By Kent Hanawalt
We went to a funeral not long ago for the matriarch of a neighboring rural family. Although she lived in the country, this woman had once been the county treasurer, and thus, the mix of attendees was slightly different than it might have been had she spent all of her days on the ranch.
For some reason, I was paying attention on this occasion to the apparel of the arrivals to the chapel. Most people were dressed neatly, yet only a few suits and ties. The ranchers stood out. Each of them was wearing a new pair of blue jeans and carrying a hat.
These cattlemen were all dressed in their best shirt, and most had on a wool vest. They were, of course, wearing clean boots as well. There were a few who wore western cut sport coats—as were all the pallbearers.
I, myself, was dressed a little better than the common cowboy. Rather than blue jeans, I wore tan Wranglers with a complementary brown wool vest. My brown leather belt matched my brown sharkskin boots, as well as the wallet I received for Christmas.
One fellow of particular interest to me was my neighbor Jeff. He had been closing a gate behind his tractor as we went by, a mile away from his headquarters. He was wearing his normal threadbare brown duck outerwear, and I was surprised that he wouldn’t be attending this funeral.
But he showed up only minutes behind us in all his town finery. He had obviously been wearing new jeans and a vest under his bib overalls, and had removed one layer when his wife showed up with the pickup. In fact, the tractor was still sitting by the gate when we returned home.
As I said, the ranchers were all carrying their hats, and that presented a bit of a problem. There were several men that I didn’t immediately recognize bare-headed. Their hat is as much a part of them as their coat, and when they take off the hat and reveal a bald head, it’s a bit of a surprise.
I laugh and shake my head whenever I see faded, worn, and ripped jeans around town. I have a few pairs like that myself, but would never wear them in public. I save them for days when I am working on equipment that will leave them dirty and greasy. These jeans of mine earned their wear and tear honestly, but I change out of them and take a shower when I am finished with an oily task. Those folks in town never wear anything out, and I wonder what motivates them to pretend they do.
As with most country folk, my choice in clothing is pragmatic rather than a fashion statement. I wear most of my clothes a couple of years for “good” before they are relegated to “work.”
It is the same concept as my chaffing at mowing the lawn: if I’m going to water it and cut it, I want to bale it and feed it to the cows.
Doing things just for appearances doesn’t make much sense to me.
For more stories from Kent Hanawalt, check out his book, Ain’t This Romantic!?!: Adventures of a Twentieth Century Cowboy, available on amazon.com.