Do you know what this is?
Yep! It’s the National Debt.
Staggering, isn’t it?
Tales from a City Boy with a Cowboy Hat
It was another hot, blinding white day at the ranch, July, mid-1960ish. We had been moving a few head of sheep from one pasture to another by horseback – Vic, Emilio and me.
It was time for a quick bite of lunch (Vic called it “dinner”) before finishing up moving the sheep which milled about in the nearby catch pen, kicking up small clouds of dust and bleating now and then.
Vic and I perched on the side of a concrete water trough that had “1932” crudely etched on its end presumably by a ranch hand when they poured the concrete. Emilio sat on a large limestone rock nearby. All of us were hunched over our mid-day meal.
Vic tugged and tore each of his bites from a small collection of venison jerky.
Emilio had torn open a small can of Vienna sausage to which he added some Saltine crackers from a package of tin foil.
I was feasting on a can of sardines to which I also added Saltine crackers from my own package of tin foil.
That day we ate with our fingers and the each of us had a tin cup of ironish-tasting water drawn from a spigot at the base of the windmill.
Our horses, saddle girths loosened a bit and reins looped loosely around a sturdy, low-hanging mesquite branch, shuffled nearby in the shade, heads hanging low.
The flies, lots of them, challenged us for our food which resulted in each of us frequently waving at the air above our “delectables.”
“Ya know, Ed,” said Vic, breaking the silence that had enveloped us as we dined. “I gotta ask ya this, ‘cause I been wonderin’…” and fell silent.
“What?” I asked.
Emilio looked up.
“Yer family is pretty well off, and you could be over there in Houston in air conditioning, eating three squares a day made up by your folk’s servants and all, and playin’ around with your friends, girls and all, in backyard swimmin’ pools and all. How come it that you come out here all the time, away from all that comfort?”
I wasn’t necessarily stunned by his question, which was out of character for this West Texas cowboy I had come to revere, but I must admit I hadn’t thought about it.
“Uh…” I said. “I guess…well, I guess…”
Emilio watched the both of us. One of the horses snorted. The windmill made clanking sounds as the light breeze spun its blades.
A scorpion scampered out from beneath the big rock Emilio sat on but was quickly relieved of life by Emilio’s boot heel.
“Don’t have to say anything Ed…I was just wonderin’ a bit“ said Vic as he gathered up his leftover jerky.
“I guess, Vic,” I said tentatively. “I guess I may be a little like you.”
Vic stopped chomping for a second on his jerky, squinting at me side-long for a split second, then looked back at the last piece of half-chewed of jerky in his fat-fingered hand.
“I’d sooner be here than there,” I added.
Vic got up and walked to his saddlebag, his spurs clinking, and said:
“Well one thing’s fer sure…you ain’t like the rest, Ed. Yer native.”
To this very day, I think that was a compliment.
I thought I’d tell a story…
My father, who was an avid hunter and outdoorsman since childhood, invited me to join him for an elk hunt at Vermejo Ranch on the north border of New Mexico with Colorado.
Elk? I’d only seen pictures of them in hunting magazines or on television shows like “Wild Kingdom” with Marlin Perkins.
“Youbet, Dad!” I said.
Way back then, Vermejo was a well-known elk hunting spot having been stocked with re-located elk by its original owner, William Bartlett, around 1910. At the time, it was owned by Penzoil. Today, it’s owned by Ted Turner.
Anyway, in a chilly Houston morning, we both gathered up our hunting gear (most of which of mine having been gifts from him) and set off in his Chevrolet Suburban from Houston just about mid-morning and made it to my mother’s ranch house in Coke County about mid-afternoon.
We opened up the house and let the crisp northern breeze blow out the musty smell from its having been closed up too long.
That night we ate grilled chicken and salad (he called salad “rabbit food”)…and talked about guns and ammo and shooting in general…and elk in particular.
The breeze outside turned into heavy gusts of wind and the temperature dropped.
Not long after our meal, we turned in to sleep after my father opened every window and door in the house. I slept well under my sheets and wool blanket until he woke me up just before daylight. It was cold.
“Got some chores to do,” he said.
