by Julie Carter
An alarm went off in Jenna's head. Not a ringing bell kind of alarm, but the one that starts out in your gut, crawls up your spine and sends involuntary shivers to your body.
It was the same alarm you might feel when you realize your mother-in-law is coming to spend a week and the main ranch well just conked out or the sewer backed up again for the third time in a month.
Jenna had just come home from her honest job in town where she made a valiant attempt to support her husband's ranching habit. On this day, his welcome home news was that their trusty insurance agent had come by and made him a deal he couldn't refuse.
The agent had talked Rusty into "trying out" a $1 million accidental death policy with Jenna the insured and Rusty the beneficiary. Not quite sure how one would "try-out" a pay-on-death accident policy, Jenna mentally listed other options including cancellation of the policy in 60 days if it wasn't used.
It was the "if not used" part that caused her the most concern. Her mind quickly went to all the times, when in the course of helping him on the ranch, her close calls with danger would warrant such a policy. There were those days of helping him sort cattle in the alley afoot while he was horseback and the subsequent stampedes of cattle she was expected to stop, cut, turn or control.
And the days she had gone alone through brushy, snake-infested canyons riding colts that "needed the miles." Or those long days in the branding pen when calves were drug to the fire and not infrequently over the top of her.
There was the tractor with the cranky clutch that she sometimes drove and the feed truck with no brakes that was hers to use in the pastures with steep hillsides. She distinctly remembered helping at the chute by giving shots and thanks to a fighting cow, gave herself the vaccination instead.
The more she considered the insurance "try out" idea, the more her anxiety level rose.
Jenna recalled the years of their marriage and working together. It was her belief that 99.4 percent of the time it had been good. She allowed that a time or two - surely no more than that - she had inadvertently and innocently gotten something slightly wrong.
At the time she thought Rusty, with his normal good humor, had just let it slide. However, just to be safe, she decided that during this policy "try out" period, she needed to watch her back.
A week or so later, when the policy discussion had faded somewhat, she began to relax again. Then one day, coming into the house through the back door, Rusty jumped out, hollered and scared her. She screamed as she fell away from him and into the closed door that led to the basement stairs. The impact caused the door to pop open and instantly her life and a $1-million check passed before her eyes.
She managed to catch herself (without his help) before she took the plunge into the depths. Quite contrite, Rusty apologized profusely and told her it was just a joke. He helped her sit down to catch her breath, re-claim her composure and hopefully, not get a gun. Many times over the years, he pulled similar practical jokes and she laughed with him.
But this time Jenna began telling her friends about Rusty's free $1-million policy on her and the subsequent "trying out" period. Collectively they began keeping an eye on Rusty and counting down the days. Several offered to hang Rusty should anything happen to her.
Rusty is typical of someone who had spent his life in cattle and ranching. His business sense simply would not let him pass up any good deal offered for free. However, this time his reasonable intelligence overruled the monetary pressure. He called the insurance agent and gave him back 45 days of the "trying out" period.
He also requested written notification of the termination to be sent by registered mail, addressed to his wife. It was to be accompanied by a dozen roses.