Sunday, November 29, 2009

Out of Thin Air

"I'd just ridden over the ridge, the one that flanks the creek, when a bear ambled out of his cave. Brownie spooked left, I flew right, and landed almost at the bear's feet. I guess he wasn't expecting that kind of welcome, because he sure took off. I tried to get up and that's when I realized I'd probably broke my leg -- my head hurt, too."

They were sitting in the bunkhouse after a long day, the four of them, one getting coffee and two others listening raptly while my father harangued them with his tale of chasing cows in the high country. "Well, how did you get back down the mountain?" asked Mr. Coffee in mid-pour.

"Oh, I held on to one rein somehow. Brownie dang near drug me twenty feet or so before he stopped. Then he stood there, blowing and breathing hard, looking at me as if to say, 'What are you doing on the ground?' So, I pulled him close, grabbed a stirrup and hauled myself into the saddle. Hurt like hell, I'll tell you."

"And you rode back to the ranch like that? What did doc say?"

"Aw, he put on a cast and told me to stay away from bears. I thought it was pretty good advice."

"Yeah, and I'll bet you're supposed to 'take it easy' for a while, too, and that means more work for us. Are you sure it was a bear and you didn't just fall of your horse?" asked Mr. Coffee with a sly grin.

"I'm sure, and it's only for a few days, then I get a walking cast. You'll live until then," replied my father.

Now, the truth is, this particular exchange never took place, at least not in the real world. But others like it must have because, after my father passed away, I discovered one of his friends had penciled names above each of the characters in the print you see. My father is the storyteller.

I had no idea his friends viewed him in this way, and the discovery was a revelation I've come to cherish. Dad wasn't a writer in the same sense his son has apparently become. He was a minister as well as a saddlemaker and I have his sermons, but his imagination expressed itself verbally.

He used to complain -- tongue in cheek -- about so many of his cronies hanging around the shop while he was trying to work. I realize now there was something going on I had completely missed back then. They were his circle and he drew them in with stories he created on the spot, right out of thin air.

You can live with someone all your life and think you know them well, yet when their friends begin to speak, you realize there's so very much more. It's as though you barely know -- or knew -- them at all.

(Partial scan of a print of unknown title by Chuck DeHaan, copyright 1969, Potts-Longhorn Leather Company)

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