So chores we did until late afternoon under a low, cloudy sky with the wind blowing hard out of the north.
About 4 o’clock or so, we re-packed our gear and set off as the winter darkness began to envelop us on the lonely, two-lane highway to New Mexico.
As we approached Amarillo in the darkness it began to snow, the wind still blowing hard and gusting enough to pummel the Suburban so my father had to bear down on driving safely.
We made it through Amarillo as the snow thickened, the wind blowing it sideways...big, wet flakes. My father had slowed to 40 mph, turned on the windshield wipers and we both stared through the windshield trying to see the road ahead.
“Need gas…” he muttered.
I touched the glass of my passenger window…yep, it was cold.
Several miles ahead was the glow of a gas station sign.
“Good,” he muttered again. We hadn’t exchanged a word between us for miles. I could tell he was perturbed.
He slowed and pulled in next to the two gas pumps beneath the fluorescent lights that dimly lit the driveway. There wasn’t another soul around.
The wind was driving the snow sideways now, the big snowflakes flickering in and out of the fluorescent lights in the driveway
Braced against the plate glass windows of “the store”, one hand held beside his eyes for a better look and beneath a fidgety “OPEN” neon sign was an old man in a denim work shirt and jeans held up with suspenders. His cap was cocked back on his head which was mostly bald.
“Okay, you pump,” my father said.
When I opened the Suburban’s door, it near blew away, wrenching from my handhold like I wasn’t even holding it and making an equally wrenching sound on its hinges.
When I got out, the snowflakes stung my face and cheeks as I turned into the wind.
“Damn!” I said.
“What did you say?” my father asked.
So, I grabbed the handle on the pump and thrust it into gas tank and set the auto lock on the handle, all the while trying to hold onto my cap with the other hand.
While my father checked out some gear in the back of the Suburban, I monitored the gas flow, trying not to let the howling wind buffet me enough to be embarrassed in front of my father (I only weighed 165 pounds then).
The pump stopped.
“Done?” he asked.
“Yes sir,” I said.
“Okay. Let’s go settle up.”
As we walked together into “the store” gingerly holding the aluminum framed door to make sure the wind gusts didn’t rip it from its hinges, my father pulled out his wallet and fetched a credit card.
The old man rested on his elbows behind his counter under the same dim fluorescent lights that lit the inside of “the store.”
“Here,” said my father handing over his credit card.
“How much?” the grizzled old man asked.
My father looked at me.
“$25.25,” I said.
“Where you goin’,” the old man asked.
“Near Raton,” said my father.
“Oh…” was the old man’s response, as he ran the credit card cruncher over the multi-layered, six-inch, carbon-papered credit receipt that was so popular back then.
“Sign there, please,” handing my father the document.
“Just wondering,” my father said as he signed. “Does the wind ALWAYS blow this way?”
Without missing a beat, the old man said:
“Nope….sometimes it blows the other way.”
I’ll tell you about my elk hunt in another story…
Tales from a Texas Ranch from a City Boy with a Cowboy Hat
I was working on another story about the Coke County cowboy, Vic Collett, immersed in my thoughts, memories, choice of words and phrases when I remembered I had an errand to run to the post office.
So, I jotted a few notes by hand on the tablet I always keep nearby to jog my memory for when I returned to writing, gathered up Sierra the Dog who goes everywhere with me, stepped through and locked the front door.
Locking the front door in San Angelo is not really necessary but old habits from living in the big city are hard to break (not that I really want to because I tend to the paranoid).
The weather was still with overcast clouds; about 85 degrees.
As I opened the pickup truck’s door to load up Sierra, I noticed the dark sky off to the west.
Rain!” I said to myself, and gazed through the neighborhood trees at the dark gray clouds covering the western sky that only a few hours earlier was pure azure blue and cloudless.
“Hot ziggity, rain!”
As I drove to the post office, I kept an eye on the western sky, anxious to get back to my computer to call up the latest weather report.
When I finally did get back to my studio office and log in to the weather, up popped an alert – severe weather warning…with yellow and red on the map moving from west to east over San Angelo and Coke County to the north, where my family’s ranch is.
