The Old Cowpoke
“Now, I wan’ ya to lissen to me. I ain’t gonna have no time oncet we leave to be doin’ no ‘splanin’. Iffen ya think ya horse is goin’ over a cliff, don’ worry none. Ain’t no horse goin’ to kill it’s own self. ‘Course, it might stumble but ya nevah know when so no sense worryin’ ‘bout it. Last yer we lost a dude for that. He thunk his horse was goin’ over so he jumps off. Well, he was still goin’ forward las’ time we seen ‘em. Right off the cliff. The horse he done stopped short a the edge. No, ain’t no horse goin’ off except maybe Old Bullet. He’s kinda suicidal. Iffen he does, well heck, wave your hat and go on down in a blaze a glory.”
The dudes all looked at each other. Is this guy for real? Is this part of the package here? This guy looks a lot like Jack Palance in those Billy Crystal movies, but not as good looking or as friendly. This guy was downright ugly. No one asked. Everyone prayed, even the atheists. They figured that if there was ever a time to come to Jesus this was it.
Inside of a mile lots of butts were sore. Some were rubbed raw. The women were doing fine since they had ready made cushioning. No one complained about it though. The only one to complain to was this ugly cowpoke leading them. He didn’t strike anyone as being one to accept complaints very well. He struck everyone as the type to give you something worse to complain about. The very worse thing was that they were paying him. Paying him and deathly afraid. How does that work? How smart were they?
He finally stopped for lunch. “Vittles”, he said. For real, he said vittles. It was beans and jerky. Not that stuff you buy at the convenience store or at a bar when you’re drunk and toss back up when you drive home.. This was real beef jerky. Well, it was jerky. The dude group assumed it was beef but with this guy it could be prairie dog and the odds were that it was.
“Ah, this is the life. A man, a horse, and wide open spaces. Wish I’d a bin borned 150 yer ago. What a life. Roundin’ up cattle, fightin Indians, wenchin’ and a drinkin’. You folks have it too soft, ya know? Well, you’ll learn a bit of the rough side this week. Heck, give ya somethin’ else to talk about in yer fancy Dan bars with ya fancy Dan friends.”
They rode on through the afternoon. They rode through a dust storm; they rode through a rain squall. The rain cleaned the dust off. Then the dust became mud and they wore it. Everyone was miserable. Everyone was trying to remember how this stupid idea got into their heads. The women were thinking about how stupid they were if this is the best vacation idea a man could think up. Must have been drunk at the time. That’s the only rational explanation for doing anything this irrational- marrying them and being here.
“OK, this here be as far as we go today. Gather some wood for a fire and unroll your blankets. Oh, and guys? This here pistol be real, not no make believe. Don’t none of ya be botherin’ the womenfolk.”
“Hey, that’s too much, that’s just too damn much, This ‘womenfolk’ here is my wife. Her and I-”
“You gots somethin’ wrong with ya ears, boy? I said none a ya. Did I make some sort a exception fer you? Iffen ya think that, you is crazy as a cow in a patch of loco weed. Speakin’ of which, I don’ go fer none of thet either. I’s a light sleeper too.”
The guys were sitting off to one side. They were muttering.
“We should kill this guy. I have a bad feeling about him”, one of them said.
“No kidding? You have a bad feeling about a guy who is obviously insane? We can’t kill him. That’s ridiculous”, another replied.
“We probably couldn’t. This guy sure as Hell didn’t get to be as old as he is with that personality by being easy to kill”, said a third guy.
The first guy then commented, “The girls would probably warn him. They’d probably help him. Notice they didn’t complain about him telling us to stay away from them.”
“I didn’t notice your wife saying anything, that’s for sure.”
“None of them did!”
“He wasn’t talking to us. He was talking to you, threatening you to be honest about it. Your wife just smiled. You got problems there, bub.” This from the second guy, who was the first guy’s brother.
“Well, uh, well, if we aren’t going to kill him or do anything else we might as well get to sleep.”
“Yea, and remember- he sleeps light.”
The next morning they heard movement in the predawn. They ignored it at first, thinking the old cowpoke was guarding them. No one and no thing was going to sneak up on him. Soon they began to smell something very bad.
“Hey, it smells bad here. It was okay last night. It smells like shit burning.”
“How would you know what shit burning smelled like?”
“I don’t but if shit was burning I think this is what it would smell like.”
The all got up and moved towards the fire where the old cowpoke had coffee brewing. The closer they got the worse the smell.
“Say, old-timer, it smells like shit burning. I know it isn’t but-”
“It is shit burnin’. In the olden days they didn’t always have wood to burn. So, they used buffaler shit for cooking and heatin’.”
“Yea, well, this ain’t, I mean, isn’t the old days and they ain’,aren’t any buffalo around so what’s up with that?”
“Well, I likes to make thing as real as I can and this here shit is ass close as it gets. Coulda used my own shit as I usually do but I needed a bigger fire. Pour some coffee while I saddle the womenfolks’ horse’s. Ya can saddle ya own, I reckon. Be careful-”
One of the men picked up the pot by the handle and set it down again quickly. He tried not to scream and not to cry. He refused to look at his hand.
“Be careful not to pick the pot up with no gloves on. It’ll take the hide offa ya. I guess ya know that now.”
“He need first-aid. You have anything for burns?”
The day was one miserable thing after another. It climaxed when they got to a stream. The old cowpoke told them to hold the horse’s heads up. If not, they’d start to drink and wonder downstream.
