THE BUNK HOUSE
I am not sure how I, at the age of 13, ended up on that long Greyhound bus ride heading out to the State of Colorado. Somehow and for some reason, someone told me that I was going to live with some of my "distant relatives," who owned a ranch in Silt, Colorado.
I was scared as heck riding that bus all alone. I had never been anywhere ever, except the orphanage and then of course, the reform school when I ran away from the Children's Home Society. I could never remember ever living any place where people were supposed to like you just because they were your family.
I really had no idea who these people were or how they were related to me. All I had been told was that they were my aunt and uncle, and that their names were Margaret and Owen Boulton, and that they owned a great big ranch with lots of cows and horses. Hells bells, I didn't even know what the words ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’ meant. All I ever knew were the words and names like ‘matron,’ and ‘house parent,’ as well as "yes ma'am, no ma'am, yes sir" and "no sir." The orphanage in Jacksonville, Florida where I was raised was the only family I had ever known. Well, at least the other orphan kids that were there with me were my only family.
I remember being somewhat afraid when I walked into that big white ranch house to meet my new family for the first time. But when it was finally all over and done with, it really wasn't much different living there with a real family as it was being in that orphanage. Everyone was always telling me what to do and ordering me around. It was sort of like having a real family, but it was more like a job. I had to live in the bunkhouse with all the other cowboys who worked on the big ranch, about six days a week. I had to get up at 4 a.m. every morning, seven days a week and collect all the eggs in the chicken house so that all the ‘cowhands’ could eat breakfast, before we all went out and started fixing fences, pushing cattle or worse than that, having to bail hay and alfalfa all day long.
Boy! Those green bails sure were heavy for me to carry and it was really hard for me to do that kind of hard work all by myself. If you ever dropped behind that trailer and believe me, it never stopped or slowed down, they would yell at you, and make you work even harder and faster. They never ever slowed down, not even for a minute. Not for me or for anybody else who couldn't keep up. My stomach and the back of my arms would bleed very badly from all the cuts from lifting the big bails. You just had to run even harder and faster with that heavy bail over your head to catch up with that trailer full of hay.
I will tell you this right now: having a real honest to goodness family of my own was really hard work for me and it wasn't much fun at all. But becoming a real cowboy - I think I liked that part for a little while. About the second or third day I was there, Mr. Boulton (which is what he told me to call him) took me to town. He bought me a new shirt, jeans, a big cowboy hat and a new pair of cowboy boots. Boy, they sure looked good on me too! I was gonna make a real good cowboy and maybe have a girlfriend one day soon.
Mr. Boulton told me that I could "pay him back out of my pay when payday came around." That was good with me, because I had never had a payday before. We always worked for free all year long just to eat at the orphanage. But now, I was getting paid for working and I was very happy about that.
I sure got into bad trouble the very next day because I accidentally tore my new shirt on the fence when I tried to get into the corral to harness up "Old Brownie." Mr. Boulton was really mad at me, but he never did hit me, or anything like that, like the orphanage always did. But he sure yelled at me a lot and I mean a real lot. "Old Brownie" was a horse that Mr. Boulton loaned me to ride when I was working on his ranch. I think "Old Brownie" liked me a lot too, because when all the other ranch hands came out to saddle up their horses in the morning, the horses would run away from them. But not "Old Brownie." She would walk right up to me every morning when I came out and I would pet her real soft like with my hand and she would just quiver all over, and the brown hair and skin on her sides would shake.
One day when me and "Old Brownie" were alone, way out in a big green field somewhere, I whispered in her ear that being a cowboy was not really much fun at all and that being a man was even worse than that. All the other cowboys who worked on the ranch, each and every one of them, were always asking me why I had to live in the bunkhouse with them and not in the main house with the rest of my family. I didn't know what to say to them, because as far as I knew living with a bunch of strange people was just normal to me. Besides, the bunkhouse was sure better than the orphanage that I lived in and 100 times better than the reform school, that's for real sure.
One day when I was down at the other part of the ranch where my other uncle, John Boulton, lived, I asked him why I "had to live in the bunkhouse at Uncle Owen's ranch with the other cowboys who worked on the ranch?" He just smiled at me and looked at me sort of strange like and then rode off really fast chasing down a cow that had moved away from the main herd. I remember watching him catch that darn cow and then hitting it on the head with the hook that he had on his arm where his hand used to be, before the accident with the bailing machine. We never talked about living in the main house any more, not ever.
After about a month, I got paid for the first time in my life for working a real job and I could not believe all the money that I was holding in my hand - a whole bunch of green dollars. One of the cowboys, who worked with me on the ranch named Larry, asked me if I wanted to go to town with him to do some shopping. I was very excited about that too, because I had never been able to ever buy anything just for myself before. I had never had any money of my own before and if I ever did get anything from the store, like when I ran away from the orphanage, it was like foodstuff and things, just so that I could eat. But because I had no money, I always had to steal food in order to eat so I would not be hungry and die like those kids across the ocean that I heard about.
