So, Neil and I go way back. Waaay back. I go as far back with Neil as I do with anyone other than family, honestly. I moved to Comanche in 6th grade. So, my way back is only… oh… about 24 years. Wait! Did I just give away my age? Sigh…
Anyway, Neil and I were in the same class in school. While we go way back, I wouldn’t say that I ever really knew him until recently. As I’ve stated many times before, I’m not a country girl. Never wore boots, never listened to country music, never ran with the crowd that did those things, blah, blah, blah. And, honestly, I was a bit more trouble in school than Neil ever was. I think.
I never had much in common with Neil aside from our age and geographic location. I always liked the guy. I always knew he was a respectable kid. I just didn’t know him, know him.
Fast forward fifteen years post graduation. Suddenly, I find myself working with (for?) Neil. Back in ol’ Algebra 2, I never ever in a billion years time would have anticipated I’d some day be working with that guy. But, alas, here I am.
I also didn’t anticipate that we’d ever have anything in common. But, I was also a young, clueless teenager. Here I am, now almost 20 years later, and I find that he is my ally. I find that he is probably the single most enjoyable person to work with. Oh, and it’s not because he’s fun or a cut-up or anything else. Nope. He is the single most enjoyable person for me to work with because he gets things done. He is a no nonsense, all business kinda guy… at least during working hours. (All bets are off when it’s time to have fun! See photo.)
You know that obnoxious person that has endless to-do lists? The one that keeps spreadsheets? The one that can’t function as long as there is something left unchecked on the list? The one that makes a schedule and sticks to it? The one that puts his wallet in the same exact place EVERY. SINGLE. DAY? Yep. That’s Neil. And, I can say that about him because, turns out, that’s me, too! Now surely you see why I enjoy working with him so much?
I wonder how crazy he makes other people? You know… the ones that aren’t like him? I have no reference for that, but it’s a curious thing. I digress…
So, anyway, between going to school with him, working with him, AND working for his wife, I thought, “hey… I know this guy pretty well… I can write a bit about him.” And, then I realized… “eh, no one wants to read about checklists and obsessive compulsive behavior. Hmmm…” But, as has been my luck for these stories, I look across the store and see the backside of a tall, lanky guy head to toe in denim. Neil!
“Neil! Are you gonna be around a bit this morning?” And, I can see it in his eyes. I know he’s thinking 100% work. I know he wants to know what’s happening in my work world. How did inventory go? How was closing? You know… things like that. No, no, no buddy. I’m about to ambush you. “I’ll be around ’til 9:30,” he says. “I’m busy right now, but I’ll have some time in a bit.”
Fast forward “a bit”.
Neil: Alright, Amy, I’ve got some time. What’s up?
Me: Ummm… I need a cowboy for a bio of a cowboy this week.
Neil: Use Brian. (He points to Brian who is standing 2 feet from us listening to the conversation.)
Me: No. That guy (and I wave my hand in his general direction as if he’s not there and can’t hear me) is too quiet… I haven’t gotten to know him well enough yet. Come on… I was out Thursday & Friday last week, and I know you pretty well… it should be easy.
Neil: Okay. Fine. Go get your inventory notebook.
And, I realize a personal interview was not a part of his plan this morning, so we’re going to have to integrate work into this somehow. “Okay, fine. I’ll play along,” I think to myself. Inventory notebook and interview notebook in hand, we sit down to talk.
I won’t bore you with the first 45 minutes of that conversation. The last 45 minutes of that conversation, though… that’s the good stuff. Neil is probably the most legit cowboy that I know. He breathes it, walks it, talks it, lives it, loves it. He recently got out of the cattle business, though, for several reasons. Watching Neil and his buddies “work cows” was the first time I ever saw someone “work cows”. It was… interesting. Honestly, I had no idea what all that entailed. That’s a story for another day, though.
But, in watching him and his buddies those couple of days, I gained an appreciation for all of their hard work, natural ability, and acquired talents. In watching him and his buddies, I could also see the passion & excitement they all have for that work. It was like a bunch of kids at Six Flags or something. So, when I’d heard he’d sold off all his cattle, it left me a little perplexed.
“Do you miss it?” I ask. He answers without pause, “Oh yeah. That’s what I’d do for a living if I could. If I had all the money in the world and no responsibilities, I’d spend my life breaking horses, working cattle, and roping calves.”
My mother recently bought me a coffee mug that says, “Do more of what makes you happy.” Over the past few years, she’s really encouraged me to find my passions and really make time for them. She’s encouraged me to really delve into who I am and who I’m meant to be and try to become more of that person. It’s been an ongoing thread throughout the fabric of my life the past couple years… constantly in my subconscious. What does this have to do with Neil?
Well, anytime I hear folks talk about what they would do if they could, I am reminded of my own struggle to become who I am meant to be. And, I just wonder how other folks are affected. So, I just outright ask him.
“Everybody’s life only has room for so much stuff,” he tells me. I’m thinking, “yep… so true.” He continues, “Somewhere around 20 years old, I made a list of goals to accomplish by the time I was 35.” He pats his shirt pocket, looks around like he’s lost something, and then says, “I had them right here with me just a second ago. Huh.”
Wait, wait, wait. Back this truck up! Bud, I know you’re 35. You wrote a list of goals 15 years ago, and on some random Tuesday morning, you had them in your pearl snap shirt pocket?!? WHAAA??? Who does that? (I didn’t vocalize any of that, by the way. Ha! But, you can bet that’s what I was thinking.)
Anyway, he goes on, “I wanted to make the NFR as a calf roper by the time I was 35. I also wanted to have a family. But, I thought I’d make the NFR then have a family.” And he laughs. “I think goals are something you set and strive for… if you require yourself to meet every goal, you’re not setting them high enough.” The NFR calf roping thing is the ONLY goal he did not get to mark off his list. “Oh well. I think if I did it at 36, I’d be happy.”
And, then, his talk turns to family. While I can tell that he’s a very driven man, and he would have liked to mark off all of his goals, I can also see that he’s got three beautiful ladies in his life that far outdo any satisfaction he might have gotten from marking off those goals. He reminds me that having a family was also on that list. And, he’s got that. When he starts to speak about his daughters and his wife, I can see a change in his demeanor. He becomes more wistful and introspective, he sits silently for a moment or two before he speaks… it’s like he goes to a different, more special place in his heart to talk about his love for his family than he does his love for cowboy-ing. And, I can see the satisfaction all over his face.
“Neil, what was the happiest moment of your life?” He sits. He looks away in thought. “Hurry, hurry! What’s your knee jerk reaction… don’t give it too much thought,” I demand. He looks me right in the eyes immediately and says, “Savannah.” (For those of you that don’t know, Savannah is his oldest child.) “I mean, that was my knee jerk reaction,” he continues. “I’d hate for Dakota (his second and only other child) to read that.” And, he looks a little pained by the statement.
The thing is, though, Neil and I have had parenting conversations in the past. We’ve talked about his daughters and my daughters and how parenting is just… a tough gig. We’ve talked about how it’s akin to trying to find your way out of an unfamiliar pitch black room. You know? It really is… And, so, when he says “Savannah,” I know what he means. Savannah made him a father. Savannah turned out the lights in an unfamiliar room. That moment changed his life, and nothing has made him happier.
I love when men try to vocalize their hearts for their children. I love their observations. “Savvy will be like me. Dakota will like to be with me,” he says. I can tell that he is an astute daddy. He’s in tune. I can tell he’ll make it out of that unfamiliar room with joy abundant. And, I know, without a doubt, that he is choosing to do more of what makes him happy.