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Irons in the fire: Colleen and Helen

Paul Marchant for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 October 2018

Colleen is my neighbor. She and her husband, Rick, live on a little 9- or 10-acre piece about 5 miles down the road from my place. Colleen rescues things.

She rescues kids, and she rescues critters. There is always an odd conglomeration of beasts at her place. There are a couple of horses, sometimes a donkey, a little herd of goats, usually some ducks and a few turkeys and chickens as well as three or four cows, most of which probably have a unique name that matches an equally unique back story.

For instance, probably the most well-known beast on the place is Helen, the 14-year-old red brockle-faced cow born without eyes. Helen came to Colleen’s place when she was a baby, by way of the cowboys up the creek at the Winecup. They figured she wouldn’t make it out in the rough country, so they brought her down to Colleen.

Helen, like her famous Keller namesake, not only survived; she has thrived. She’s had a calf every year, and she knows every fence corner, stray sagebrush and sound of her sanctuary home. Most years, I send a bull down to spend a few weeks with Helen and her daughters and granddaughters before I turn the cows out on the mountain.

It rarely fails. When I go to retrieve whichever bull had the luxury of the spa vacation, all I have to do is pull into the little pasture and open the trailer gate. Colleen hollers to the bull by the name she’s given him (usually some derivative of my name – sometimes flattering, sometimes not), at which time he’ll come trotting up to the trailer and jump in, whereby, I’ll close the gate and be on my merry way.

The beasts of the field are not the only beneficiaries of Rick and Colleen’s generous hearts. They are the parents of three sons, all now married and moved away from home, and five adopted daughters, two of whom are now in college. It should come as no surprise to hear she’s her kids’ biggest fan and staunchest ally.

She can be like an avenging angel she-bear in defense of her posterity. If there’s ever a downtrodden kid in town, chances are he or she has spent some time at Colleen’s dinner table and sat with the family in more than one church meeting.

A few months ago, Colleen was hit with the grim news she had been diagnosed with cancer. Understandably, the wind was temporarily sucked from her sails. But, as far as I can tell, the light that has always driven her to lift the burdens of those around her hasn’t dimmed in the slightest.

When some neighbors from her church stopped by to enquire as to what they could do to help her, she wasn’t shy in telling them she needed nothing from them. When they persisted and informed her they wouldn’t leave until she allowed them do something – anything – for her, she finally relented and told them they could go across the road and mow her neighbors’ lawn.

It was the lawn of the neighbors who had lost their own husband and father to cancer a few months prior and who have been the frequent recipients of her altruism. One evening, as I was finishing up the chores, I noticed Colleen’s car pull up in my driveway.

She and her daughters were delivering a plate of cookies to thank my wife for taking a meal down to her house when she was going through treatment. And I know our place was just one of the several cookie stops they made that day. Really? Shouldn’t she be taking some time to feel sorry for herself?

I heard somewhere life is “catastrophe contaminated by malevolence.” What a disheartening yet easy-to-believe proclamation that is. In my moments of despair, I’ve sometimes been tempted to place all my money on that horse, to buy in to that creed.

But there’s always just enough strength to cast a glance to the ever-present light reflected through the goodness of people like my neighbor. It is more than naïve optimism to cling to the belief we are stronger than life is terrible. It’s a constant and solid truth. That’s something to be thankful for.  end mark

Paul Marchant
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