In Mid-40s Owyhee

By Sherman Fung
April 01, 2001

The expelled "ughs" that accompanied my pushes didn't make the wheelbarrow hoe-er work better. I saw its claw-like teeth dig into the dried soil, but the Nevada sun had insured its near rock-hard solidity. The sight of those long, unturned furrows was enough in itself to discourage me, not to say anything about the soon-to-disappear cooler, early morning sun. To me, a city-bred dweller and a recent college graduate, doing rural chores such as maintaining a vegetable garden or raising chickens was a complete change of pace. The Board of National Missions people didn't tell me that the internship I was undertaking might include such activities. It did not take me long after starting the assignment to realize that such food raising efforts were necessary. A rural pastor like Rousas Rushdoony, in whose house I was lodging, had to devise ways to supplement the low salary that a rural pastor received.

The demanding physical labor that put thick calluses on my hands wasn't the only thing I had to adjust to. The main industry in the area surrounding Owyhee was cattle ranching. Naturally destination points were far apart. One time Rousas, because he had to do something else, asked me to contact the elders of the church for a special gathering. In San Francisco or any urban center, I would have gotten on the telephone to make arrangements, but in Owyhee I had to borrow a horse. I had never ridden a horse; donkeys and mules, yes, but not a cowboy horse. The lender assured me that the horse was very tame and that I would not get lost. The worst would be that the horse heads for his own home rather than go the way I wanted. I got on and, true to the owner's word, the horse responded to my leading as instructed by the lender. It went at a very leisurely pace down one road and up another. I was just following the directions given to me by the contact at each point I arrived at. At the pace we traveled I lost all track of time. Ordinarily a car would have done the job in no time. I didn't have one, nor was I accomplished in driving. I only recently got a Nevada driver's permit. When I was growing up in San Francisco, I, as well as most other residents, found public transportation adequate. So I did not start learning to drive until I took on this internship. At the home of the last elder I had to contact Guy Manning's place his son Arthur saw my predicament. It was getting to be late afternoon. Would I get home before it got dark? He urged me to take one of his cars and even showed me how to operate it. I tried, but I just couldn't get the hang of coordinating the clutch and gas pedal. So it was back on the horse again.

Getting used to the way things were done in the little Owyhee church wasn't hard. Rousas was in charge, and I was learning by observing and doing. The church people, trained by Anglo missionaries, knew how to do things the Presbyterian way. Still, the influence of local customs and native American thinking could be felt. Rousas, thoroughly American, was nevertheless sensitive to alternate cultural ways, he himself having come out of an Armenian home. He had no difficulty with the patriarchal pattern of family life and communal relationships. Neither did I, having come out of Chinese culture. The people in that church accepted Rousas' leadership. However, because I didn't look like an "American," the people of Owyhee considered me a curiosity as well as an outsider. This was something I had to get used to. In time, my curiosity status subsided and I became more comfortable with Owyhee.

Topics: R. J. Rushdoony

Sherman Fung

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