“Uh oh…” came the thought. I had left windows open in several of the buildings at the ranch to let the mostly ever-constant west Texas breezes air out the dwellings after having been locked up tight over the winter months. “Uh oh…”
Hastily, I gathered up some gear and, and as I loaded it into the pickup, it began to rain. Big raindrops that fell hard, stinging my shoulders as they fell and making a racket on the metal of the pickup.
Sierra the Dog sat on the covered porch, watching.
With my gear loaded up, I coaxed her to get in, which she did in a flash, dodging the raindrops which were falling more thickly now, sounding almost like bullets as they hit he hood of the truck. I wondered if there might be hail a coming.
The thunder thundered and streaks of lightning creased the dark clouds above.
I scrambled into the drivers seat, cranked up the engine, pulled out of the driveway and proceeded to follow my route to the highway to the ranch, windshield wipers brushing the welcome rain from the truck’s windshield.
As I made it to the ranch highway, I ran through large puddles of street water sending sprays both right and left with that squashy sound. Not that they could rival street rainwater puddles in Houston when it rained there, but impressive for San Angelo.
I sped my way north on the highway, thinking of those open windows in the buildings at the ranch.
Now, there’s a high ridge of buttes and mesas that separate the Concho Valley (where San Angelo is) and the Colorado Valley (where my family ranch is).
As I ascended that ridge (we call it “The Pass”), the rain lessened, although thunder and lightning seemed to be everywhere.
When I hit the top of the Pass, the rain had dwindled to nothing more than a mist. I turned the windshield wipers off, but noted the lightning bolts clobbering the ground in the distant valley.
When I reached the front gate, there was no rain. As a matter of fact, after crossing the cattle guard and cruising down the entry road, a glance in the rearview mirror revealed that my truck was kicking up dust.
Dust! And here I was minutes before nearly having to float my way through street puddles in San Angelo!
A short expletive escaped my lips (having once been a sailor, I know how to curse). Sierra the Dog cowered a bit, thinking I was unhappy with her. I reached over and scrunched her ears and everything became okay.
Regardless of the dust swirling around the truck when I arrived, first thing was to scurry around and close all the open windows in the nearby buildings, just in case. The wind began to gust…and there was thunder and lightning all around.
No rain though.
So, I broke out the laptop and tried to continue writing. Couldn’t concentrate and decided to check out the deer feeder several hundred yards from the house, with Sierra the Dog reconnoitering.
When I got there and lowered it for inspection, that’s when the rain hit…in bucketfuls.
Sierra made it back to the house with what I would say was “alacrity”and was toweling off when I arrived on the porch with small splashes of rainwater spilling from my boot tops.
“Here!” she said, offering the towel with a smile.
Soaked as I was, I enjoyed the better part of another hour of rain, thunder and lightning.
Ah…I do so love West Texas! Even with the heat, rattlesnakes, scorpions, skunks and the all-too-seldom deluge.
Drop by sometime…perhaps I’ll tell you a story.
Tales from a Texas Ranch from a City Boy with a Cowboy Hat
Once upon a time (actually, it just several weeks ago) I was tooling along the highway to the ranch. I say “tooling,” but I was actually running my Ford F-150 at around 70-miles-per-hour on the two lane highway. I was anxious to get back to my father’s recalcitrant John Deere tractor to see if I could make it start, again. I was going to need it to tackle the mowing of the spring grasses that recent rains had encouraged to grow around the house compound.
The weather was good – bright sunshine, blue sky with a smattering of white clouds and it was kind of coolish. The buttes and mesas and pastures I passed were greening up surprisingly given the devastation left by the raging wildfire just a year ago.
I was listening to a “book on tape” that I had plugged into the truck’s sound system from a neat little (no, it’s tiny) digital mp3 player a good friend had given me a few months back knowing I liked listening to audio books rather than music. Sierra the Dog snoozed on the floor board.
So, temporarily lost in the story I was listening to, I approached a slower-moving white pickup just ahead in my lane. I knew the highway well given the thousands of times I had traveled it. As such, I knew I needed to pass fairly soon because there was a curve ahead beyond the straight-away we both drove on.