“Horse’s are stupid. Don’t let them make you stupid too.”
Sure enough one of the horse’s started drifting downstream. One of the men was riding it.
“Well, I guess he don’t listen too well. I’d a thought it would be one a the womenfolk, them being weaker an’ all. Well, it ain’t like he’s gonna go over a falls. Ain’t one a them nears here. Don’t look like rain so I reckon he’s safe from a flash flood. Them are excitin’ although a bit hard on ya. I guess the horse will get tired a bein’ in the river and come out. Hope it’s on this here side.”
When they camped that night the guys had no appetite for shit-cooked food. They went off a way and went to sleep. When the guys woke up the next morning the first thing they noticed was that the old cowpoke was gone. So were the girls. There was a note pinned to one of the saddles.
“Took the womenfolk on down to San Lucas. They didn’t seem to want you to go with them. Sorry, dudes.”
Willie had his share of phobias, quirks and just plain mental problems. He had his share and maybe a couple of other people’s too. That was another of his problems. Everyone has at least one phobia, quirk or mental problem. Things like being afraid of leaving a closet door open at night; afraid to leave your hand hanging over the bed; the boogieman. These are all realistic fears, of course. Only the psycho-babblers think they aren’t. However, since they decide what’s nuts and what isn’t they’re considered quirks. Fine, that’s why they get paid to listen to the crazies while everyone else have to do it for free.
Willie did have a major quirk. Every ten or fifteen seconds he would jerk his head to the right. He didn’t know why he did it or how it got started. His family thought it was embarrassing and creepy. His friends thought it was just creepy but Willie was good for a round so they didn’t concern themselves much. He went to the local mental clinic for help. This is the help he got.
“As a temporary measure, until we find out the root cause of this quirk, let’s try to develop a behavioral change. How does that sound?”, the babbler told Willie.
It sounded like the nonsense is was but Willie didn’t want to seem ignorant. He should have since that statement didn’t mean anything.
“Uh, sure. Why not? What do I do?”
“Well, it mostly what you don’t do, like jerking your head side to side. That’s why you came here, remember? Do you have any memory problems we need to work on? No? Good. What we want to do is trick your subconscious. Every time you jerk your head to the right I want you to tap your forehead. We’d like to teach your subconscious that jerking your head causes pain. That way it will try to avoid that by not jerking your head.”
“How does tapping my forehead cause pain?”, Willie asked. He should have known what was coming but he didn’t.
“Well, you have to tap it pretty hard. Maybe tap it with a hammer.”
Lo and behold, it worked! Willie tried it and he stopped jerking his head. His family remarked on it. It didn’t happen overnight but he eventually stopped jerking his head to the right.
“Say there, Willie, I see you don’t jerk your head no more. Thing is, you whackin’ yourself with a hammer that way looks downright stupid, ya know? I think you’re changin’ the way your head looks. That may or may not be a bad thing.”
Back to the clinic Willie goes. He explains the whole thing to a new counselor. The new guy said he didn’t like to change another doctor’s therapy but he would, just this once. They still needed to retrain the subconscious. He wanted Willie to try changing his behavioral pattern. Willie sighed at that. Change to what? The what was that he was supposed to turn his head whenever he felt the urge to hammer his forehead. The trick here was to train his subconscious that he would always miss with the tap so there was no point in doing it.
At this point Willie was getting a little suspicious of this whole thing. He felt like he was going in circles. He was. He didn’t really know it yet but he was. He gave it a whirl anyway. Sure enough, the forehead slapping stopped, replaced by turning his head- to the right. Now the hammer hit him on the side of the head.
“Say there, Willie. You’re gettin’ goofier and goofier. Now you’re turnin’ your head like a spinnin’ top. Maybe you need to see someone and get some help before it’s too late, if it ain’t now.”
Willie was getting disgusted with all those sessions with the head-shrinkers and all that money. For what? To be told he was getting goofier and goofier? Jeez, he was getting goofier and goofier. He knew he was getting goofier and goofier. Well, in for a nickel, in for a dime.
“Look here, Doc, I’m not getting any better. I’m just changing what I’m mental about. That’s not helping me any. I wonder if you folks even know what you’re talking about.”
The doctor, who wasn’t a doctor at all, wondered that too. Luckily he was in a business where a guess was as good as a fact.
“Willie, you seem to have a lot of pent up anger. I’d like to explore that with you. We need to get to the root of your problem. Perhaps, if we work hard, we can-”
Willie explained the whole thing to the judge. The judge listened to Willie with sympathy. He couldn’t let him get away with it even though if there was any justice he should. He gave Willie thirty days in the county jail. He said he’d suspend the sentence if Willie got counseling.
Willie was a model prisoner. The guards said he just sat on his bunk laughing all day while he turned his head, slapping himself, and spinning his head.
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There are people living on the edge in what is called Appalachia. They're called ridgerunners, rednecks, hillbillies and backwoods mountaineers. No one thinks of them very often. They don't earn much to society's standards.They stay where they are because they love the area. They are hard workers when they have work and self-sufficient to an extent not known to "outsiders." They are also very funny; they have a great sense of humor about themselves.
They are the salt of the earth and the backbone of America. Their stories are America's stories. These are the stories Of Appalachia.
Book is available as an e-book or in paperback.
More stories of the people of Appalachia.
More of Joe Bob, Bubba and Earl, Mosh Henry and all of the rest of the good folks in Wabash County.
Book is available as an e-book or in paperback.
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