The old cowboy shrugged on his jacket, pulling it up tight around his neck, tucking in his neck scarf while he fished to match buttons to buttonholes to close out the sharp cold of the fall morning.
Pulling worn gloves over his gnarled leathery hands, he tugged his hat down tight against the wind that had blown in before daylight. He headed out to begin another day.
Small dust devils swirled through the distant corrals where the saddle horses stood, tails to the wind, munching on the last of the hay tossed to them the night before.
Not so many years ago, his stride became a long shuffle and he felt every cold day of his life in his knees and hips. Nowhere in his countenance remained even the slightest trace of the tenderfoot he had once been.
Tenderfoot: a boy who has not yet had the wonder rubbed off him.
For a moment, he recalled that greenhorn lad he’d been, orphaned when he was a teen and taken in to be raised by grandparents he barely knew. Sullen, angry and determined, he told himself he would never be part of their life on that “god-forsaken ranch” so remote from the city existence he’d lived.
One day at a time and with great patience his grandfather put the pieces of his heart back together. It started with a horse to call his own and a Border Collie puppy that licked his face every chance he got and followed in his footsteps all day long.
It followed with the long days of cattle work in the spring and witnessing the rebirth of everything living –new baby calves, the brown of winter turning to green followed by the bloom of summer.
Lazy summers were a myth that dissipated into rolling waves of grasses standing in hay fields waiting for harvest. Every fall arrived with the colors of turning leaves, boiling dust as cattle trucks left loaded with another year’s calf crop and the first snows blanketing everything with a seasonal quiet.
Year after year, layer upon layer, the love of the land, love of the life seeped into his soul until he knew no other except in faint glimmer of yesterday.
Referencing old cowboys, Wallace Stegner wrote in Wolf Willow: A History, a Story, and a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier. “They do not tell their stories in Technicolor; they would not want to seem to adorn a tale or brag themselves up. The callouses of a life of hardship blunt their sensibilities to their own experience.”
Calloused memories. Within each of us is that tenderfoot who began with the wonder of life intact. Whether we chose to peel back the layers and stay in touch with the Technicolor, or forge ahead to new rainbows, our roots remain in innocence.
At the close of the day, the old cowboy will dust off his hat and britches much like he dusts off his memories. Both are old, worn and with a lot of character. It’s not a bad place to be when near the end of the road.
Julie can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org