Checked my mirrors, flicked on the left blinker, sped up to 80 and passed the white pickup as it inched over to right shoulder as is the courteous thing West Texans do on our highways out here.
I passed, raised my hand slightly in a gesture of thanks and pulled back into my lane.
I had put a little less than a hundred yards between the white pickup and me with the curve just ahead when suddenly, in a blink, a buzzard sailed out of the pasture from the right and crashed into the front hood on my F-150 with a sickening thud, feathers exploding into my windshield and immediately disappearing over my roof.
I instinctively braked, but not too hard because I was entering the curve but swerved, just a little, into the oncoming traffic lane. Thank God there wasn’t any oncoming traffic.
To say that I was startled would be an understatement but I’d managed to keep my bowels controlled.
Sierra the Dog was now standing in the passenger seat, wide awake, looking all around but mostly at me.
“What the…?” her eyes said.
I braked more, slowed and pulled over onto the shoulder, and stopped.
I glanced in my rearview mirror and the white pickup truck did the same, pulling up behind me and stopping.
I got out, still a bit rattled, admonishing the now-hyper Sierra the Dog to stay put.
The driver of the white pickup got out too.
“You okay?” we asked one another at the same time.
“Yeah!” we answered each other at the same time.
“That was something to see!” she said. We approached each other on the side of the highway as another pickup sped by, the driver waving slightly as he passed, as friendly folk do out here.
Now, this very attractive, athletic-looking woman, wearing a green John Deere cap over her pony-tailed dusty-colored blonde hair, was dressed in country clothing…nice white cotton blouse, scuffed-up cowboy boots and a pair of faded jeans that I had no earthly idea how she had gotten into. I guessed she was in her late 30’s, maybe early 40’s.
I extended my hand. “I’m Ed Blackburn,” I said.
“Sally,” she said, and shook my hand.
“That was a sight to see!” she said again, excitedly. “What happened?”
I explained what I had witnessed as we walked to the front of my F-150…I wanted to see what damage had been done.
“It came out of nowhere,” I said, looking over the front of my truck for damage.
“Yeah, saw that,” she said.
Now, my F-150 wears a Ranch Hand grill guard primarily to keep the grill, bumper and radiator protected from the possibility (or likely probability) of running over a hapless white-tail deer (or some other large critter) which might find standing in the middle of the highway a good place to be. For those of you who might not know, running into a white-tail at 70 miles-per-hour can do horrendous damage to a pickup truck (as testified to by many a rancher); not to mention the likelihood of losing control of the vehicle and running down 50 yards of a neighbor’s fence…or worse.
Anyway, all I found were a few black feathers and some blood on the grill guard…no damage to the truck.
“Good!” I said, turning toward Sally who was watching Sierra the Dog bounce around inside the truck, whining (complaining) that she wasn’t included in the outside activities.
“He’s cute,” she said. “What kinda dog is that?”
“She.” I responded. “Blue healer/border collie mix.”
So, always being one to wonder about visual things, I asked, “What did you see happen?”
“Well,” she began, “that bird came outta nowhere, like you said, smashed into your truck and went straight up into the air, maybe a hundred feet…I watched it through my windshield. And then it came down, toward me. I was going 60 miles-an-hour maybe? It happened fast and I thought it might hit me and my truck. I stomped the brakes hard seeing you were doing the same. I swear I thought that buzzard was gonna hit my windshield, but it didn’t, and then I heard a thud.”
“It’s in the bed of my pickup.”
“Nope. Come see”
Sure enough, when we rounded the end of her white pickup, there lay the most sorry-lookin’ ball of feathers and blood I’ve ever seen. That, for sure, was one dead buzzard.
“Well, I’ll be…” I murmured in wonderment, and chuckled.
“Yep,” said Sally. “Listen, I gotta go. Would you git it out?”
“Sure,” I said, pulling the leather gloves from my hip pocket…I’m kind of dainty and didn’t relish the idea of handling a bloody, dead buzzard with bare hands.
Having chucked the carcass to the roadside, I turned back toward Sally, who had her truck door open ready to continue her drive.
