Lesbians, Furries, Kissing Men, and A New Belt in the Sandhills of Nebraska
My wife Julia and I left western North Carolina in our homemade gypsy vardo wagon and arrived four days later in the Sandhills of Nebraska, where we spent the night in a cabin owned by a rancher and his wife. They own a leather shop, and I asked her if she could make me a new belt. “Sure,” she said and told me to drop by the leather shop the next morning.
I only own one belt, and it’s the veteran of many mules voyages. It’s 36 inches long, with a brass buckle and no tooling. I’ve owned it for ten years, the holes are stretched-out, and the leather is cracked. I’ve been looking to buy a new leather belt for six months but haven’t seen anything I like.
Making a New Leather Belt
We met at 7:30 in the leather shop after she sent her kids to school. I asked her if she could use the buckle off my old belt on the new one. She said she could. She took half a tanned hide off a rack on the wall. The hide looked like a giant brown fruit roll up, and she rolled it out on her workbench. “I don’t use much of this kind of leather,” she said. “It’s English bridle leather. It’s stiffer than the saddle leather we use in our saddles.”
She measured my belt, set her cutting tool to the same width, and cut a long strip out of the hide. She cut another strip the same length and wide as my old belt out of thinner leather. “This is the backing,” she said. “I’ll sew it to the back of the belt, so it doesn’t stretch.”
Leatherworking stampes Punches and punchings Leatherworking tools
She placed my old belt on top of the strip of leather she’d cut out and marked the holes. She and her husband used to live in Grand Isle but had moved to a community in the Sandhills to raise their kids away from the big city. We asked her what that was like.
Schools and Covid in the Sandhills of Nebraska
“What we like about living here is that it’s a little off to the side of the craziness of the rest of the world,” she said. “Things are moving ahead so fast these days in the cities.”
We asked her how she got through Covid. “Our school was one of only about a hundred that didn’t go to masks,” she said. “Young kids need to see their teacher’s faces and mouths,” she said. “We’re lucky, though. Our classes are small. We only have ten kids per class, while big city schools have thirty or more. The principal and the superintendent of our school are the same man. He’s great because he helped pay for the preventive measures like plexiglass dividers for our classrooms out of his own pocket. That means we could get by with distancing and setting up barriers to keep kids farther apart.”
I looked out the window of the leather shop. All I saw was a long sandy hill on the horizon and a big blue sky.
Furries and Peeing in Litterboxes
“It’s crazy what the city teachers have to deal with now,” she said. “A friend told me of a school where they now have bathrooms for the boys and bathrooms for the girls and two litter boxes. And that’s here in Nebraska.”
“Litter boxes?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “There are two girls in one of the schools that identify as furries. They think they are cats and say they could only use a litter box. They got it from Tik Tok or the internet. So much stuff is coming at our kids over the phone now that it’s crazy.”
“These kids are too young to know this stuff. We don’t let our kids on their tablets without supervision. Our daughter is seven, and our son is ten. We’ve set up controls on their devices so they can only go to certain sites. They have to ask us if they can use them, and we’ll walk into the room and pick up their devices to see what they’re looking at.”
She spooled the bobbin on her sewing machine with tan thread. “So kids can’t even go to the bathroom anymore without it being complicated,” she said. “Well, the janitor at the school where the two girls wanted to pee into litter boxes came up with a good solution. He told the girls he’d put a litter box in the girl’s restroom. But they had to clean it out themselves. That took care of the problem. The girls never used the litter box and went back to using the toilets like everyone else.”
Note: The litter box story turned out to be fabricated and untrue. Controversial podcaster Joe Rogan admitted that he had made up the litter box in schools hoax (see bottom of page).
She shaped the end of the belt that went around the buckle, cut the buckle off my old belt, and sewed it to the new one. She cut a thin strip of leather for the belt loop. “My husband usually sews the loops,” she said. She talked and worked so fluidly at the same time I had no doubt she’d do a fine job.
Two Mommies and Kissing a Dude
The Sandhills of Nebraska is a conservative part of the county. It’s mostly cattle ranchers, wind and wide open places. She knew the outside world was seeping into it and was doing her best to prepare her kids for when they went outside into the larger world.
