There is a single light burning in the New Mexico ranch house, and the little radio in the corner of the kitchen is the only noise — the local AM station playing the last refrains of a Christmas song before the farm reports begin in an hour.
The ranch wife already has green chile bubbling on the stove. It’s Sandy’s recipe straight from Truth or Consequences where green chile is serious business. She hasn’t needed the recipe card in years, but it’s tucked safely, in Sandy’s swirly cursive hand, in the box.
She pulls cinnamon rolls from the oven, deftly avoids the toppled mud boots, and watches the steam cover the window as the rolls sit and cool and the ranch begins to come to life.
Elsewhere, in South Dakota, the winter has already been hard, there’s no doubt who is in charge when the wind blows the snow horizontally across the cows’ backs. The lights in the kitchen never dimmed the night before and this ranch wife is splitting her time between the calf warming on the kitchen floor, the grumpy toddler on her hip, and squinting to read the recipe card, yellowing on the edges. Her husband rolls through the yard in the feed truck, and her oldest son’s headlights are driving in slow meandering paths checking calves as the sun rises.
Farms and ranches come to life early all across the country, whether milking cows, checking heavies, or spilling steaming silage into bunks — all of which are the first order of the day. Diesel tractors sputter to life on cold mornings, and a plethora of papers, taggers, bottles, and Snickers wrappers delay the defrosting on pickup windshields.
As the day wears on, with each opened door, smiles grow brighter. A mother’s family spills in the door, smelling like sweaty horses with cold radiating off their coats and satisfied smiles on their faces. Another mother says a quick prayer of thanksgiving when her children return safely from college, another for the little kids out feeding cows with dad and learning about the priorities that working folks hold dear. One more, preparing for her first Christmas as a farm wife, prays that her dinner rolls will just rise … please.
Hat hooks in full houses are covered with coats, or ball caps from the seed company in town, or the John Deere dealer, or the hat with the narrow front crease of a feedlot man, or a black flat-brimmed hat, or a little girl’s favorite pink ball cap from the show steer folks.
Families sit around tables wherever they may be, and the noise of the families gathered is merry and bright. Tables covered with hand wrapped tamales and green chile; another with ham raised on the place. Prime rib from home-raised beef on another and turkey, raised by the neighbor, on another. The side dishes steam and all came from a farm family much like this one. Potatoes, greens, casseroles filled with green beans or okra or sweet potatoes all grown by a family somewhere who knows what it is to help feed a nation.
As they bow their heads, they give thanks for the land, their families, grandpa’s forethought to buy the original place years ago, the ability to raise their children on the farm or ranch and allow them to carry on the legacy. They’re thankful to pray together, farm together, and enjoy grandma’s recipes that make mom feel like maybe grandma is still there in spirit. All of it, on this day, leaves their bellies full, their hearts warm, and all of them aware of the gift they unwrap every morning when they step out the door to do this work they were meant to do.