“Where’re from?” I asked.
“Fort Davis way,” she said.
She grinned. “Not this year.”
“Why doncha give me yours…” she said demurely, cocking her painted on jeans knee up to step into her white pickup.
So, I gave her my famous business card… “Give me a call…”
“You bet!” as she started the engine, put it in gear and pulled around my F-150 and sped off down the two-lane highway, extending her arm out the window waving a lazy good-bye wave.
I climbed into the driver’s seat of my F-150 greeted by an anxious Sierra the Dog and cranked up the engine.
Sierra the dog calmed, sitting in the passenger seat, but gazed at me.
“Get her name?” Sierra asked.
“Did you get her LAST name!?” Sierra asked.
Sierra looked out the window as I pulled back onto the highway.
“Did you get her phone number?”
Sierra looked back towards me. Her eyes said “Dumby!”
Well, my years have taught me not to expect that phone call but Sally will never be able to tell the story of the Buzzard Incident like I can.
Sierra the Dog curled up in the passenger seat, closed her eyes…and sighed deeply.
Tales from a Texas Ranch from a City Boy with a Cowboy Hat
I was in a hurry to meet the trapper at the main house at the ranch. I had overslept at my house in town and was speeding down the highway way too fast for this overcast spring Sunday morning. Thank goodness there wasn’t any highway traffic to speak of. But I made it to the front gate without getting arrested or crashing the pickup.
Three hundred yards from the front gate, I pulled up the main house gate and cattle guard. I keep the main house gate locked with a combination lock when I don’t stay at the ranch house.
To get to the lock, I had to get out of the truck and gingerly step on the old, rusted 4-inch pipes from which the cattle guard is made making sure I didn’t slip and fall through the gaps between the pipes into the two-foot deep and dark abyss underneath the cattle guard.
Spring grasses and a few primrose blooms were growing up between the pipes and I noticed a nearby prickly pear proudly blooming its yellow, succulent flower.
As I grasped the lock to flip the tumblers, I glanced back at the pickup. Sierra the Dog sat in the driver’s seat, ears perked up and watching.
I still think she’s expecting me to teach her how to drive.
Anyway…I spun the tumblers, released the latch and unwound the chain from the gatepost.
As I turned, carefully attentive to my footing on the cattle guard and the top of the gate in hand, I glanced down…into the darkness beneath the cattle guard.
“Is that?…is that?…is that…?” I thought, as my eyes popped and focused on the dim outline of a serpent in the darkness just below the toes of my boots.
“Yikes! Yes! It is!” as the synapses went off in my brain and I, indelicately but with an alacrity any old fart like me would be proud of, launched my body off the cattle guard and onto firm ground nearby.
Now… I carry in my pocket (especially this time of year) a small .22 derringer loaded with ratshot, in case I encounter a rattlesnake which I will readily dispatch with said firearm.
Snakes, in general, I don’t harm; but rattlesnakes usually die if I encounter them.
I also carry a compact digital camera in the same pocket for impromptu picture-taking to record minor historical events.
As I began to fumble for the firearm, I inched back toward the cattle guard for a closer look.
I had to squat to get that closer look.
As I did so, out of my pocket came the digital camera.
“Great…” I thought, distracted for a moment by the faux pas, and gently tossed the camera aside.
At that moment, there came a faint rattle-buzz from beneath the cattle guard.
“Okay!” I thought, standing erect, searching in my pocket for the .22 caliber nuclear weapon I was about to use on this rattlesnake. We were about five feet apart; he was in the pit and I was on the high ground.
Now I get all fidgety around rattlesnakes whether they be itty bitty or monsters.
So, I’m standing right next to the cattle guard. As I finally find the .22 in my pocket (it’s one of those balloony cargo pant pockets) and pull it out with my thumb and index finger, the little front sight catches on the pocket button and flips out of my hand into…yep, into the darkness of the pit beneath the cattle guard, banging metallically against one of the pipes.
Well, I’ll not repeat the “hollered-out-loud’ curses that were instantly voiced at that moment, but I did go searching for a nearby big stick, which I found and returned to the scene with visions from the B.C. comic strip’s Fat Broad who liked turning snakes into a semblance of bacon.
