Cowboy Boots... Just Part of the Uniform
Here's another of my grand adventures! Not quite fashion week, but every bit as fun!
You’ve probably seen by now that my life is not all glamour and fashion.
During the school year I spend my spare moments coordinating photoshoots with purple-haired geniuses, fitting gowns to willowy women, and attending meetings with men in tailored suits. Flashes of light and the sound of my own heartbeat make it easy for me to forget that my life has much more to it than that.
For the past three summers I have left civilization behind and traveled home where I am the sixth generation on my family’s farm in Silver Lake, Ore. We grow alfalfa hay which is harvested three times every summer.
My oldest brother, Daniel, 23, runs the farm now with the help of half a dozen or so employees that live on the farm during the harvest season.
As you may have read in a previous post, my job on the farm is to manage the farm headquarters, keeping everyone fed and the place tidy. Silver Lake is 80 miles south of Bend, which is the closest real option for groceries, so most of what I made had to be completely from scratch. I made three meals a day, delivering lunches and snacks to the workers in the fields as needed, as well as trying to keep up with the mountains of laundry and the incessant weed population around the grounds. When it was time to harvest the hay I also helped drive equipment in the fields.
It’s a fun job. The hours are long and the work isn’t easy, but it’s all very satisfying work. This summer, having just bought my car and discovering the joy of having to pay for gas, I decided to take on an additional job waitressing at The Cowboy Dinner Tree just outside of Silver Lake.
The Dinner Tree is a family-style steakhouse in an old shack in the middle of nowhere, but there is a reason people come from all across the globe for this "Wild West" experience.
An old gnarled tree supports the west side of the kitchen, twisting around the establishment in a way that holds it together. The Juniper sheltered people as they ate their beans and biscuits long before the restaurant was ever established. The cowboys moving cattle across the dessert would always stop under the tree for lunch before getting back to work.
The "shack" itself was built as a homestead in the 1800s and later used for storage. It was opened as a restaurant in 1992, and has since had two rooms added on to it.
The Dinner Tree is open Thursday-Saturday in the summertime, so I would get called in two or three days a week to waitress. I'd get there at 3:00 p.m. to set up for the night, filling the dressing canisters and bringing in food from the walk-in refrigerator.
People would start trickling in for the first seating an hour later. My boss, Angel Roscoe would generally host, seating people and helping in the kitchen, and then there would be one or two other waitresses, depending on the night.
When a table was seated, I would take them their salad and house-made dressings and confirm their orders. We keep it simple, with a whopping two whole options: "Chicken or Beef?"
After confirming the meat order with grill-master Brian Baker, I took out the drinks (pink lemonade, ice tea, water or coffee) in tall mason jars, clearing the table for the next course. Then I would bring out some Cowboy-Bean soup and the world-famous sweet yeast rolls still warm from the oven.
After that round had been cleared it was time for the real jaw-dropper: the meat and baked potato. First of all, if you ordered chicken you got a whole-roasted bird, and if you ordered steak, my wobbly little arms would deliver 32oz of top sirloin beef to your table.
After all that food you're obviously going to need more right? Um, yes! Lastly, I would bring out the berry shortcake. Most of the meat went home in doggie bags, but no one ever had a hard time finding room for dessert.
Guests would then waddle out the door in time for the next round of reservations. An average Saturday night would bring 200 people through our doors. With only two or three waitresses, that is a lot of hustling!
Amid the chaos, there was always plenty of time for the moments that led me to fall in love with The Dinner Tree.
I have to admit that deep down I am a hopeless romantic. Couples of all ages and walks of life would come for dinner -- an anniversary or a birthday perhaps, eyes sparkling and smiles bigger than the steaks.
The cell service isn't great, so families would be forced to sit and talk together. They would point around the building, laughing at the various cowboy-inspired decor. Fathers would bring their sons by after a long day of hiking or hunting. They sat and ate and talked about things that matter.
I met people from Australia to Chicago to just down the road. There were Portland hipsters and men in Stetsons. I loved hearing their stories, I loved watching their eyes light up. It's like there's some sort of spell over The Dinner Tree. It takes everyone back to a time to where people still talked to one another around a shared meal.
I loved it.
Beyond the people that I met, my favorite part about working at The Dinner Tree was the relationships that I made.
My boss, Angel, was so patient with me as I learned the position. The other waitresses always had my back and sometimes Angel had to get after us to go talk to the guests instead of laughing amongst ourselves in the kitchen.
We all had such a great time back there -- jamming out to "Willie's Roadhouse" and "50's on 5," and munching on cookies that Angel's daughter, Danny, baked, or giggling as the dishwasher, Janelle, fed us the latest gossip. One of the best waitresses I have ever met, the bubbly Holly Vore, and I would have to refrain from singing the ancient country tunes too loud, for fear of frightening the customers.
I even caught myself dancing with the broom a few times.
Angel has two little boys that she shared her perfect blonde-haired/blue-eyed combo with, that would often come help out too. Jack and Wade, the dynamic duo, would rake in the dough as guests fell for their inevitable cuteness.
At the end of the night we would take turns with less-exciting jobs such as cleaning the toilets and sweeping the floor. We all split the tips, so we were all on the same level and eager to help each other out.
It wasn't an easy summer. There were days where I would get up, cook for the boys all day, work at the Dinner Tree, and then bale hay all night. Then I'd get off the tractor and start cooking again in the morning, covered in a pasty mixture of grease, hay, and the spillage of someone's unfinished Cowboy Bean soup.
I learned so much about myself and about people in general -- how to read them, how to serve. I met incredible people with immeasurably large hearts, and it might have been seriously hard work, but I wouldn't change a thing.