John Michael

Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise LI: The Ranch

(Photo by John Michael of artwork by Fred Ochi)

John Michael continues his series Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise, reflecting on life and people encountered, reflecting on times his family spent summers on “The Ranch.”


My mom loved art, mostly Western themes, but also folk art. This is a Fred Ochi and there are several around the house. It is over the Davenport in the living room.



It is a favorite of mine as the sheets remind me of our place in Weippe that we always referred to as “The Ranch.” When we were kids, and my parents were still together, we would live up there every summer and Dad would farm the acreage there and on his family’s land across the Clearwater and up in the Nez Perce prairie.

Tractor grease and pickup truck dust from my dad’s full-size Dodge are smells I will always remember, along with hay (which made my allergies pop, I remember getting both Benadryl and Sudafed) both in the field and the barn. Happy to say, for whatever reason, I have overcome all my childhood allergies.

Sam and I were pretty young and couldn’t spend as much time helping Dad as we wanted to. So, we spent a lot of time making our own fun out in the fields and hanging out with Mom. She used to hang the laundry out on the line, and I remember being fascinated by the wooden clothes pins. I would hand them to her, pinching them onto my fingers and making long lines of them all clipped together. Line-dried sheets and clover in the yard are other lovely smell memories.

There was a family dump on the property and Mom used to love to go there and treasure hunt. I was delighted to dig up an old whiskey bottle that has indentations in the glass where you could put your fingers. I remember my dad making a big deal of it and us all sitting around the living room trying to figure out if it was worth anything. It’s still in a cupboard around here somewhere.

Mom never has liked being in the kitchen much, but she wasn’t going to let the neighboring farm wives think she was some kind of slouch either. There was always a very hearty noon meal for Dad and the four or five farm hands. Pork roast with carrots being one of my favorites.

I remember sitting around the table with Mom and my brother playing card games like Slap Jack and Old Maid, or my favorite Pick-Up Sticks. I loved the colors and the tension the game produced. My brother and I were both sore losers as I remember, and Mom was always manipulating things a little so we each got a chance to be winners. We would occasionally be in Orofino visiting her parents and that’s where I learned the more adult card games of Solitaire and Kings in the Corner.


I remember sitting around the table with Mom and my brother playing card games like Slap Jack and Old Maid, or my favorite Pick-Up Sticks. I loved the colors and the tension the game produced. 


We had two horses, Sugar and Apache, and I learned to ride on Apache. There was always tension between my parents and my dad drank too much to relieve his tension, probably both about my mom and running a couple of large farming operations. One night, Dad had some friends up from Lewiston and they were partying a bit and Dad saddled up the horses and went right over the top of Sugar and face planted, which absolutely delighted his friends.

That night, I also got kicked by Apache in the shoulder. Dad taught us how to behave and walk around horses. I had always blamed myself for being kicked, and maybe even someone said, “Look out!” before it happened. Looking back, there were a lot of people around and I imagine the horses were a little skittish for that reason.

I do remember it hurting like hell and Dad coming in later and examining my wound with some tenderness and not blaming and yelling at me for it.

Us kids ran around barefoot a lot and Dad used to send Sam (his nickname was “Buff” back then) tearing down the gravel road without any shoes on so as to impress any visitors that showed up. If I was a mamma’s boy, Sam was my dad’s son and has always been a little more naturally tougher and athletic than me.

At some point, our grandparents gave us some kid ropes to play with and I remember putting the rope around the head of an old milk cow and pulling it tight, and being extremely disappointed in the lack of thrill it provided. I also surprised the hell out of myself by managing to catch a calf by its ear and remember him bawling some and yanking the rope from my hands.

One farm hand was a guy named Bart Slader. He and my dad could pack away the Hamm’s like it was water. He slept upstairs in the bedroom opposite of the one Sam and I slept in. Sam and I got to laughing so hard one morning that we had tears in our eyes listening to Bart snore.


John Michael

Hello, good people. I am rarely sure how to describe myself. If I say I am a Christian, many things may arise in your mind that ain't necessarily so. I was homeless for seven years and learned more about myself in that stretch of time than in any other segment of my life. I read the Bible a lot out there and came across a passage in Proverbs that has shaped my approach to life: "A man's pursuit is his kindness." I am well educated with a Master of Social Work degree and have worked a wide variety of jobs in my 52 years. None have lasted too long however. When I was homeless, the beauty of Texas wildflowers made me decide to want to live again. Along with kindness, beauty, play, and self-expression are life-guiding ideas. My shadow contains things like feeling sorry for myself, a truckload of defiance, a desperate need to please women, and no small amount of cruelty. A quote from Luke also has had a lasting effect on me: "For God is kind to the ungrateful and the evil." When I read that I thought, "Hell, I have got a fighting chance." I am here to tell you, you have a fighting chance as well. Besides Christianity, practicing Buddhist and Shamanic techniques inform my relationship to God and the world.

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