As I returned, the critter was slithering out of the dimness of the cattle guard pit and into a nearby mesquite bush, which I began to beat with a sweat-lathering intensity.
I could see it but given the springy nature of young mesquite, I was having little effect.
I looked over my shoulder. It was the trapper with his wife and son. He had pulled up behind my truck…I never heard him approaching. He had a big grin on his sunburned face.
“Que pasa, Mr. Ed?” he hollered from his open window.
I looked back at the little mesquite bush where the rattlesnake had hidden…no snake. (How do serpents, or animals for that matter, just disappear like that?)
“Ah, no es nada. una serpiente de cascabel,” I said. (Oh, it’s nothing, just a rattlesnake)
He and his wife looked at one another and burst out laughing.
As I tossed the stick aside and strode back to my truck, I thought I heard him say to his wife: “Puede ser un poco loco.” (he may be a little crazy)
We then drove up the house, discussed our business and he and his family drove off.
After I knew they were gone, I returned to the cattle guard, located my derringer in the depths of the cattle guard pit and reached down, with great trepidation, to retrieve it, all the while scanning the nearby brush as well.
So, the unfired and slightly dinged derringer is back in my pocket; my pucker factor has been reduced to low; the rattlesnake is still wandering the nearby pasture; and the trapper and his wife think me “puede ser un poco loco.”
I guess there are worse things in life….
Tales from a Texas Ranch from a City Boy with a Cowboy Hat
After seeing my son-in-law off to return to Austin with the infamous Skunk the Dog in the back seat of his car, and short conversation with a buddy on Skype, I started to pack up my gear for my return to my little house in San Angelo - time to mow the lawn.
But I stopped for a moment and gazed over the valley. Bright blue sky with a small cottony cloud here and there, 80 degrees with a gentle breeze, and wonderfully quiet.
"What the hell..." I said to myself, and called a neighbor.
"Got a horse I can borrow?" I asked. (I haven't owned a horse in years and haven't been in the saddle for at least twenty)
"Sure!" he said.
Within the hour, I had saddled up with my very old saddle and a large red towel for a saddle blanket that had been left at the ranch house by my friend Molly couple of years ago .
Off I went....across one pasture, then another. Startled whitetails sprinted off, tails flagging the apparent danger I presented; a covey of quail skittering off into the brush as I passed. Buzzards circling in the sky, riding the light breeze. A jack rabbit frozen beneath a mesquite bush, hoping not to be discovered. A grey fox disappeared in the corner of my eye in a blink.
I was a bit awkward in the old saddle because it had been so long.
But it was a good ride...four hour's worth. I remembered the sounds of saddle leather; squeaky as the horse moved.
Just before I returned to the house, I stopped atop a small rise and surveyed...sun lowering in the west to the horizon, blue sky darkening, bird songs, a wafting gentle breeze that stirred the mesquite leaves, horse shifting slightly as we stood there...
"Yes," I said to myself. "This is my church. Thank you, Lord."
I turned the horse and we returned to the house.
I damn-near fell down when I dismounted, but didn't.
"Whoa!" I thought. "It HAS been a long time."
So, I cleaned horse and myself up, got in the pickup and returned to my modest little house in San Angelo, where the un-mowed lawn and Jezzie the Cat greeted me.
After twenty years not having been in the saddle, methinks I'll be having a little hitch-in-my-giddy-up tomorrow, and maybe the next day, too.
Tales from a Texas Ranch from a City Boy with a Cowboy Hat
Once upon a time a long time ago, I was, once again, with the old cowboy, Vic Collett, standing front of his small frame West Texas frame house on my grandmother’s ranch (she was still living at that time).
Maybe I was five or six years old…hard to remember.
It was late afternoon, early summertime and it was dry. Texas was in the midst of the worst drought ever. The wind gusted hard from the west, sending dust all over us as he and I stood by his battered, old green pickup truck in front of the house. Every time the wind gusted, the old truck would rattle, metal on metal. I’d never heard any car or truck rattle that much before.