When we reached the small downtown area, there was not much there - maybe just a few stores and a bar or two. I looked all around in the stores at all the good things that I could buy with my money, but I did not end up buying anything. I wanted to keep my money in my pocket so I could always keep the good feeling of what it felt like to have money and not have to steal to have what I wanted. After we finished shopping, Larry asked me if I would like to have a beer or two with him.
"Sure" I said.
I had never had liquor drinks before and now that I was a real cowboy with money, I had to learn to do cowboy things, like drinking beer and stuff. But that turned out to be a very bad mistake on my part. The next thing I remember, I was lying on my back in the dirt back at the ranch. Mr. Boulton was looking down at me and cursing really loud at me, and Larry. I remember raising one of my arms up in the air and then just letting it fall to the ground. My arm felt so light and funny like. I kept doing that over and over and over, and then finally I started laughing and that made Mr. Boulton really mad at me. He grabbed me by the shirt and dragged me about 20 feet over to the water spigot. He grabbed the hose, turned on the water and forced the end of the hose into my mouth, until I started choking. At that point, I was very dizzy and confused. I did not understand what was actually happening and I did not know why everyone was so mad at me. All I knew was that my head was spinning all around, things were fuzzy in my eyes and I was getting sick to my stomach.
Mr. Boulton dragged me through the dirt and over to the bunkhouse door. He rolled me up onto the little porch and told to go to bed. That's about all I can remember, until the next morning when I got up at 4 a.m. to go out to collect all the eggs for breakfast. When I entered the chicken house, I started gathering up the eggs from the chicken's nests. All of a sudden, the door swung open and Mr. Boulton came walking in with a real mean look on his face. He grabbed the egg bucket from my hands and threw it against the wooden boards on the side of the chicken house, breaking all the eggs.
Then he looked at me and told me that I was "about as worthless as my mother, June." I didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything at all. He told me that he did not want me to do any more work.
"Just get your things together and get your butt out to the jeep, and wait."
I did not say a word, because I was too scared. I walked directly to the bunkhouse where I collected up my few belongings, said goodbye to the ranch hands and then I waited outside by the jeep for Mr. Boulton to eat his breakfast. I didn't get to eat breakfast that morning, because I wasn't gonna do any work that day, I guess. But I wasn't hungry any way. About 20 minutes later, Mr. Boulton came out of the white ranch house and drove me to some strange town where he bought me a bus ticket.
Right before I got on the bus, he took back my cowboy hat and my boots "as payment for my ticket," he said. He let me have the pants, because I had "paid for them by working just a little," I reached in my back pocket and took out my folded up money and held it out to him, but he didn't take it. He just turned around and walked away, and never looked back. I think I cried a little bit after he left, not because of my cowboy hat or my pretty boots, but because I felt so alone in the world once again.
I returned to Jacksonville, Florida where I lived on the streets for about a year, until the juvenile court found me.
When I was a young boy, it never bothered me at all that I did not have a family of my own. I guess I never really thought about that kind of thing before. Besides, how could I ever miss something that I never even knew existed in the first place? I guess I just couldn't see any reason for having a family. What good was a family anyway? Besides, what was so important about having a family of your own? What do the people who had families have that we kids from the orphanage or the reform school did not have anyway?
At this very moment it is 10:02 p.m. on May 4, 2000. As I sit here writing this story about my Uncle Boulton and my Aunt Margaret, I never realized until right now exactly what the real problem has always been and it had nothing to do with living in that bunkhouse. The problem started many years before I ever laid eyes on Uncle Owen, Aunt Margaret or the Boulton Ranch. It is a real shame that at 13 years of age, I did not know or have the slightest clue whatsoever, as to what the difference could possibly be between living in the bunkhouse with the hired hands or living in the big, white ranch house where ‘my’ real family lived.
I have been married six times in my life and I have four children of my own, not to mention many stepchildren and grandchildren. In each of these marriages and in the personal relationships that I had with my children and stepchildren, ‘I’ had always chosen to live in the bunkhouse. I guess, because ‘I’ could not see anything wrong with that. Besides, I really did not know what it felt like to live in the ‘main house’ with the real family anyway.
It was ‘I,’ me, myself, who automatically choose to live in those ‘bunkhouses’ all those years. That is all that I ever knew to do. My Uncle Boulton and my Aunt Margaret did not have the slightest idea what had happened to me in the past. Nor did they have the slightest idea how to undo what had been done to me in the past. I have always been very thankful that they gave me a chance to make things better for myself. Little did either of them know that I did not have the slightest idea that anything was wrong.