By Dave Simpson, Cowboy State Daily columnist
There’s some swagger involved in being the “Pot Wrassler.”
Unless you’re really bad at it, folks don’t mess with you. Because, sure as God made little green apples, they don’t want to do it.
A Pot Wrassler was a chuck wagon cook and dishwasher out on the range. The job often fell to cowboys who were too old and beat up to do the rough stuff younger cowboys do.
The late cowboy poet Curley Fletcher wrote in the poem “Pot Wrassler,” “I got the rheumatics and my hands is all burned. My joints is all stiff and my belly is churned. Now I’m a pot wrassler, yure a hearing me shout. So come on and get it, fore I throws it out.”
When I retired I took over most of the cooking at our house. Seemed like the least I could do. For all those years I spent working, the chore of cooking fell on my wife. And it plum wore the old gal out. (She’s a lot older than I am – 24 days.)
It’s not hard to understand. She had been cooking since “home ec” in junior high – when I was busy making a curio shelf in “shop.” Coming up with “something for dinner” had long ago lost its allure, and she always said she’d eat road kill, or squirrel brains, if someone else would just cook it.
For me, however, after a career of listening to people complain about a wet newspaper, or with a bone to pick over an editorial, cooking dinner seemed like a day in the park. A little project every afternoon, with the payoff at dinner. Piece of cake.
I think a lot of retired guys are doing the cooking these days, guys like me with “the rheumatics” and stiff joints and churned bellies.
I see them at the grocery store, confused looks on their faces, wandering around, looking in vain for the Kitchen Bouquet (a teenager stocking shelves told me to go look in Floral), or trying to find the “broccolini” that TV star Joanna Gaines specifies in her baked chicken recipe. (Good luck finding broccolini in Flyover Country. I’ve looked high and low.)
The women in my family laugh that I even looked. “Leave it out of the recipe!” they say. “Are you crazy? Who cares?” But the retired guys I know want to be precise, as if they’re rebuilding a carburetor. We actually care if the salt is “sea salt,” or “kosher salt.” The wrong salt could mess everything up. The dinner could run rough.
Old guys who spent years reading “Popular Mechanics” and looking up to Bob Vila and Norm Abram are suddenly studying the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book, and watching “The Pioneer Woman” on TV. Tom Silva can rebuild your Victorian porch, but Ree Drummond makes a killer Green Bean Casserole. Times change, Pal. Better change with ’em.
We’re up to it. An old friend told me not long ago that he too does most of the cooking at his house. (That guy bakes a loaf of rye bread that will blow your hat in the creek.)
A young guy I know did such a good job on the Magnolia Table Classic Cheesecake that I had to give it a try myself. (Figuring out what a “springform pan” is, and trying to find one, burned up an afternoon.
I ultimately bailed, resorting to one of those preformed graham cracker crust pans. It was my maiden voyage baking in a “water bath.” Nobody drowned.)
My mother-in-law makes the best fried chicken in the world. During one visit, she got crosswise with my black Lab. “She says either the dog goes, or she goes,” my wife said. And I said, “I’m sure going to miss that fried chicken.” (Things calmed down and neither the dog nor my mother-in-law had to go.)
I’m working on my fried chicken, but it can’t match hers. I can go toe-to-toe with her, though, when it comes to green chili.
This pot wrassler deal is kind of fun. The family comes and gets it, “fore I throws it out.”
As Curley Fletcher wrote:
“So do yure old riding, you wild galoots. And I’ll wrassle pots, you can just bet your boots.”
Dave Simpson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org