I remember an old rancher friend of my father's who had the keenest interest in when people were born. "When were you born, Sonny?" he'd ask, and I'd tell him I was born in '70.
"Yes, nineteen a hundred and a seventy. Your dad, you know, was born in nineteen a hundred and twenty-one," he'd say with a deliberate cadence and a voice I can still remember.
If you saw him a year later he'd still remember you, when you were born, and he could probably tell you the birth year of everyone else sitting within 50 feet of him at the livestock sale barn diner while you visited.
Turns out, just knowing when people were born tells you a lot about them, their motivations and their personalities. Dad's old friend probably knew that.
I had the pleasure of hearing a speaker named Cam Marston at a recent meeting. He spoke about the four generations in our culture and work force, and how we can work to understand each other a little better.
The generations are the Matures, born between 1909 and 1945; the Baby Boomers, born from 1946 to 1964; Generation "X," born between 1965 and 1979; and the Millennials, those children born from 1980 to 2000.
Most of us have heard of the names of these generations. I hadn't given them much thought until I heard Cam's presentation. I started recognizing some of the traits that define each of the generations in myself and others.
I'm an X'er raised by two Matures, whereas most of my fellow X'ers were raised by Boomers. That gives me a little different outlook on life, and I've always kind of known that.
My parents both lived through the Depression. My father is a combat veteran of World War II. They weren't afraid of sacrifice, and hard work was a daily habit.
A good share of my neighbors, teachers and people I've worked with in various jobs are Baby Boomers. They're everywhere -- it's a huge generation. They're loyal, hard-working team players.
Me, I'm an X'er. I don't like that anonymous generational moniker, but maybe it fits us. We're a little harder to define. We're more loyal to people than institutions, and our work ethic is geared more towards the job than the time put in at a job. We're skeptical, but self-sufficient.
My neighbors and co-workers who are a little older than me or married a little younger produced the Millennial kids in today's work force -- a generation that has no idea a world once existed without cell phones, laptop computers or remote controls. They're the insulated, cared-for generation -- from the five-point harnesses of their child car seats to the basement bedroom in their parent's house that they have a hard time leaving. They'll work, but they're motivated differently.
There is a difference in work ethic, though, as you cross from the Matures and the Boomers to the Xers and the Millennials. Cam told us he's found some exceptions to the standardized traits assigned to the younger generations. Farm kids, military families, immigrants and the children of first-generation immigrants have traits more like the older generations.
Maybe that's why I've often felt like an old man trapped in a younger man's body. Raised on a ranch by older-than-average parents with the lessons of limitless chores, limited recreation, scarce money and the realities of life and death gave me some Boomer traits.
I hope the countryside can keep raising farm and ranch kids, and not just kids whose parents happen to farm or ranch but don't pass on the lessons of the older lifestyle to the next generation.
There are worse things than being old for your age.
Ryan M. Taylor is a fourth-generation cattle rancher, writer and state senator from Towner, N.D. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.