“We have to prepare our kids for the outside world,” she said. “One day, they’ll go off to college and have to deal with it.”
She sewed the belt loop onto the belt, dipped it into a tub of grease, pulled it out, and rubbed it down with a leather rag.
Julia and I have spent much of the past three years alone on our farm in western North Carolina. The isolation of Covid turned into the isolation of finishing my newest book “Trash to Triumph”. The trip we’re on now, the same journey that took us to the rancher, is a chance for us to talk with people and see what’s up in the outside world. We’re not listening to the news to get this info. We’re talking directly to people.
I asked the rancher’s wife how she and her family were dealing with gender issues such as same-sex marriage and the third-gender pronoun “they” being used instead of “he” or “she.”
“It’s something all of us in these rural areas are having to deal with now,” she said. “I have a friend who’s a rancher’s wife in another small town nearby. On the first day of school this year, her son came home and said, ‘Mommy, this kid in class has two mommies.’ The mom said, ‘oh, that’s because some people can’t get along with their spouse, so they remarry. That’s how a person can have two moms.’ The boy said, ‘no, mommy, there’s no daddy, just two mommies.’
“The rancher’s wife said, ‘now I have to explain to my kid what a lesbian is.’ I haven’t told my kids what a lesbian is yet, but I know I’m going to have to. I don’t even know how I’ll explain “they” and gender swapping to them.”
Kissing a Dude
“The son of one of our rancher friends is going off to college next year. His name is Cody. He grew up on a ranch and hasn’t seen much of the outside world. One night we were sitting in our shop drinking beer with Cody, his father, and a friend of mine from Grande Isle. The subject of gender roles came up, and Cody said he didn’t want to hear anything about it.”
“My friend from Grand Isle asked him, ‘what would you do if you were off at college and met this girl at a party? And you got on well and started making out. And then you discovered she was a man?”‘
“Cody said, ‘I’d kick his ass!'”
“My friend told him, ‘well, you can’t do that without getting into a lot of trouble. Besides, it wouldn’t change anything. You still would have kissed a man.'”
“For a tough young cowboy to kiss another man would kill him. I mean, that’s the sort of thing that could mess him up. And yet, it’s something he has to know is out there.”
Things Aren’t Going to Change. They’re Already Changing.
She took my new belt with the old buckle on it to a polisher and smoothed the tapered end where it buckled. I’d walked into the leather shop with my old belt hopeing to come out with a new one. Instead, I got the old buckle, the one I love, set in a new piece of leather. The belt reminds me of the rancher’s wife’s stories, of how we need to mix the new and the old to move forward.
You shouldn’t throw out an old belt buckle because the leather is worn out, just like you shouldn’t throw out all your old culture. And yet, at some point, the old belt, like the old ways, doesn’t keep your pants up, so you need to make repairs with new materials.
I respect the rancher’s wife for understanding the old ways of the West. I also respect her for understanding that things are changing. Gender roles, climate change, animal rights, social justice, and economic changes are fingering their way into isolated parts of our country like the Sandhills of Nebraska that haven’t had to deal with the outside world for years.
Things aren’t going to change. They’re already changing. I didn’t want a new belt. I liked my old one. I love my new/old one better than the one I never wanted to get rid of.
Note: Furries Peeing in Litter Box Debunked as Urban Myth
Controversial podcaster Joe Rogan admitted that he had made up the litter box in schools hoax. He played on the sensibilities of his audience, meaning he lied to his audience to maintain the status of his podcast. That’s an incredibly dangerous, selfish stunt to pull at a time when our nation is so divided along political and ideological lines.
The hoax took on a life of its own. The untrue litter box story was picked up by politicians and disseminated as fact.
According to NBC News, “At least 20 conservative candidates and elected officials have claimed this year that K-12 schools are placing litter boxes on campus or making other accommodations for students who identify as cats, according to an NBC News review of public statements.“
“Every school district that has been named by those 20 politicians said either to NBC News or in public statements that these claims are untrue. There is no evidence that any school has deployed litter boxes for students to use because they identify as cats.“
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