In a previous blog I talked about how lucky I was to grow up in a community full of Characters. That’s Characters with a capital C. The benefit has been a long list that I can mine when creating characters in my writing.
Take Pat for instance. Pat was foreman on a local ranch. By the time I knew him he was probably in his early fifties. What you could see of his face under a crumpled and sweat-stained grey Stetson looked like he’d borrowed it from a well worn saddle - brown and creased and scuffed. His gnarly hands always protruded from a blue denim, snap-front shirt. Stubby legs bowed down to dusty boots with run down heels. I don’t know how he wore those boots out. He rarely walked. After all, he was a cowboy.
A hand rolled cigarette generally hung from the corner of his mouth. It would bounce as he talked. The string of a Bull Durham pouch hung out of his shirt pocket. He was gruff with that special Irish knack of creative cursing. His blue eyes always carried a twinkle.
Late spring was the roundup. Time to brand and castrate the new calves. From when I was about six until my mid teens I got to attend. First to keep out of the way and fetch anything I was told. Later to work with the friends, neighbors and cowboys who gathered for the event. Twelve years old was the magic number when I graduated to working in the pen.
I figured out the process by watching so that when my twelfth year came I kind of knew what was expected of me. A cowboy would ride calmly into the herd, rope a calf and drag it close to the fire where branding irons were kept red hot. Another cowboy would flank the calf by reaching over the litttle critter, grabbing the outside front leg with one hand and the flank with the other flopping the calf on the ground. My job was to sit on my butt grabbing the upside rear hoof and pull it back, planting my foot in the little critters rear end for leverage. This move allowed the brander a smooth haunch to brand and the cutter access to the testicles. For the unfamiliar you’ll find this delicacy advertised on the menu in some restaurants as Rocky Mountain Oysters.
Pat was the cutter. In those days they didn’t use emasculators, an instrument that assures painless precision today. A sharp pocket knife was the tool of choice. In the hands of an old pro like Pat it was as good as the modern day replacement. I was nervous as hell. I desperately wanted to do things right and make Pat proud of me. He’d only said about two words to me my entire life, but I worshipped him.
The first few calves were heifers so Pat just stood back and watched, giving directions to the cowboys. Finally here came the first bull calf. Somebody flanked it; I plopped on my butt, planted my foot and pulled the leg back straight. Pat got down on his knees, looked me in the eye and winked. “You gonna be alright boy?” he asked. I nodded. “You watch how this is done; you may have to do it someday.”
I had to scoot a little to my right to see what he was doing. He quickly made the cut, stretched the cords and cut them. Spitting his cigarette on the ground he looked right at me, lifted the detached sack and acted like he removed something from it. He plopped the object in his mouth and rolled it around like a gum ball, his cheek moving with the action. The next thing I remember I was two pastures over with my shirt caught on a barbed wire fence. If I hadn’t got caught on that fence I might have run all the way to town. It took me a while to get up the courage to go back. It was a couple years later that I found out that the object rolling around in Pat’s cheek was his tongue. He wasn't really eating Rocky Mountain Oysters raw.
You’ll see some of Pat in Buck, the hired hand at the Brush clinic Gil visits while solving the murder of his wife in my mystery NO MORE BULL. It’s currently available in eBook at Smashwords.com. Click on http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/71692
and it will take you right to it.
The print edition will be available later this month or early August.
Talk with you down the trail.