Okie - Part One
Until I moved to the rural Idaho mountains. That’s when everything changed. Most of all, me.
He drove straight back to the paddocks and stopped. The peeling white paint on the old Chevy pick up showed the original blue peeking out. The truck looked 20 years older than it was. “Some days that’s how I look,” I remember thinking. He opened the pick-up door and beer cans tumbled out along with three black and white dogs who were, apparently, very excited to be there. They jumped and barked with tails wagging until his boots stepped out and touched dirt.
My house was a mess. I had to be at the treatment center to meet with a client’s parents in an hour. I rushed around trying to straighten up and pick up Kyle’s toys, hoping I’d get it somewhat presentable by the time this unexpected visitor got to the door.
It was taking him forever.
I picked up my coat and keys, and headed for the door. I planned on checking on the cowboy in the truck on my way out. It wasn’t all that unusual for people to just drive on the property around here. I was near the main road, and horse traders had lived here before I did. He probably thought they still did, I thought.
When I turned around from locking the door, a pair of cowboy boots stood where I planned to step next. “Hi,” he said.
“Hi!,” I said in the bubbly, happy voice that said life is good. It was good then. Most of the time, anyway. The day to day stuff was really hard, in actuality, but I wasn’t about to let this old cowboy know that. He was obviously a local, no-frills kind of man. A simple guy. I wondered if it was simple in a good way. There’s a lot to be said for noticing what kind of simple a man is.
He stopped to check out a horse he said. Isn’t that what they all say out west? Back in Greenwich Village the good looking stranger in the black beret asked if you wanted to see his etchings, but in Idaho, they didn’t etch, they rode. Phil met him somewhere he said, and asked him to ride the big, black, proud-cut gelding in the first paddock. Phil was concerned he was too much horse for a green, Southern boy straight out of the Atlanta suburbs. This stranger agreed. He asked if he wanted me to shoe any horses while he was here. We exchanged numbers and I rushed off to work. It would be awhile before I saw the cowboy again. I hadn’t even asked his name.
Sunday was the day of the big ride with Peter Vandermullen and his gang from Power Engineers. I’d met them in the diner one day, and they must’ve noticed how out of place I seemed. I sat there in my straw hat with the green leather band and my horse necklace, feeling very western indeed. They exchanged horse talk, as men did here when drinking coffee. It was that, or bitch about how the government was raping people who worked the land.
The one on the right, I think his name was Jack, asked if rode. I guess my new snakeskin cowboy boots gave me away. I nodded. They’d started a riding club, and met on Sunday mornings sometimes for a group ride. They invited me to come along. I nervously accepted the invitation, even though I knew I couldn’t ride worth a crap. I bounced all over the saddle like Billy Crystal in City Slickers. But I am what I am I thought, and mustered up my inner Popeye, and said yes anyway. Now to get my horse shod. I didn't want to be the only one with new boots on the day of the ride. Plus, a horse with bad shoes would be a sure sign of how green I was.
I looked everywhere for that piece of paper. The one with the cowboy's number scribbled on it. It was nowhere, not even in the bowels of my huge New York leather bag, a leftover from my city days, that held my life and hid my chaos.
Saturday afternoon, as Kyle and I were planting some tomato plants in our garden patch behind the old log house, I heard a loud rattling sound. It sounded as if someone’s truck was about to explode. Wouldn't you know it. Down the driveway came that paint peeling pickup with cowboy, dogs, and I was sure, empty beer cans lying in wait to tumble out. “Think any more about whether you want your horses shod?” he shouted from the his half rolled down window. I wondered if his window didn’t roll down all the way. It was 80 degrees, for goodness sakes, and that truck certainly didn’t appear to be made after air conditioning was standard.
He seemed like a knight in shining armor. I’d set my hopes on going along for that ride the next day, and I couldn’t show up without my horse shod. “Sure,” I yelled back. “Can you do it now?” He jumped out of the truck, grabbed his rasp and nippers, and headed for the corral. “These guys aren’t much for conversation,” I thought quietly. Kyle’s 3-year-old eyes followed this Wrangler clad stranger as he meandered toward the horses. It wasn’t long before Kyle asked if we could go see what he was up to. I ran to the house and grabbed my straw hat. Surely, watching your horse get shod was as good an occasion as any to wear this fashionable, culture icon I was trying to get used to wearing. Plus my hair was greasy.
He didn’t say much. He nipped. Every now and then he’d call the horse a son of a bitch and tug on his halter to let him know who was in charge, but that was it. I asked him some stupid questions like, “Have you lived around here long?” I’d just get a ‘yep’ or a ‘nope,’ so I took it as a hint he couldn’t multi-task, and shut up. When he finished, Kyle asked if he knew how to ride horses. His eyes seemed to smile but his mouth didn’t move. Then he stretched out his hand to Kyle, and said, “I’m Okie. It’s nice to know ya, pardner.”
Kyle lit up, his little hand disappearing in the cowboy's rough, manure stained hand. “I’m Kyle,” he said.
Little did I know, but in this moment, our lives had begun to change in ways we could never have imagined. Not ever.