photo courtesy of David and Deanna Dickinson McCall

by Jane Morton

My mother said she realized
with my Dad the cows came first.
If cows and she both needed drinks,
she knew who’d die of thirst.

In any contest with the cows,
Mom came out second-best.
She never gave up trying, though,
To that I can attest.

If Mom had planned a dinner,
or if they’d been invited out,
Dad promised he’d be on time,
but she had cause to doubt.

So many different happenings
had spoiled what she had planned,
She came to think that fate itself
might well have played a hand.

It wasn’t fate, it was my Dad.
He’d start a task too late.
And thinking he had time enough,
he didn’t want to wait.

He’d run into some problem there
he hadn’t counted on,
And sure enough, before he knew,
the daylight would be gone.

By time he got back to the house,
my mom would be irate.
She knew not which excuse he’d use,
but could anticipate—

“I drove out to the pasture where
my Chevy truck broke down.
Before a neighbor came along,
I’d walked halfway to town.

“That ornery Angus bull I bought
went through the fence today.
Of course I had to get him home.
He fought me all the way.

“I stopped to check a windmill,
and I found a stock tank dry.
The cattle have to drink you know.”
I’d hear my mother sigh.

“A calving heifer needed help,
so sure, I had to stay.
I promised I’d be home, I know,
but couldn’t get away.”

He had to pull a windmill
or he had to pull a calf
Mom heard it all so many times
she almost had to laugh.

Dad said he thought that Mom had ought
to take things in her stride.
That proved impossible for her,
no matter how she tried.

And when the two got on in years,
Mom was the first to go.
She’d asked for flowers on her stone,
but did she get them? No!

Dad bought one stone for both of them,
and he had it engraved.
A cow and the windmill took the place
of flowers she had craved.

When Mother said the cows came first;
she knew my dad too well.
Above her final resting place,
that cow will always dwell.

© 2003, Jane Morton, used with permission.

Colorado poet and writer Jane Morton often writes about her family’s ranch history, which began with her great great grandfather, Joshua Eaton Ambrose, a circuit-riding Baptist minister who left Illinois and headed to Colorado in 1872. She wrote this poem about her father, William Ernest Ambrose (1904-1994). She has commented that she really began to “know” her father when she stared writing about him.

She writes, “He loved his land, and he loved his work. His satisfaction with his life was reflected in his face. Perhaps that was why, when many his age had retired to rocking chairs, he was still going strong. Occasionally someone suggested that he retire and take it easy. Usually, he didn’t bother to reply. He’d said it once, and once was enough. ‘Someday,’ he said, ‘they’ll probably find me wrapped around one of these fence posts, but I’ll never quit.'”

Find more about William Ernest Ambrose in a feature at  This poem is included in a feature about Jane Morton’s mother, Eva Lena Wolowsky Ambrose (1904-1988). Find more about Jane Morton at

This photo by New Mexico rancher David McCall was taken last week at their Timberon-area ranch, an area experiencing a serious drought. Poet, writer and the other half of the McCall operation, Deanna Dickinson McCall, a couple of generations ahead of the Ambroses and a woman who has always worked her ranch alongside her husband, commented on the photo, “Waiting for rain, praying it comes soon! David McCall and the boys. I learned at an early age you can’t starve a profit into a cow.” What hasn’t changed: the cows come first. She told us, “We are just hoping the monsoons will arrive on time, or early. The spring that feeds the pipeline is almost dry, too low to feed the line, so we will begin hauling water. This has been the driest, windiest spring/summer we have seen, and the fire threat is so frightening.”

The McCalls have many generations of ranchers before them and generations of cowboy poets and reciters in front of them, in their children, including the late Rusty McCall, Katie McCall Owen, and Terri Anne Knight and grandchildren. Find more about the family and more about Deanna Dickinson McCall and her poems and stories at

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photo with this post, but please request permission for any other uses.)