Okeechobee is a cow town. While it is also home to orange groves, agriculture,dairy and tourism-- cattle are an important cash contributor. And, where you have cows, you have cowboys. These guys are the real deal. While very few cowboys now days live on a ranch in a bunk house, these fellows have the same toughness the frontier men had.
Today they usually live away from the ranch with their families. Each day they saddle their horses, load them in stock trailers along with working dogs, kiss the wife and kids good by, screw their hats on tight and drive to work.
|My friend Joan was kind enough to send me this picture of her grandson Randy who to me is what I visualize when I think of Florida Cowboy.|
The day worker cowboy is alive and well. Some work for only one rancher, some contract out their services. They work hard, love their way of life, their families, their country and their hats. They will fight for all of the above.
Yep, hats are vital to the cowboy. They are protection from the angry Florida sun but they are also a symbol. They wear them at all times. Some brag they make love with their hat on. It is a visible sign that they feel defines them.
The smart person will not try to separate a cowboy from his hat. He will only willingly doff his hat if the National Anthem is being played. He will dip his head slightly and touch the brim when acknowledging a lady. Other wise, it stays on his head.
The other faction in this hat war is the tourist. They flock to this small town each winter, largely from the states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. There are several other states represented but these dominate and Ohio is by far the leader. We use to wonder who was left in Ohio each winter to keep it running. This group is firm in Mid Western values. They come for the lake fishing in the largest lake in the southeastern United States.
While there was much to be said about how nice and quiet our sleepy little town was the rest of the year, I enjoyed the new energy and money the Yankees brought in the winter. Being half Yankee myself, I could relate. They were generally a cheerful and pleasant lot as they enjoyed their golden years. Life was good and comfortable with just a few more aches and pains.
Where those two factions would butt heads was over one singular thing. They vehemently disagreed whether or not a man should remove his hat in a restaurant. Cowboys NEVER removed their hats. I mean if the hat did not come off for sex, why would it come off for a meal? This made the northerners bristle who considered it a sign of bad manners and disrespect.
While this could have come to blows as both groups were passionate, it mainly found release in the local newspaper's editorial page via the "Speak Out" section. "Speak Out" was a forum where people could call the newspaper and record their displeasure on any subject. The newspaper would then edit out any rants with profanity or libel and print the opinions word for word. This would then spark a flood of pro or con comments from the readers. It was mostly fun reading for those of us not involved.
I think the conflict remained in the safety of the paper instead of personal confrontation since the cowboys were lean, tough and fit and the tourists were soft, older and out of shape. Our tourists were a smart group.
For the entire winter the two groups sniped at each other heatedly in the paper while just glaring at each other in the restaurants. I guess it could only be called a war of words as no blows were thrown but there was lots of saber rattling. I have been gone for over 8 years but I'll bet the same arguments will happen again this winter.
On both sides it is the ole "my way is the only way so get out of the way" stance with no compromise nor quarter given.
Is it just me or does it kind of remind you of Congress?