“Gonna be gone fer awhile?” hollered Ina, Vic’s wife, from inside the small screened porch, wiping her hands on the calico apron that she seemed she wear all the time.
“Just gonna do a small circle with Little Ed (that was me),” Vic hollered back, over the gusting wind.
“Okay…no longer than that,” hollered Ina. “I got supper ready ‘bout then.”
Vic waved; Ina turned back into her kitchen.
“Git in,” Vic ordered.
So, dutifully, I went to the passenger side of the old green truck and pushed as hard as I could on the button on the handle of the door to open it.
Didn’t work, even though I had both my little hands on it; the button wouldn’t push.
“C’mon Ed, git in!” Vic said again, already behind the steering wheel and cranking the engine.
“Can’t,” I said.
“Well, dang!” Vic said and ceased his efforts to start the old truck.
“Come on ‘round here and git in this side…that handle’s not been good fer a long time.”
So he stepped out, I ran around and scurried across the driver’s seat to my place in the passenger seat.
Ready! I had my cowboy hat and my cowboy boots, so I was good to go.
Vic started up the old truck engine and off we went. Where to? I hadn’t a clue.
It was hot but the gusting breeze made it a bit cooler as we bumped along the fence line and Vic pointed at this calf or heifer saying:
“There’s a keeper…but not that one…that’s a good one,” pointing his fat finger at each one, like he was counting, which he was.
The sun was setting behind us but the wind blew strongly, rattling the old truck every time.
The mesquite had grown up in the fence line, which was to my right, every now and then overhanging limbs would brush against my open window. I’d duck away.
Vic would just grin after each brush and glance at me.
Vic was looking at several calves and their mommas off to his left when he ran by a big mesquite in the fence line to the right which swept through my open window and delivered, into my lap and all over me, hundreds… no, thousands…no zillions of small red ants!
“Ahh! Ahhhh! Ahhhhhhh!” I screamed, as the ants scurried all over my hands, shirt, jeans, cowboy boots and who knows where else.
“Ahhhhh!” I screamed, although they weren’t biting or stinging me.
Vic braked hard enough to lurch me forward, almost into the dashboard.
“What the…?” he exclaimed, looking over at me.
I was covered up in little red ants.
“Ahhhh!” I screamed again. “Ahhhhh!”
I was frantically brushing thousands… No! zillions of ants off my body, kicking underneath the truck’s dashboard with my then-short little legs.
“Ed! Git out of the truck!”
I did…through the window, hastily.
Vic met me at the tailgate while I swirled around, sweeping my hands across my clothing, little red ants everywhere.
Vic began to laugh, hands on his hips.
I didn’t think it was funny…I was gonna be eaten alive!
Vic grabbed me in his strong hands.
“Ed!” he shouted. “They’re only Sugar Ants! They ain’t gonna hurtcha!!”
“Ahhhhh!” I screeched, morbidly unconvinced.
But he was right, they weren’t eating me, just scurrying all over me as I jumped up and down and danced right and left, brushing, brushing, brushing at the ants in abject terror.
“Git a grip,” said Vic sternly, his hands, vise-like, on my shoulders.
So, there, by a fence line in West Texas, in a dusty pasture I can’t remember, Vic Collett, an old, sunburned cowboy born in 1884 and who would eventually teach me how to ride a horse, and more, dusted a zillion red Sugar Ants off my body.
When we got back to the house, near dark, amidst the smells of supper, and as she washed a pot at the kitchen sink, Ina asked over her shoulder, “So, how was yer circle?”
“Fine,” I said, as I went to the sink to wash my hands.
I could swear, to this day, that Vic winked at Ina, and chuckled silently.
“City Boy with a Cowboy Hat”
P.S. – As I drive the ranch roads these days, making the inspection circle, I avoid low-hanging mesquite branches in the fence line if they’re on my right…or left for that matter.
Many thanks to all of you who have encouraged me to keep banging away at my storytelling so, I'll keep after it. Please let me know if you like them, or, if you don't. Supposedly, I'll be storytelling to my first live audience in two years this weekend in west Texas. "Once upon a time, a long time ago......."